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MONSIGNOR SEARS-CHURCH BUILDER
The brief account that has been given of Monsignor Sears' activities in connection with the opening up of the West Coast by means of local and cross country roads' then his continuous appeals to the Government for a policy for the encouragement of Agriculture as well as his personal direct efforts in securing suitable immigrants his supervision of the roads under construction, his study of the question of agriculture from every conceivable angle and his resulting voluminous correspondence must have consumed a great deal of his time and energy. When we consider the attention he gave to his outlying missions wherein he always gave the people an opportunity at least of making the Easter Duty from Ramea to Flowers Cove, and the long time taken by this moving from place to place by the most primitive means, we wonder that he could have found time for all that he accomplished and attempted. In his humble little stud, at Sandy Point or at Grand River, amidst frequent and unavoidable interruptions in attending to the calls of the people at these places, fatigue must often have pressed down his drooping eyelids as he carefully formulated those truly beautiful letters of his which never display the slightest indication of hurry or carelessness, which set forth his demands for the West Coast and backed up the demands by arguments born of much thought as well as keen observation and judgment. Then, as we
know, his religious exercises were never omitted; his Mass, his meditation, his office, his daily rosary, had their time day after day. We wonder indeed how he found time for all the activities already alluded to. But our wonder is; increased when we find out that at one and the same time a variety of other and totally different activities were continually crying out for his attention and supervision to the smallest details. While busily engaged in the work mentioned in the last section he was also busily engaged in having Churches, Presbyteries, Schools. either built on the new or enlarged in widely different parts of his extensive charge. Scarcely a year opened but found him beginning to prepare for the construction of some new church building in one place or another. For the most part it may be said that he had to attend to every detail in connection with the construction of these different buildings. He had to provide the plans; there were no architects. He had to secure, as best he could, the money. He had to make out the lumber 'bills' and look after all the accounts. His accounts for all these buildings were separately kept and were as carefully attended to as if he had nothing else in the world to occupy his attention. They are all in his own handwriting. Indeed, it is from these accounts, collection, bills, receipts, and such like, that I have derived practically all the information that I feel justified in putting forward as regards his Church building activities. As far as I know, he has left no regular accounts of his daily movements and activities except insofar as the reports which he from time to time drew up indicate. This is a matter for regret for us, as his daily thoughts and occupations would now be of incalculable value and interest. However, his account books give a fair idea of his work in this connection.
To erect even a few buildings under the
conditions in which found himself entails an amount of drudgery that is calculated to try the patience and nerve of even a strong man. The drudgery and disappointments which he experienced rarely were mentioned. At all times, I have been assured, in his owb home as well as amid strangers, with the rich as well as with the poor and unfortunate, he preserves a charm of manner that would never indicate the trials of many kinds that were practically his daily lot. He never worried other people by tales of woe and scarcely ever alluded to the hardships he had to undergo except; to try and soften the hearts of those who have it in their power to help his mission.
Even when a priest finds little or no difficulty in securing the money necessary for beginning and continuing the erection of badly-needed church buildings, the administration of the funds, the anxieties connected with the prohibition of material and of the dangers from the elements for unfinished buildings in our Northern climates constitute a heavy drain on the health and good humor of even the best. But consider the additional worries our good friend had to endure from the exceptional circumstances in which he was placed. He had no endowments to fall back upon except the charity of a few friends. Money was always hard to get sufficient for the needs that cried out. His people, none of them wealthy and many of them poor, could not be expected to supply all that was needed within a short space of time, and thus but for his extraordinary trust in the Providence of God and his own energy, the buildings we speak of would never have been completed. The difficulties of securing funds for works so badly needed were nerve-wracking. He took up collections from time to time which grew slowly. Then there were collections of fish, the priest appointing certain days on which whatever fish was
taken was disposed of for the benefit of the Church. Finally, when he judged he had enough money on hand to begin operations, he organized gangs of men to cut the frame in the woods, clear the foundations and put the frame in place. All this looks to the layman easy and to others perhaps surrounded by romance, but the priest who has even a little experience of this kind of work knows something of what worry and annoyance these buildings cost to the man responsible for the erection of them.
All these difficulties were intensified to an extent that we cannot easily understand nowadays in the case of Monsignor Sears when he undertook to raise little temples to the honor of God along the western sea-board.
