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EARLY DAYS AND ORDINATION TO THE HOLY PRIESTHOOD
Thomas Sears was born in the year 1824 at Ventry, in the County of Kerry, Ireland. Ventry, not far from the ancient town of Dingle, is situated almost at the western extremity of that peninsula running into the, Atlantic, which shares with Connemara the proud boast of being Irish Ireland; in other words, here is found the Gaelic speech in all its pristine purity and here the authentic Gaelic culture permeates the lives of all and holds full sway.
The stories and legends that cling to every nook and corner of this country-side tend to bring even the chance visitor strangely close to Ireland's political and religious past. Here, as no where that I know of, the Irishman feels his kinship with the ancient saints and patriots of his land as a something very real. Here there are sermons in stones. Not far off the Spaniards at Dun-an-or, attempting to bring succor to Ireland, were massacred by Elizabeth's "Governor of Ireland" and the mound that covers their bones for the inhabitants is still holy ground. The Skelligs, famed as the island retreat of Holy men, stands off the coast a few miles. At Kilmalkedar is the ruined Church, said to have been built by the Spaniards when in the olden days they carried on a large trade with West Kerry. Not far off, at a place called Gallerus, is another curious stone cell. even now in a perfect state of preservation, though of greater antiquity than the Round Towers.
Brandon, towering into the sky, fit retreat for one
of Christ's Overseers, stands like a mighty monument, a reminder of the past (which no vandal hands could even blemish), and of Brendan, the sailor Saint of Erin and the Patron of Kerry, throws its shadow over this Holy Land. Up the steep sides of this lofty mountain leading to the oratory of the Saint winds what people still call "The path way of the Saints."
And in modern times in the little hamlets scattered around the base of Mount Brandon or by the beetling waves of the Atlantic the hearts of the people are filled with that mystic love of God and Ireland which is the heritage of the Gael. Here the prayerful language of the ancient Saints of Erin falls on the ear at every turn: in the fishing boats, in the market, in the school-room, from the altar Nowhere more intensely than here burns that deep, faith which is the soul of Ireland.
From such a people, in such a storied place, Thomas Sears sprung. Such was the tradition he inherited ere yet his great fellowman, O'Connell, had won for Ireland Catholic Emancipation.
Garrett Sears, the father of Thomas, according to the testimony of a writer in the Casket came to Halifax at the age of twenty-eight in the year 1809. Hearing about Lochaber he secured a grant of land there and came to settle there in 1830. Two years later his brother William came and brought with him a young lad, the son of Garrett Sears. This was Thomas. The Sears families settled in the fertile valley, where their descendants are still to be found.
While performing the ordinary duties of a farmer's son the young Irish boy fixed his aim higher than the vocation of a farmer. His was a holy ambition, fostered no doubt by the visiting priest, who, when making his rounds of the district, made the house of Garrett Sears his temporary home. His temperament was, so we are told, highly religious, and though even in these
days education was secured only with great difficulty, he seems to have emerged from early manhood with a solid education. At the age of twenty-nine, after many years of prayer and effort and the usual crop of disappointments, he was enabled to take the first step towards the fulfilment of his desire to become a priest. He was ordained in 1855, and is said to have been at this period in a very weak state of health. He had begun his ecclesiastical studies at Quebec, but had to return to Arichat after a year for reasons of health. He continued his studies there until the removal of the College at Antigonish in 1855. He was ordained there that same year in the month of October by Bishop McKinnon. He spent the following winter at Tracadie. In the spring of 1856 he was appointed Rector of the Parish of Pictou. Afterwards he was sent to Guysboro, and thence to Mulgrave.
