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THE PREFECTURE IN 1881. VISIT TO ROME,
The year 1881 was, as we have already seen, an important year for the West Coast. I have gone as far as describing the speech from the throne at the opening of Parliament for that year as being the Magna Charta. I think I have not exaggerated in doing so.
First Cathedral used when St. George's became a Diocese, 1904
I refer to the recognition on the part of the Government of the Colony, first of all of its rights to give grants of land to settlers and thus give fixity of tenure, and in the second place the decision to have the West Coast represented by two members in the House of Assemblsy, one for the district of St. George's and one for the district of St. Barbe.
The important part which Monsignor Sears took in the movement looking for these advantages cannot be gainsaid. He may, I think, be justly considered as the originator of the movement as well as its most staunch supporter. Another important step had been taken in 1878, when the Telegraph system was extended to the West Coast, thus bringing it into communication over the wire with the Capital. He notes with evident pleasure in one of his notebooks: "Feb. 16, 1878, G. Lemoine came to commence Telegraph line at Bay of Islands." and a little further on, under the date of Feb. 18, he again notes: "First tree on telegraph line cut. Lecture by Magistrate." In August of that same year he saw another step in the right direction and he notes, under the date of August 22nd: " First court held at St. George," and so all the improvements that were being gradually made are from time to time noted with as much apparent pleasure as a school boy counting off the days to the summer vacation.
Though much remained to be done he, nevertheless, had the satisfaction of seeing great advances made and a deeper interest being manifested year by year in the West by the Government. His letters and lectures had awakened the rest of the country to the importance of the West. It was more than once acknowledged in the frequent letters that appeared in the Press following this awakening that the general public owed its knowledge of the conditions on the French Shore to the out-
spoken expressions of Opinions of Monsignor Sears contained in his illuminating and his illuminating letters and public utterances. He never tired of singing its praises and he had the consolation of at least catching a faint echo from time to time.
His activities were prodigious and his services to his adopted country can never be adequately repaid. Though he often used his pen too severely to criticize those whom he regarded as acting with want of energy in regard to the West Coast, his criticism was never of the merely destructive kind. He was too great a soul to be sarcastic merely for the sake of wounding or getting back on his opponents. He envied no one. He never tried to urge his people on to enthusiasm by exciting in them feelings of envy for those who received more consideration than they did. His letters are always temperate, if strong the fruits of deep thought and ardent and thorough-going patriotism. He was, according to one of the newspapers: "a man of singular honesty and earnestness of purpose, of vast and deep practical knowledge, of far-reaching prudence, combined with an almost childlike simplicity and single-mindedness, of rare virtue and lively faith."
Another of the daily papers had this to say: "Whatever work he undertook he was so convinced of its rectitude that he launched himself heart and soul into it and with such enthusiasm as to bring upon himself the incredulity almost the ridicule, of more easy-going persons. Yet in the long run his views were always found to rest on strong practical bases."
He had also welcomed to the Coast the first Magistrate, Commander Howorth. Over and over again since his arrival he had been asking the Government to provide some living symbol of law and order who would mete out justice to the inhabitants of the French Shore.
nature of his relations with the Government of the Colony. As we can see he was almost continually in communication with the heads of the different Departments of the Government. In the first place he was, as he frequently said no politician. Parties as such had very little interest for him. He bound himself in no sense to any party whatever. His object was to educate whatever party the majority of the votes of the country put into power in the needs of the district over which he had spiritual jurisdiction. He was considered highly competent to speak of the needs of this part and his opinion was always given consideration. He was, besides, sincerely interested in the progress of the country in general, and I can find no case in which he would have demanded benefits for the West Coast which would react on the general interests of the Colony. His principal line of argument was that by promoting industrial interests in the West Coast the Government would be laying the foundations of a really prosperous country, a country which did not have all its eggs in one basket, as it were. This was taken for granted and, therefore it is not surprising that Monsignor Sears received courtesy of a marked kind from all parties and from different governments, though this must not be taken as meaning that they always agreed with him or that they acted on his suggestions at all times as if they did agree with him. Then to consider him as a fiery, rough and read: verbose propagandist would be poles from the truth. His letters show that he was nothing of that kind. He was indeed the mildest of men, perhaps that was one of the reasons why he was so successful in gaining his ends.
