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PRIEST HELPERS-STRUGGLES TO OBTAIN THEM
From the very outset Monsignor Sears was making plans for the dividing of his vast mission into what we shall call, for lack of a better word, parishes. His letters and memoranda show that this idea was never absent from his mind when building Churches, Presbyteries and Schools. We note, too, that he kept the financial returns of different localities distinct. Now all this. I feel sure, was with the object of having everything in readiness for the reception of priests for the Prefecture. His organizing faculty must have been good, for today the places that he mapped out as the domiciles for priests are thriving parishes. There have been subdivisions, of course, as populations increased and new territory was settled but on the whole his lines of development are clearly discernible in the parochial lay-out of the Diocese of St. George's today.
In his work of trying to recruit priests for the Prefecture, just as in other spheres, he was face to face with the difficulty of lack of funds. He could not bring in priests and afford no means of support for them. Gradually, however, under his careful management things began to take a better turn. The people's generosity grew with their worldly wealth. They were, furthermore, prepared to make sacrifices of many things if only that would secure for them the presence of priests in their midst. Indeed, I think even in those days the generosity of the Newfoundlander to his priest
can hardly be exceeded in any part of the world. Their time their property, is self-taxed to provide for parochial needs in a way that makes the priest who lives and labors for them forget that we are living in the utilitarian age the 20th century. Now, as in these days, the entire adult population will fish for a whole day for the Church." In other words, the fish that is got on a certain day already agreed upon is not devoted to one's personal account but is handed over when saved to the local factor by each crew with instructions that it is to be put to the credit of "the Priest." In the same way when the Fall comes round and after the first fall of snow the same men will betake themselves to the woods, fell the trees, draw it to the Presbytery, the Church and school in due proportion, and so with several other matters, and woe betide the man at the hands of his fellows who fails to give his due amount of "free labor.' And so the amount of money contributions may not appear in country parishes here as munificent as elsewhere they really only, represent a part of what is given by the average Newfoundland fisherman to the Church. To my mind the tenth part, if not more, may usually be accounted for.
By means of these different forms of help given by the people he was as time went on enabled to build little Presbyteries and later again bring in a priest to them with assurances that his faithful people would look after their wants. Besides, he was indebted to the Association of the Propagation of the Faith to the extent of an annual sum for several years of two thousand francs. Wealthy friends of the missions in other parts of the country also helped him from time to time with substantial donations. Thus were the beginnings weak. But from beginnings so small, from elements so fortuitous, with prospects so uncompromising, that at the outset it was regarded as hopeless,
his vast mission gradually began to take on the form of an organized unit in the Church's far flung Empire.
The most important centres of population which existed on his arri~al on the Coast may be set down as the following: the district round the Codroy Rivers, which is usually referred to as Grand River, Bay St. George with its centre at Sandy Point, Bay of Islands, and Bonne Bay. Mention has been made already of the first named places more than once, and as we note from his letter to Bishop Mullock, his first impressions of Bay of Islands were very good. He regarded it as likely to become a most important place in the near future, principally as he then thought. on account of the abundance of herring that visited its arms and the ease and safety with which these herring could be taken. Later on, in some of his writings, he gives further information regarding Bay of Islands of those days, which, in view of the vast changes that time has wrought there, is of interest. In opening up this subject in his Report to the Propagation of the Faith he dwells again on its natural resources as well as on its wonderfully entrancing beauty, and what is of more interest to us just now, continues:
"The first germ of Catholicity was planted by a branch of the first Catholic family of Bay St. George coming here some thirty, years ago. (written 1876). This was indeed confined to one single individual, a female who was married to an Englishman, whom she was the means of bringing into the Church together with a large family they reared. As soon as the locality was visited by a priest with direct jurisdiction, some twelve or fifteen years ago, a few other families followed. These were soon joined by some young men, adventurers from Nova Scotia. They inter-married among the English families, but as soon as the first priest visited the place these women were re-
ecived into the Church, their marriages blessed and their children baptized. The first visit of a missionary priest was made in 1863 by Rev. Fr. Belanger. He had been pastor at St. George's Bay for some years previous, but as there was scarcely any means of communication between the two places, the voyage being long and tedious, and his avocation laborious in his mission, it only in 1868 that he could pay them another visit.''
