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Father Forristal Passes To His Reward

From the St. John's Daily News
Sept. 10 & 11, 1894



Melancholy Demise

The Remains in State in the Cathedral

- A Few Leading Events of a Long and Eventful Life

Death has once again been busy in our midst, and this time he has marked as his victim the Venerable Archdeacon FORRISTAL, a priest who for well nigh fifty years has "borne the heat and labors of the day" for the cause of Christianity in Newfoundland. Father FORRISTAL was the last connecting link which united the present with the past. He was the sole surving ecclesiastic of all who took part in the Consecration of the Cathedral, and by a curious coincidence his death occurred on the eve of that anniversary. The day of his decease also corresponded with the date of the Most Rev. Dr. POWER's first arrival in Newfoundland.

The Archdeacon was known and loved by all citizens and indeed by the people of the colony generally without distinction of class or creed. He was possessed of a strongly marked individuality, which impressed itself indelibly on his generation. He was singularly affable and courtly, and had the art of winning friendship and admiration. Beneath an exterior, somewhat cold and stern, lay a kindly disposition and a generous, charitable heart. If his wit was pungent - and truly it could be so - his hand was ever open to the indegent and a manner occasionallycynical, concealed an ample fund of kindness and generosity on which the distressed and sorrowing nevercalled in vain. His friendship was strong and abiding when once given, and many a mourner tells today.

With tear-dimmed eyes of the Archdeacon's constancy and devotion, especially shown in seasons of desolation. His character was robust and enduring even as was his bodily frame. He was gifted with an intellect powerful, subtle and penetrating and his mind was that masculine cast which loved to deal with difficult problems.

Fr. FORRISTAL was a man of general reading, but he had a special aptitude for classical works. It is pathetic to relate on the day of his death, he quoted a passage at dinner from Horace, and that with accuracy though he might not have studied the author for sixty years. Books were his constant companions all through life, and he often remarked that his love of reading enabled him to support the tedium and complete isolation of the outport mission in the early days of his career. As a preacher the Archdeacon was at all times vigorous, impressive and learned. In the confessional he was indefatigable, he was hearing his penitents within an hour of his death, but his great and crowning glory is to be sought in his Apostlic zeal in the cheerful alacrity, with which he devoted himself to a life of missionary labors at a period when parishes were seperated by immense distances, and Newfoundland, in parts scarcely passable. Neither perils on land or water; neither swollen river or stormy sea; neither marsh or mountain nor aboriginal forest could hinder the gallant and devoted Irish missioner from bringing the consolation of religion to the suffering members of his flock. His life was full of vicissitudes. He had been brought face to face with death in every form. He had to confront in his earlier days heat and cold, frost and rain, exposed to all severities of climate, contagion, desease, and even the wild beasts of the forest, but he took all as coming within the line of his duty, and without doubt, if the occasion demanded it, he would have given his life's blood for the flock, as multitudes of his Apostilic countrymen have done before him. In after years if the Arch-Deacon were complimented on his missionary success, he turned the praise aside by some of his inimitable wittcisms well satisfied to forego human estimation, caring only that his work should find acceptance in Heaven. Courage was a marked feature in his strong character. He even took his dying coolly, because his good old Irish faith was stronger than grim death itself. When the stroke came as he sat reading at his study table he roused himself by an incredible exertion of will, summoning every strong faculty in a strong nature to his aid, struggled to the door and with his failing voice called for a priest. He knew it was the end, but faith triumphed over the "King of Terror" and stripped him of horrors. "Absolve me" said the old hero priest, "I'm dying," and were it not for the brave heart and strong nerve in the last awful moments, the priests then absent at variuos duties would never have found him living. Almost with his dying breathe he asked for Father SCOTT, and explained that on recieveing the stroke he made a struggle to reach his room for absolution, but fell at his own door whilst making the attempt. Such an effort was a noble act of faith, an appropriate crown to a life of Apostilic labor. Father SCOTT performed the last sad rites for the dying, and during the past months of his administratorship, did everything in his power that the sunset of the venerable priest's life should be without a cloud.

Archdeacon FORRISTAL was born in Montcoign, County Kilkenny, December 27th, 1820. He recieved his early collegiate training in County Waterford, where he had as class-mates many young students, who in after years became prominent churchmen on the Home and American missions.

At his death, he had almost reached his 74th year, and accomplished his 50th year of his priesthood, but three months. Had he lived till December 27th of the current year, he would celebrate his Golden Jubilee, a privilege granted few.

He anticipated this event with keen satisfaction, but God willed otherwise.

The Archdeacon recieved ordination in St. John's, at the hands of Bishop FLEMING in 1844, precisely on the day on which he completed his 24th year. He duplicated on the day his first Mass, celebrating first in town and then in Petty Harbor.