And then when we consider the fatiguing journeys, the long, stays over in uninviting places, poorly lodged and poorly fed, without any of the conveniences of ease and that pleasant seclusion for which a priest craves betimes and which is always necessary for work demanding concentration, our admiration is heightened. The many disappointments which he experienced in securing fellow-laborers must have been a strong temptation leading him to work merely for the present as others had done before him. But, no; he shrank from no unpleasant task. Not alone did he work as if the present only mattered, but he worked also for the future. If we look for a simile to describe him and his mission in those days we cannot describe his advance as that of a stately ship proudly riding the waves. her sails full with a fair wind; rather was he the Captain of a frail barque beating against a head wind by such slow degrees that many could hardly say that he advanced at all. He appeared to lose ground, but it was only a tack to enable him the better to bite into the wind. With that strength which always
Fourth Bishop of St. George's
comes to a brave man when he realizes that all depends on him, he, the captain, mate and seaman, all in one, lashed himself to the wheel undaunted.
Thus it was that from 1869 onwards he may be considered as incessantly preparing for the erection of Church buildings or actually engaged in the work of construction.
From account books of his in his own handwriting and from scattered references in little diaries I glean the following information, all I would secure. The dates, it is well to remember, do not pretend to give the exact time when operations were begun except when that fact is stated. They refer to the time when he began taking up collections for such and such a building:
1870 Church of the Holy Family, Bay of Islands, N.B. In a little diary I find the following with reference to this building: "Operations begun to clear foundations and begin construction Church of the Holy Family Bay of Islands, Monday, 8th March, 1875." The cost of erecting this Church reached at least $3.500.00. This expenditure did not include interior work, painting, seating, as well as a great deal of labor which was 'free.'
1870 Church of St. Joseph and Presbytery, Bay of Islands.
1870 St. Michael's Church, Channel.
1871 Enlarging and improving the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Sandy Point. $800.00.
1875 St. Patrick's Church, Bonne Bay.
1878 Glebe House, Grand River.
1882 Church of St. Martin, Cape Ray.
.... St. Columkille, Highlands.
I would like to add that it is my very firm conviction that this list is incomplete It says nothing, if you will notice, about the erection of schools which as we know, were also erected. He had also expended a considerable amount of money, something about £200, on the improvements to a house at Sandy Point, the gift of Bishop Mullock, and which Monsignor had destined as a Convent boarding school. At some future date when I have a better opportunity of meeting those who could supply the information I hope to present a complete list of his church buildings.
It is not too much to say that even this list or programme represents a stupendous undertaking, all circumstances taken into account. Those little churches were all without exception, as far as he could secure, neat and devotional though not imposing structures. However, I think that the Church at Bay of Islands would deserve to be called an elegant and spacious building.
Thus by dint of hard work the people were being supplied with little churches in which they could congregate on Sunday s and other times of special devotion to worship God in common.
His scheme of finance was simple in the extreme and may be reduced to the principle, "pay as you go." When bills were due they were almost met promptly. I can find no evidence that he ever resorted to building on the loan principle and he was a wise man. We may briefly summarize the results of his unremitting toil on the sphere of which we are dealing by quoting from his Report of 1877:
"In this Bay of Islands there are now seven hundred Catholics, faithful and steadfast in the faith. Of these many are converts, and those are as usual, some of the most fervent. Two beautiful churches have been erected, one of which when completely finished, will be second to few buildings in any of the surrounding Colonies in point of architectural design and finish, besides three or four school-houses which are being prepared for parochial schools." "In Bonne Bay there is a nice chapel fast advancing to completion." Thus was it becoming possible for him to have places of worship wherein he could perform the different services of the Church with that decorum so much to be desired and which tends so much to the upbuilding of the faith in those privileged to be present. The presence of a little church, no matter how unpretentious, has always a wonderfully encouraging effect on a people. It is, as it were, a reminder every day in the week to them of the allegiance they owe to Almighty God in Whose honor and for whose work it has been erected. Even in its construction it affects their religious education in calling forth their generosity and self-sacrifice and finally it is for them a sign of the stability in their midst of our Holy Religion.
Transcribed by Bill Crant, Elmsdale, NS Canada, by permission of St. George's Diocese, St. George's, Newfoundland
Page Revised: February - 2003 (Don Tate)
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