Following he gives his impressions of Bonne Bay of those days: "By the census of 1868 the Catholics in this Bay were put down as six in number. My first visit to the place was in 1872, four years later. During that time the six had multiplied into something like one hundred and thirty-six souls or thirty families. Since then they have been visited pretty regularly twice or three in the year. The labors of the missionary in these parts may be exemplified by a few circumstances connected with his first visit to the Bay. The Catholic Missionary is not like the Anglican Bishop of the Diocese, possessed of so much of this world's affluence as to enable him to procure a yacht or 'Church Ship' to enable him to visit the various Bays and harbors along his extensive Coast; Hence, as where was no packet or other direct means of communication, there was no means of getting there sooner, and now it was by means of a petition, gotten up among the inhabitants, that the Government were induced to give us a packet to run fortnightly in summer along the Coast as far North as Bonne Bay. I availed myself eagerly of the first trip of the packet to visit this place, Having arrived about 4 P.M. on the 20th May, 1872, there was no chance of my doing much that evening. Indeed towards evening some had collected, but being too exhausted after the voyage, I could do nothing for them. The packet was to be off
early next day, but the manager was kind enough to promise me to wait till I could get through the duties of the occasion. The class of Catholics who have come here may be judged of from the fact that that very morning forty persons could have been prepared for Holy Communion, besides all who care to confess under age, and otherwise not prepared. A number of children were baptized and several marriages blessed. Suffice it to say that the conductor of the packet was out of patience, and the missionary's day of fatigue was one that could not be easily forgotten, were it not for the consolation afforded of being able to make such a good beginning, and do so much for the honor and glory of God in a place never trod before by the feet of 'the dispenser of the mysteries of God.' This Bay is situated some two hundred miles from the residence of the missionary, yet there are some of our Catholic people scattered all along that coast in the direction of the Labrador. There are at least some 130 miles of the Coast further north within the limits of the Prefecture. . . . . . . . .
The inhabitants of Bay of Islands and Bonne Bay are of different nationalities. There are first the old in-habitants, principally of English extraction, there is then a sprinkling of Acadians from Nova Scotia and Cape Breton who follow the fisheries. The lumber trade has brought a number of men from Nova Scotia and Bay Chaleur, these are principally Presbyterians. The Catholic population is made up of two elements, the Acadians above referred to, and the descendants of the Irish colonists who settled in East Newfoundland about the end of the last century. It is a remarkable fact that the descendants of the Irish retain in this country nearly all the peculiarities of their race. In no part of America have they been so exclusively to themselves, consequently many of their traditions
are retained, among which is the spirit of no compromise with protestantism. Then may have other failings, but in point of fidelity to their religion it is hard to surpass them. This prompts them to speak often of it, and in the case of a few protestants living among them they are sure, sooner or later, to gain them over, since almost invariably will mixed marriages result in bringing the non-Catholic party into the Church. Here, as each settlement is so isolated from the other, there is no possibility till roads are opened, for one priest to attend to more than one place, but each settlement cannot be expected to maintain a priest, so there is a great difficulty in me getting priests, and without some aid from abroad it will require some time before the number of priests required could be supported. Hence the necessity of our looking forward with anxiety to an amelioration of our political statute. Our people live now mainly by fishing; but as fishermen they cannot be expected to improve, they must be induced to turn their attention more to the cultivation of the soil."
Seeing that these centres to which I have referred were growing in Catholic population the Prefect strove hard to recruit additional priests to minister in those places. Dr. Howley, as I have already said, helped for a considerable period of time during several years from 1870 onwards. He was accustomed to spend some of the summer months when it was possible to get around from place to place visiting the different missions, in conjunction with the Monsignor. In this way the Prefect was relieved of a good deal of travelling and enabled to take a little well-earned rest. His attempts, however, to get priests to come permanently for work in the Prefecture were unsuccessful even up to 1874, that is to say, for six years after he had taken charge of the coast. During ten months of this year
he had the services of a priest belonging to the Diocese of Arichat, Rev. Fr. Allard. During this year, too he was aided by Dr. Howley as well as by Fr. R. McDonald, another Nova Scotian priest.