Placentia was the first field of his missionary labors. To illustrate the difficulties of the mission at that period he often related how he performed his journey from town to his new parish on foot. He entered the settlement amidst the universal joy of the inhabitants. Bonfires blazed on every height and rolling musketry, awoke the echoes amongst the hills. His tact and zeal had excellent results in that district. He won the affection of the people by his kindly gracious manner and it has often been said "that the people of Placentia would die for Father FORRISTAL." Many of the older inhabitants will be painfully surprised in hearing of his death. His career in that settlement was one of varied usefulness. During his time there he had a fine public road built. He projected even at that early age a water pipe system, and often said pleasantly of late, "I must go to Placentia again to see the laying of the aquaducts." Perhaps the most solid temporal benefit Father FORRISTAL conferred on Placentia was the establishment of a splendid commercial school, which he kept open after the ordinary hours, so that all might recieve the benefit of a practical education. This school was an immense success. It was the foundation of all the good work since done in Placentia in the cause of education. To direct this institution, he procured the services of the late Inspector KELLY, a gentleman of first-class abilities and solid attainments.

He set on foot many useful institutions, amongst others a weaving loom and promoted the intellectual development of the place by purchasing a large collection of books for distribution. Such efforts prove Father FORRISTAL's energy of character and zeal for his flock. All this was attempted fifty years ago in the midst of countless difficulties. These facts show that by his death we have lost one of those magnanimous pioneers of science and religion, men of indomitable energy, powerful will, dauntless courage and a faith which might move mountains. The Archdeacon was an unflinching advocate for denominational education, and believed that the success of a school depended on the amount of interest taken in it by the local clergyman. Whilst in Placentia, he procured ground for the present beautiful convent and from his own personal property, gave the pint of land now known as Mount Carmel Cemetery. He left Placentia to the regret of all at the call of authority. He would willingly have remained to complete certain useful public and religous works then in hand, but Dr. MULLOCK was on the point of opening St. Bonaventure's College and he wisely selected Father FORRISTAL as its first president. The subject of this hurried and imperfect sketch was then in life's prime. He is described by contemporaries as a young man of splendid physique. He was tall, commanding, and graceful. A pair of dark, penetrating eyes of unquenched lustre, gave intellect, reality and a certain glow to his countenances. His hair was dark, his manners courtly and elegant. He was an untiring walker, a splendid horseman and a prime favorite with all classes of society.

As director of St. Bonaventure's College, he fully justified Dr. MULLOCK's choice. His classical knowledge stood him in good stead in his new line of duty and many a man in the forties delights to relate how he took his frist Latin lessons from the Archdeacon. He was kind and paternal to all under his tuition, and never lost interest in his early pupils. In his educational works he was associated with, and ably seconded by Hon. T. TALBOT, Hon. M. FENELON, and other gentlemen of established name and repute in the domain of letters. Under him the College grew and prospered for his administrative ability was of a high order. He was transferred from the College - on its being firmly established - to take charge of the parishes of Fermeuse and Ferryland. He ruled those settlements for eleven years with zeal and charity. During his residenceon the Southern Shore he gave a signal proof of the noble generosity of his soul. A season of dearth had set in navigation was stoped, no supplies were in prospect. Father FORRISTAL comes to the rescue, and from his own private resources supplies scores of families with provisions. Such was the action of a true shepherd, a noble-hearted priest. Acts like this are not a few in his life. They are known to a bountiful Master, who will not allow even the cup of "cold water given in his name to go without its reward." In 1877 Most Rev. Dr. POWER, appointed Father FORRISTAL to the Cathedral in the room of Father McGRATH, deceased. The Bishop had for Father FORRISTAL fellings of tender regard. He entrusted him with the administratorship, knowing that his love for the "beauty of God's House and the place where glory dwelleth." His lordship had a veneration for his character and a high appreciation of his merits. He loved to hear him relate missionary experiences and tell in his own inimitable style tales of the brave days of old. The Bishop gracious and kind to all was especially so to father FORRISTAL, and would aften say to him good naturedly and pleasantly, "My dear Arch-Deacon, we must get you to publish your memoirs." Father FORRISTAL was rich in anecdote. He had a singularly tenacious memory for facts and had an intimate knowledge of men, and things, and local occurances for the past fifty years. He was a living history of the church in Newfoundland. He knew every locality and almost every family in the country, men of whom the present generation has no idea, save from books, were intimate friends and associates if the Ven. Archdeacon. He could give details of the life of Dr. FLEMING and of the priests of that day with wonderful accuracy and in a manner all his own.

What a picture he could draw of missionary life in former days. Those were times when himself or any other priest of the period obliged to celebrate one mass in town, to ride to Torbay for the second and on returning again to the old palace intown, would find a sick call waiting him from Petty Harbor. How well could he make one realize those terrible Cholera days. He remembered well the morning the terrible disease appeared in the city. He was just going to celebrate 8:30 Mass in the "Old Chapel." He ran to attend the "first case" without putting off sontaine. He was just inthe nick of time. The patient died within the hour. It was his eaperience on more than one occasion to walk to a childs funeral with a father in the evening and to walk after that same father to his own burial the next morning. With what sprightly wit could hit off the different circumstances and peculiarities of the times, through which he passed, and what amusement he could raise in contrasting the present with bye-gone days, giving in a good-humoured adriot manner the advantage to the latter. He was decidedly a mourner of a past generation, yet fully alive to present day interest. He stood by the side of Dr. FLEMING amidst the priests and prelates on the glorious day of the consecration of our Cathedral.