No greater index can be given as to the cast of this man's soul than the alacrity with which he undertook the work which many missionary Bishops in Canada showed by their conduct to be one demanding a heroic charity and an all trusting confidence in the Providence of God. He did not weigh matters for long and if he did weigh them at all his love for God and for God's destitute children in West Newfoundland out-balanced all apparent impossibilities and discomforts. Many specious arguments could have been marshalled against his decision to leave the people amongst whom he had spent so many years, a parish wherein to a large extent he found all the comforts that helped to mollify the irritating manifestations of a not too robust constitution, to sever his connections with a Bishop whose confidence he enjoyed, with a body of priests who loved and revered him and to betake himself to a people of little culture to whom he was a perfect stranger, to a land that was indeed a howling wilderness, innocent of
all conveniences of life and trying for even the hardiest constitutions: to a district wherein he would be deprived of intercourse with brother priests for months at a time. Was he not doing useful work where he was? Were there not here many souls on which to exercise his apostolic charity? How could this poor frame bear up against so much hardship? How could this mind bear so much isolation? As we have seen the measure of his charity was too full to allow such arguments to keep him back.
When the news that their good pastor was to leave them became known the people's grief brought them in crowds to wish him adieu. Their hearts were heavy, for as many letters show, his was no perfunctory interest in them. He shared their joys and sorrows. He was ever ready with helpful advise when they sought him. He edified all who knew him, even those not of his faith, by his unassuming piety, his solid learning, and broad charity. Are not the following words from a letter of one of his former parishioners shortly after his arrival in Newfoundland instinct with a love that could not have been lightly won? . . . "I must also confess my inability of giving any idea of the feelings of my heart and soul the moment I understood from yourself the last time I had the pleasure of seeing you at my humble abode that you were to leave us and in consequence of that sorrowful news I felt afraid that my feelings would overpower my reason which nobody knew but Him alone from Whom we can hide nothing. . . . Alas, you are gone from us and we miss you sorely." And as the following will show their thoughts and prayers followed him to his new home far away: ". . . . Often and often I think of you and your troubles and journeys in the dreary forests and rocks of Newfoundland, but rest assured that you have my humble prayers." Neither in spite
of a busy life, did he forget his old friends. He was faithful in keeping up a correspondence with them, always encouraging and edifying them. Many of the letters he received at this time were from Protestants in his old Parish who valued his kind thought in letting them have a word from him now and again. A brother priest, writing to him at this time and whose letter opens with expressions of admiration for what Fr. Sears had already done for the cause of religion which are heightened by the news of his decision to leave his own Diocese for work in Newfoundland, speaks volumes: ".... When I received a letter from Bishop McKinnon telling me of the great and truly heroic sacrifice you made I told him he ought to use all his influence to have you promoted; but no, he wants you for his own Diocese. He has no notion to let you go and so you will have to give up the mission to the Fathers of the Cross."
Fr. Sears' own words, taken from one of his journals, will describe his journey to Newfoundland:
" It was late in the season the end of October but as if kind Providence would have it so, a vessel was found to be preparing to go to this very shore for a cargo of fish. So that in five days after the first intimation of the project he was on board the vessel and off for the scene of his future labors not indeed for the petitioned, but for a place some hundred miles further off. Hither as if Providence would have it so and wished to encourage the project the vessel arrived on the second day after leaving Port, some three hundred miles in the short space of forty hours, being nearly equal to steam-boat speed. What an impression the scenes around made on the newly-arrived missioner a country so rough and mountainous, this Humber being a valley between two ranges of mountains towering to the clouds. The first impression which lasted for a few
days was something like to what one would feel if confined in a dungeon. But the bustle and stir of the busy season and above all the amount of labor to be done for the salvation of souls saved by the Precious Blood soon made him feel at home and thank God it has been so since. Although arriving in Bay of Islands on the 2nd of November it was the 14th December before he could reach the place of his destination the domicile of the late Pere Belanger at St. George's Bay. But it was no easy task to go over this voyage in the dreary month of December. On this route places were visited never trod by a priest before."
Bishop Howley in the "Records of the Prefecture of St. George's," gives a brief account of the latter part of the journey. He says: "He sailed direct from Port Mulgrave, a most unusual place for a vessel to be leaving for West Newfoundland at that season . . . it was on the 14th December before he arrived at Sandy Point. He obtained a passage as far as the Gravels from Captain Arthur Jackman. The remainder of the distance he traveled on foot."
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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