His relations with ministers of other religious denominations when he was brought into contact with them were of the happiest kind, for here, too, his sincerity was apparent. This is particularly well evidenced
by his relations with the head of the Anglican Church on the West Coast, Rev. Mr. Curling, of Bay of Islands, who was Rural Dean of the Straits of Belle Isle.
Taking into account his great zeal and wonderful activity, and also taking into account that he was almost continually under the public gaze, one might feel inclined to opine that Monsignor might incur, even though unwittingly, the hostility of those whose religious beliefs differed from his. Not one such instance can discover. It would seem, indeed, that he was universally loved and revered. The purity of his motives and his deep and wide charity was unquestioned by even those who could not in all things see eye to eye with him. Mere human tact might have carried him over some of the many shoals that seem ever in the course of men called upon to undertake a work such as fell to his lot, but only a full recognition of his sterling honesty of purpose by those outside the fold could have done so permanently for sixteen years.
The accompanying letter from the Rev. Mr. Curling to Monsignor is well able to substantiate this view of Monsignor Sears:
"Thank you very much for your kind letter with its good wishes for Mrs. Curling and myself, which we heartily reciprocate. I am sorry to hear of your constitution being so much impaired but I hope that you will find your strength is renewed like the Eagle's and that you may have still many years to spend on this coast for I have often thankfully acknowledged how much the inhabitants of this Coast owe to the interest you evince in the welfare of all classes. It has been a cause of much comfort to me to feel that you take a wide view of the unhappy divisions of Christianity and
have never unduly pressed the claims of the Church of Rome.
"We have thus in this part of the Colony been kept free to a great extent from that bitter spirit which has characterized religious parties elsewhere, and I pray God that we may ever continue in that freedom. Thank you very sincerely for the kind expression towards myself contained in your letter. "With regard to the occasion to which you refer, when we left Bonne Bay together, I felt that you were only doing your work and that my only cause of complaint was with myself for not having more thoroughly instructed the members of the flock committed to my care.
"With you, I quite feel how sad it is for husband and wife not to worship at the same altar.
"Thank you for the explanation you kindly gave me as to the cases in which you would re-baptize. I have indeed considered that you have always acted on the principle you express since you made inquiry of me about Ben Brake's baptism.
"Our great difficulty is to train up in the fear of God these who are baptized....
"Very sincerely yours,
- " JOSEPH J. CURLING. "
He was never behind in giving to others due praise for their goodness and zeal. Perhaps when he wrote them he never thought these lines of his manifesting this beautiful characteristic would be read by any outside the Council of the Propagation of the Faith in far away France. He is speaking of his friend, the Rev. Mr. Curling:
"Now I am happy to say that the members of the Anglican ministry whom I have met have treated me
First Priest Born in Newfoundland to be ordained (1880)
for the Prefecture of St. George's
with great consideration indeed. In no instance have I found them in any way interfering with my people.
"I may in a special manner speak of a wealthy young Englishman, a clergyman, who has for a time at least set aside the pleasures accruing from the enjoyment of a large income in England to devote himself to the labors of a missionary in this uncultivated region. This gentleman owing to his personal wealth, has provided the mission with a splendid yacht, a most useful appurtenance in a region like this one. This gentleman had the urbanity to offer me a passage in his yacht any time we should be going in the same direction. I have availed myself of the offer."
It is hardly necessary to say that from his flock Monsignor always received a devotion and loyalty that could hardly be exceeded. This, after all, was only natural for daily for seventeen years they were witnesses of the sacrifices he cheerfully bore in trying to bring them the consolations of religion as well as the continuous agitation he carried on for their material improvement.
In spite of his many trials and disappointments, in spite of the hardships that were his lot from the beginning to the end of his life as a missionary in Newfoundland, he ever preserved that sweetness of disposition which endeared him to his people in Nova Scotia when the oil of anointing was not yet dry on his hands and when he was full of that fervent enthusiasm characteristic of the young levite.
His hearty laugh, his buoyant step, the firm hand-shake, his consideration for all which had nothing of condescension in it, his manifest gratitude and thoughtfulness for the smallest benefits conferred; his affection for his friends; his toleration for opponents that mere natural inclination would often tend to make him
despise, these traits of his character were never lessened by the trials experienced in his missionary work.