He was President of St. Bonaventure's College, and a prominent priest of the diocese, even in the early part of Bishop MULLOCK's episcopate, and assuredly it was an interesting thing to have so venerable a landmark standing like a noble monument of the past; to have so stately a figure, so worthy a survivor of things that are gone, moving with courtly grace amidst scenes and persons of the last decade of the 19th century. he was the last of the "Old Priests", an Apostolic band of men like unto those who have ever stoodin the vanguardof the church, and triumphantly planted the standard of the cross in every quarter of the globe. He has been the "old man" for many a year, not that his figure was less erect or his step more feeble, but that he belonged to an earlier period and the associates of his youth and manhood, were long gathered to their reward.

The events of his life under Dr. POWER are known to all. The beautiful pictured windows - shedding over the church a "dim religious light", will preserve his memory down to the remotest posterity. Then too, there stands the noble St. Andrew's Alter, likewise his work. The heating of the Cathedral was also carried out under his term as administrator. The title of Arch-Deacon was given him by Dr. POWER and on that occasion, His Lordship paid him an eloquent tribute in his own princely style from the pulpit. His trip to Rome was the last great event of his life. He was recieved with every mark of affection by the Supreme Pontiff and enjoyed the unusual privilege of a long private audience with the Father of Christendom. During the past year, he spoke on this theme very frequently and lovingly. On his return, he made the reception given by His Holiness the object of a beautiful discourse in the Cathedral.

The circumstances attendiing his death require no detailing. They are generaaly known. The Arch-Deacon met a rather sudden end but by no means an unprovided one. On Saturday, he met the Priests at dinner and at tea in his usual cheerful and sociable manner. There was then no forewarning, he never looked better or discoursed with more animation. On Saturday night he occupied his confessional and remainedin the church till 9 o'clock. He then retired to his sitting room and whilst there reading, got the Apoplectic Stroke. He rallied by an effort, managed to attract the Priest's attention, made his confession and recieved absolution with perfect conciousness, and later on was anointed. Dr. KEEGAN arrived but no human skill could avail. He breathed his last at 11 o'clock on Saturday night, Sept. 8th, 1894. Considering the comparative suddenness of his death, and the fact that he retained sufficient mental composure to recieve the Sacrements, we must acknowledge that the hand of a merciful God was in the work who would not let his zealous Priest go into eternity without the consolations of Holy Religion. He died in harness even as he lived. It was his grace to recieve the last aides of Holy Religion before the end. may we not say "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, for their works shall follow them." Yes, the sorrows and the tears; the travels and danger of fifty years have followed our "Apostolic Priest" into eternity, and we are confident that when the Shepherds surround the Chief Pastor in the Lord's day, and when the sheep are gathered on the everlastinghills, a crown will not be wanting on the brow of William Arch-Deacon FORRISTAL, one of the founders and pillars, and Aposolic corner-stones of the Church of Christ in Newfoundland.

The funeral of the Ven. Arch-Deacon FORRISTAL took place at 12:30 today. Requiem Office was chaunted by the clergy generally, and Mass was celebrated by the Very Rev. Father SCOTT, assisted by Revs. O'NEIL and O'REILLY. Dr. O'REILLY preached the funeral panegyric in language at once eloquent and touching. He spoke of the labors and unflinching zeal of the saintly deceased, and recounted many of the heroic deeds performed in early missionary life by the Ven. Arch-Deacon. The Church was crowded by both old and young, all of whom will have a distinct remembrance not only of the last Sacred Rites of the honored dead, but of his familiar figure and God-like works in real life. The hearse and casket was provided by Mr. John CAREW, and en-route was preceded by the mounted and foot Constabulary, the pupils of the Christian Brothers School and St. Bonaventure's Colege, Star of the Sea, Total Abstinence, Mechanics, Benevolent Irish, Holy Name, Cathedral and St. Patrick's Christin Doctrine Societies, and Alter Boys and several prominent clergy. Immediately before the coffin walked Bishops BRENNAN, M'DONALD and CAMERON, of Antionish. The hearse which was flanked by the Fire Brigade in their uniforms was followed by the Christain Brothers and an imense concourse of citizens, followed by the carriages completed the melancholy procession. The route which led from the Cathedral, down Military Road to Queen's Road, and thence up New Gower Street to Patick Street, thence Water Street and by way of Cochrane Street to Belvedere was thronged with spectators, who reverently uncovered as the remains of the Apostle was conveyed to their last earthly home in Belvedere. Every place of business during the route of the procession was closed, thus showing the marked appreciation held by all classes and creeds for the respected deceased.



Page contributed by: Chris Shelley, February 17th, 2000
Page revised: August 2002 (Terry Piercey)

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