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FR. SEARS VOLUNTEERS FOR WEST NEWFOUNDLAND
Following the death of Fr. Blanger, under the rather tragic circumstances related above, on the 7th September; 1868, that is exactly on the eighteenth anniversary of the date of his arrival at Sandy Point, the Bishop of St. John's, according to Bishop Howley's Records of the Prefecture, secured a priest from the Diocese of Arichat to look after the mission until such time as he could secure a suitable man to take sole charge of the Western Missions permanently. In this quest he met with several disappointments. The people were anxious to get a priest as soon as possible and wrote Bishop Mullock urgently on the matter. They naturally looked forward with terror one might say to the prospect of being left for the long winter without a pastor and that season was approaching, rapidly. They also informed the Bishop that their deceased pastor, of whom they speak in the highest terms, left neither a Will nor instructions of any kind as far as they could discover as to what was to be done with his property, they took all his possessions such as books vestments etc, to Quebec when his remains were removed thither.
Bishop Mullock immediately visited Canada to endeavor to obtain one or more Priests for the "French Shore" but failed in his quest at Quebec and elsewhere. It was while on his return disheartened by his want of success he received at Halifax an appeal from the people of Bay St. George. He found that no Priest could well be spared and what was worse, no Bishop would take
the responsibility of sending a priest to such an isolated spot. He had at the very start paid a visit to Bishop McKinnon, his life long friend, but even here success was not for him. On his way home, weighed down with sorrow, he again turned to Bishop McKinnon as a last resort. The good Bishop of Arichat seems to have been touched by the appeal of his friend and promised that he would not place any obstacle in the way of any one of his priests who would undertake to go to Newfoundland. He even did more for he sent to Fr. Thomas Sears a copy of the correspondence and an account of the conversations he had had with Bishop Mullock. Fr. Sears was at this time Parish Priest of Port Mulgrave. The letter from Bishop McKinnon to his priest among other things said: " Bishop Mullock begs that you would have pity on the poor Catholics of the West Coast. It will certainly be a very trying circumstance for four or five thousand Catholics to pass a long and dreary winter without the consolation of a priest amongst them. My dear Fr. Sears the missions of the French Shore constitute a noble field for the zeal of an Apostle." Bishop McKinnon at first requested Fr. Sears to go just for the winter or " until the month of August next year. Probably Providence will enable us to send one or two missionaries; there before this time twelve months. But in the meantime who will go there? So many devout souls French Irish, Scotch, are not to be left deprived of the holy aid of religion in life and death for so many months. Can you my dear Fr. Sears, muster the courage to go there ? .All you require to take would be a small trunk. a breviary and a crucifix." Then when the parish Bishop has pointed out how the affairs of his own parish were to he looked after during his absence by Frs. Fiset and Tompkins he winds up his touching appeal in these words: "My dear Fr. Sears can you undertake the mission this Fall? Can your health bear
you through? I will send no one against his Will and if you cannot depend on your health say no more about it. If we can find a vessel, then some one must go. If you cannot go we shall try Fr. Jos. Chisolm, who was there before. This letter of Bishop McKinnon's is dated Oct. 24th, '68. Fr. Sears wrote in reply without much delay, that is to say on the 27th of the same month, and set the good man's mind at rest by declaring his intention of getting out at once for this new and distant Mission. The only information the Bishop was able to give him about vessels leaving for the French Shore was that two vessels bound thither from Halifax had already set out.. He advised Fr. Sears not to leave his own home till he had exact information as to the departure of a vessel from Sydney. In another letter, which Dr. Howley quotes Bishop McKinnon, says: "Perhaps I may visit you my self next year from Cape North. I am giving you all the necessary faculties and send my blessing to the people of the French Shore." With this letter the Bishop sent £20, all he could afford, to help, pay expenses. It may not be amiss to give in full a very expressive comment of Dr. Howley's on the decision of Fr. Sears and what came of it. "Everything connected with the coming of Fr. Sears to this mission seems to partake of a providential indeed of a miraculous nature. His health, which had always been most feeble, seemed to revive in a most extraordinary manner. In his humility he attributed it to the wholesome climate of West Newfoundland. Certain it is he never complained after coming here of the pulmonary weakness which made him an almost permanent invalid in Canada. As we shall see later this Providential guidance extended even to the ordering of the very journey from Canada to his new field of labor." (Records Pref. Apost. St. George's).
A brief sketch of the career of Rev. Fr. Sears before
he had taken the important decision which resulted in his coming to Newfoundland seems to find its proper place here before going any farther in the narrative of his activities in his charge.
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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