In 1876 Rev. Fr. Veronneau arrived to give him help. But he, being a man of delicate constitution, in fact it would seem an invalid, the weight of the labor fell to the Prefect himself. Rev. Fr. Veronneau retired to Canada in 1882. He came, as far as I can discover, from the Diocese of Quebec and on his getting permission to come the Prefect had to guarantee to his Bishop that great care would be taken of him while he stayed in Newfoundland. Fr. Veronneau he stationed in Bay St. George, faithful to his promise to do everything possible to save the young priest's health, Fr. Sears thus describes the worry he experienced in so doing:
"By the last account I have had from home I find that this delicate man, as the result of a cold contracted while attending a sick call, is so ill that my sister wires me I may not overtake him alive. If he should die what because can I give to the good Bishop who entrusted him to my care." And in another place, writing to another Bishop, he says: "But I did not neglect even anything I could do in that line. In 1869 after my arrival I went to Quebec to look for a priest. I made arrangements with the Superior General of the Holy Cross for assistance, but as these priests are more for teaching than for the missions, I have not been able to get them established yet. In 1870 I made another excursion to St. John's, and in 1874 I got Fr. Forgeron . . . but he did not remain . . . he was far from well," and then he winds up what is indeed a heart-breaking epistle: "I could not let him go with-out seeing him; I wanted to see a confessor. It is bad enough when alone to be a year without seeing the face
of a priest. As he was ill the Prefecture I could not let him go . . . it would be too tedious to mention all the delays and disappointments I have experienced in my efforts to secure priests for this vast mission." In 1877, Rev Fr. Primus Dochi was sent from Rome to help the lone missionary. During the time of this priest's sojourn in Newfoundland he seems to have been stationed Bonne Bay or Bay of Islands for the greater part of the time. Fr. Dochi was by birth an Albanian. Who was thought to have suffered as a consequence of his patriotism a the hand of the ruling power in Albania. He would appear to have enjoyed the confidence of Cardinal Simeoni, who was responsible for sending him to Newfoundland to help Fr. Sears. He was in Rome in 1881 with Monsignor Sears and during that time seems to have made up his mind to give up work on the West Coast. He pleaded that the trials and dangers were too much for him and that except formally ordered to go by Propaganda he could not see his way to volunteer for further service. A lovable character in many ways, he seems to have been of a highly sensitive disposition, a trait of character by no means conducive to success in a mission like West Newfoundland. He severed his connections with the Prefecture finally in 1882 for the Diocese of St. John, New Brunswick. He was again disappointed in a Fr. Brennan and then in Fr. Steinlein, who severed his connections with the Prefecture on August 29, 1882. Rev. Fr. R. Phippard, was born at Placentia, Nfld., on the 11th February, 1856. After pursuing the usual course of studies at St. Bonaventure's and Rome as well as for a short period at St. Pierre, he was ordained for the Prefecture in 1880.... This young priest began and finished his priestly career in the Prefecture, dying of consumption at Sandy Point, where he had
Great Pioneer of St. George's Diocese, (1889 - 1944)
lived as Pastor, on July 26, 1886. His remains were subsequently removed to his native place, Placentia, for burial. Periodically he received help from priests from Nova Scotia and Harbor Grace, but in most cases for only short periods as those who came found travelling from place to place, with the poor means then, only to be found too trying. We also find frequent mention of the name of Fr. Palmer, an Englishman. As well as Fr. McInnis, who was stationed for many years in Bay of Islands, and after the Monsignor's death at Grand River. It is proper I think, at this point to pay a tribute to one who was one of Monsignor's greatest helps and thus one of the Prefecture's greatest benefactors during these dark days. This is his sister, Miss Honora Sears, a truly devoted woman, who had sacrificed much to follow her heroic brother into the wilderness, she was a tower of strength to him in many ways in his arduous duties. She helped in the teaching of Christian doctrine and did wonders in moulding the growing girls according to the traditions of faith and modesty that she had both inherited from her forefathers and developed in herself.
In many a poor cabin she was an angel of mercy. She spent much of her time attending on the sick and afflicted and visiting the poor and lonely. As a fellow priest, writing to Monsignor, said of her: "She has built up a pyramid of merit in this world from which she may easily step into heaven when her time comes." It is doubtful if Monsignor Sears could have withstood the hardships of his missionary career deprived of such a domestic overseer. Miss Sears survived her brother.
Before his death he had the satisfaction of knowing that young stalwarts were giving even from their
services to his beloved Prefecture, and when his own strength was ebbing away he had the consolation of seeing that others were preparing to take his place and carry on the work which he had begun. At the time of his death, Andrew Sears, a young Kerryman; and a kinsman of his own, and William J. Brown of St. John's, Newfoundland, were preparing, the former in All Hallows, Dublin, and the latter at Montreal for the services of West Newfoundland. Indeed there was nothing that he could have done for the portion of the Lord's vineyard entrusted to his care that he did not do for it.
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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