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FR. SEARS VOLUNTEERS FOR WEST NEWFOUNDLAND
For the first hundred years the Catholic population in the West Coast may be regarded as consisting of Acadians and French Canadians with a few native Frenchman. As years went on many Scotch and Irish from Cape Breton began to settle in the district around Codroy. These began to come even before the advent of Fr. Belanger they were joined there by some Acadians. It can be safely said that their coming profoundly influenced subsequent events on the Coast. The first arrivals seem to have come about 1844, but the immigration at that time was almost negligible. The lure was the stories that traveled to Nova Scotia of the wonderful fertility of the soil in many parts of the West Coast of Newfoundland. It was also well known that it was easy to get a block of land which was gratis if one could hold it. Taxes were almost unknown. These facts, coupled with the then scarcity of land in Cape Breton, resulted in the emigration of many families from that locality and their taking up residence in Newfoundland. Thus about the year 1844, if not earlier, the following names are to be found in the Codroy Valley, McNeill, McIsaac, McLean, Murphy, Farrell, Ryan. These names were common in Codroy Valley in 1854 and there is good reason for thinking that they dated from ten years earlier. As time went on many more families from the same part of Nova Scotia came, some remaining at Little River and Grand River, several others going as far as Bay St. George, making
First Missionary Priest stationed on West Coast, (1850 - 1868)
their homes at the Highlands at places adjacent to Sandy Point, as well as on the Port au Port peninsula. They were mostly given to farming though a little fishery was carried on. As I have already said Fr. Belanger visited the Rivers at regular intervals He had a little church erected on the north side of the Grand River and beside it a little log cabin which he used as his home when on Missionary work in that section. The Priest at that time invariably came by sea from Sandy Point, some times in a sailing boat and not infrequently in a rowboat, a distance of about seventy-five miles
As the numbers of the Scotch settlers increased Fr Belanger, who was a French-speaking, Priest was faced with a very obvious difficulty in his pastoral work particularly in the confessional. This was the language difficulty. The settlers who had come in from Inverness Cape Breton almost without exception used the Gaelic language as the language of the home. Though many of them had a passing knowledge of English they had not sufficient command of it to make their confessions with facility and to their own satisfaction. None was quicker to see this difficulty and none could be more ready than the good Priest to take measures to have it remedied; he heartily co-operated with the Gaelic-speaking people in their endeavor to secure at least a yearly visit from a priest versed in the silver speech of the Gael, the mother tongue of so many of his people. Old men whom I have met and who well remembered the then situation tell me of the earnest endeavors of Fr. Belanger to provide for his Scotch parishioners in this matter. Indeed, it would appear that he was almost continually striving to secure an assistant with these qualifications but in vain. In the year 1865 a petition drawn up by Fr Belanger and signed by him and the Gaelic-speaking people was for-
awarded to Bishop McKinnon. It asked the good Bishop to send them now and again a priest from his diocese who would be able to hear confessions and instruct in Gaelic. The petition was not answered immediately but the next year when Fr. Belanger landed at the Gut at Grand River the people who always assembled to meet him and escort him to the Church noticed that he was accompanied by another gentleman. The old missionary, as if to spring a pleasant surprise on the people, made no introductions nor any reference to his companion till the Church waa reached and then in the words of one who was privileged to be present, I shall describe what happened: "Fr. Belanger bidding the people rejoice at the presence of two priests in their midst introduced the congregation Fr. Shaw who had been sent as the result of negotiations between Bishop McKinnon and Bishop Mullock from Arichat to confess the Gaelic-speaking, people. Fr. Shaw stayed a week and then went to Bay St. George, returning to Grand River he remained for two weeks. At the end of this time he left for Channel and from there some of the men from the Rivers landed him hack Ingonish."
The visit of Fr. Shaw was repeated in '67 and '68 by Frs. Chisolm and Fraser respectively. It was in the fall of this year that Fr. Belanger died and the people of the West Coast were once more left without a shepherd.
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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