Those who knew him at this time were struck by the serenity of his mind in the midst of so many activities, and by the pleasure he would try to give his friends by enjoying with them the simple amusements he now and again allowed himself.
He was not one ever with the tale of woe upon his lips. To repine was foreign with his character. He would be faithful in even these things to the high vocation he had selected to follow, and as we know he vas faithful unto death.
This resume seems natural here for the purpose of collecting, collating and bringing into true perspective the scattered facts of the narrative as well as to bring us to a new epoch in the story of the Church in the West Coast when it, in the person of its spiritual chief, was honored by the Holy Father when Monsignor Sears visited Rome in the year 1881.
In the spring of the year 1881 the Prefect Apostolic set out to pay a visit to Rome and read before Pope Leo XIII an account of that part of God's vineyard which had been entrusted to his care. This was the first time that an account of the state of religion on the West Coast as a separate entity had been submitted to the Holy See. As it may be regarded as of special interest on that account I give it in full at the end of this narrative. Needless to say the people made both the time of his departure thither and his return from Rome occasions of expressing their appreciation of his services. Coming together on the eve of his leaving Codroy Valley for St. John's en route for the Holy City the people made many allusions to the work of their Pastor. While glad that he was to convey personally his own as well as their fealty to the VICAR of Christ they were filled with regrets that he would be absent from them for
even a brief period and prayed God to watch over and protect him during his journey:
'We cannot allow this opportunity to pass, without thanking you for the substantial benefits you have conferred on the whole West Coast of Newfoundland both spiritual and temporal. Yours, indeed, has been a missionary life of a two-fold character; we cannot give you too much praise for your spiritual labors amongst us; your kindly disposition, evenness of temper and generosity to the poor have endeared you to all. "The developing of the West Coast is in a great measure due to your exertions. By your unflagging zeal and indomitable perseverance you have succeeded in securing such consideration as has enabled us to commence the work of opening up our country.
"It is not flattery to name you the West Coast's best benefactor. By your advocacy of our rights, you have placed the shore in a favorable position before the world, and a region heretofore unknown has a status in the country.
"When generation after generation shall have passed away the memory of the Very Rev. Thomas Sears will be green in the history of his adopted country.'' I will confine myself to giving only one paragraph from his reply to this address, showing the reason and giving ample justification for his activities in securing the amelioration of the conditions as found in West Newfoundland on his first coming:
"With the minister of God material prosperity is only secondary. Then as the sole spiritual guide for years of three thousand souls dispersed in detached sections along a boisterous sea-coast of hundreds of miles, having as little knowledge of and as little inter-
communication with each other as if a part were located in the most distant part of the earth, I could spare but little time to attend to your material advancement. But from that very cause whence arose the greatest difficulty to act, thence the greatest necessity for action emanated. To unite a people so widely severed and form them into one under the same pastors, could not be done without ameliorating the conditions which thus isolated them." During his trip to Europe Fr. Sears visited Ireland and made a short stay at the home of his fathers in Ventry. He also visited All Hallow's College in an attempt to secure candidates for the Prefecture. He succeeded in placing one student in that famous College.
While in Rome he was a guest of Dr. Kirby, Rector of the Irish College and was graciously received by Pope Leo XIII and by Cardinal Simeoni. Leaving Rome he visited Avignon, Toulouse and Paris and before leaving France he went on a pilgrimage to the Grotto of Our Lady at Lourdes. Fr. Phippard, just ordained, and Fr. Dochi, who was with him during his stay in Rome, rejoined him at London and both returned with him to Newfoundland. On the 22nd November of this year the Prefect Apostolic of St. George's was named Domestic Prelate, with all the honors and privileges that go with this dignity, by His Holiness Pope Leo XIII.
The whole Catholic community rejoiced at his election but particularly his own flock who expressed their pleasure in numerous congratulatory addresses. In reply to these addresses Monsignor gives an account of what has been done in the Mission during the past thirteen years. He says: "Many improvements have been effected. You have now regular communications with the civilized world. Roads and other appliances of civilization have been introduced. There are also several efficient schools in - operation. Seven new
Churches or Chapels have been constructed, a parochial residence, which in point of architectural design, exterior embellishment and finish is second to no other house in the rural districts of the Island."
In addition to these buildings just enumerated, the Presbytery Church at Stephenville were completed in 1883.
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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