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Parish celebrates 125th anniversary
The name Harbour Main is most probably of French origin, and the first visitors after exploration were most probably French fishermen. However, the earliest recorded settlers were Irish Catholics who accompanied the English fishing fleets. They remained the predominant, ethnic group through the centuries, although sprinklings of English and channel Island settlers began to arrive quite early in the recorded history of the community.
In such a milieu, it is not surprising that the history of the community should be closely entwined with the history of the Church and that the most significant events, both recorded and remembered, were associated with the religious expression of the community. The penal laws were still in force in Ireland, and their application was transported to Newfoundland, their most famous result being in Harbour Main the conviction and fining of Michael Katen and a number of other parishioners for having attended Mass in Katen’s fish store in September, 1755.
The Irish character of the population, and its preponderance therein, contributed to the eventual moulding of the community as an Irish Catholic Parish, even though Anglican Clergy from Harbour Grace were serving what must have been a significant number of English settlers of the Anglican faith. These clergy incidentally provided substantial assistance to Irish Catholic priests. Anglican clergy were at the time the only legally authorized persons to perform these rites, since Catholic priests could only operate in secret and could maintain no records.
This state of affairs changed in 1784 with the appointment of Bishop James O’Donnel as Prefect Apostolic to Newfoundland, and the appointment one year later of Father Patrick Phelan to the newly instituted parish of Harbour Grace, which encompassed the whole of Conception Bay to Holyrood, including Harbour Main. It was during this period that the first church was built, with the official approval of Governor Duckworth, sometime between 1811 and 1818, under the direction of Father Thomas Ewer (or Yore). The details surrounding the construction, especially the events leading up to it, make for very interesting reading, beginning with the correspondence from Governor Duckworth to the Reverend Amadeus Anspach, the Anglican clergyman stationed at Harbour Grace who acted as the Governor’s surrogate, to the choosing of the alternate sites owned by George MacDonald and Mrs. O’Neill, the actual construction and the disputes over payment associated with the construction. Then, as now, the records are replete with names and amounts of contributors to construction.
Harbour Main Joins Brigus Parish
In 1833, Harbour Main became a part of the newly established parish of St. Patrick’s in Brigus. Little is known of parish activities in this period since, very unfortunately, the parish records of St. Patrick’s in Brigus were lost in the fire which destroyed the church there in 1913. One significant event of the period, however, is well documented, both in the Annals kept by the Presentation sisters and kept alive in folk memory, the arrival of three Presentation sisters from Ireland on July 9, 1853. The nuns, boat and all, were carried out of the water to the convent doors on the shoulders of the men. They immediately set to the business of education, adding to the traditional three r’s, music, art and fancy needlework. The advent of the sisters was the crowning achievement of Father Edward O’Keefe’s years in the parish.
St. Peter and Paul Parish
In 1857, Father Kyran Walsh became the first parish priest of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish of Harbour Main. He represented a changed from his predecessors who ministered to their flock, sometimes irrespective of religious persuasion, in a quiet manner, avoiding political involvement and confrontational situations. A fluent speaker of the Irish language, and a very determined personality, Father Walsh’s terms of appointment is best remembered for his association with the famous march to Cat’s Cove (Conception Harbour) during the election of 1861. In the ensuing violence when the voters from Harbour Main and Salmon Cove (Avondale) met the voters from Cat’s Cove, George Furey was killed and a number of others wounded. This was followed by a serious riot which had to be put down with the dispatch of troops. Father Kyran Walsh was replaced by Father William Walsh, and Cat’s Cove was placed under interdict for one year.
Many Competent Priests
Father William Walsh began a succession of able and competent priests, who served the parish in subsequent years, including the two brothers, Father Jeremiah and Patrick O’Donnell, and Newfoundland’s first native priest Father James Brown (1886-1887). Father Brown’s brother, Father Thomas Brown, became provincial of the Irish Jesuits at the age of 37. Another Father Brown who succeeded him, from Carbonear, became professor of history at the University of Ottawa in 1911.
Father Pat O’Donnel, like his brother, Father Jeremiah O’Donnel, who seemed to have been well-liked and respected, was succeeded by Father John Roe, allegedly a severe disciplinarian, who in turn was succeeded by Father R. M. Shean, who began the construction of the present church, which was completed between 1916 and 1918 by local craftsmen using a design drawn by Nicholas LaCour, the parish’s resident builder, and a man who earned a deservedly solid reputation as carpenter and builder. The interior of the church was completed by Monsignor Mark Dwyer (1927-1953), with the enlarging of the sanctuary, the provision of galleries, and the provision of the altar rail and pulpit hand carved by Edward LaCour, and his son, currently living in Harbour Main. It was also during Monsignor Dwyer’s era that the statues of Sts. Peter and Paul were installed, the statue of St. Peter being donated by Sister Angela March, who spent her entire life in the convent in Harbour Main; the statue of St. Paul being donated by the people of Chapel’s Cove. Monsignor Dwyer was also instrumental in constructing St. Mark’s and St. Joseph’s schools.
This page Contributed by Barbara McGrath
Revised: July 2002 (Terry Piercey)
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