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FIRST IMPRESSION'S OF NEWFOUNDLAND - REPORTS
It is indeed surprising with what rapidity Fr. Sears adapted himself to his new and strange surroundings and began to make himself master of the situation with which he was faced. He had scarcely arrived when he outlined a plan for the upbuilding of his mission, which in subsequent years he merely filled in without being compelled to change it substantially. This is most remarkable for it cannot be entertained for a moment that he had any previous knowledge of conditions in West Newfoundland his interest in it dated from only five days before he was en route for its shores. His judgments consequently, as manifested in the letter, which I intend giving in full, amount almost to an intuition. Fortunately this letter, in which he forms such high hopes for the West Coast and expresses such sober judgments on ways and means, has come down to us complete in all that serves our present purposes. It was addressed to Bishop Mullock. The good Bishop was so charmed at having the care of the West in such capable hands and considering the letter of public importance had it published in the current number of the Newfoundlander. I might add that its importance, as giving an indication of the calibre of the newly arrived missionary, is inestimable.
Bay of Islands, Nfld.,
"Bishop of St. John's.
I left Port Mulgrave on the morning of All Saints, 1st inst., and arrived safe in, this Bay of Islands on the following evening. I have now spent some three weeks here. There is no way of getting to Bay St. George till the vessels are ready to leave here. I was very fortunate in the circumstances of Captain Jackman of the Steamer Hawk from St. John's coming to trade in this bay this fall, otherwise I should have great difficulty in getting to Bay St. George. Captain Jackman kindly proffered to see me sent safely. "My Lord this seems to me a very important portion of the grand Island of Newfoundland. This Bay with its tributary rivers, as well as several other localities along this Coast, affords better inducement (at least in my estimation) than the United States, to the fishermen of St. John's and other places, who are emigrating. In this Bay alone there are now as many vessels at anchor as will require, it is estimated, seventy thousand barrels of herring to load them - still although the herring did not strike in till after the 22nd of this month such is the quantity taken, the last five or six days that they are all in hopes of getting fair cargoes. They tell me that the Codfish is quite plentiful in the Bay if they could attend to it. There is another advantage I perceive that this Bay enjoys, and that is the fertility of its soil and the magnificent forests that line the Bays and rivers especially. It seems that there is no land superior to this for the cultivation of green crops and hay. Pota-
"It would be most desirable that the Government of St. John's do something towards establishing some
"Your Lordship's most obedient servant
It is quite evident that Fr. Sears on coming to Newfoundland with a view to attending to the spiritual needs of the West Coast flock, came as it were on loan and there is no reason for thinking that he severed his connections with his Own Diocese. Bishop McKinnon it would seem was of this way of thinking and had so expressed himself to his friends. Neither was there a question at the time of his being promoted to the Episcopacy or of the territory committed to his care being cut off for administrative purposes from the parent Diocese. He never seems to have minded a great deal about such things one way or another. One can hardly think of him as seeking promotion of any kind, though when honors did come he accepted them and spoke of them with that frank appreciation which bespeaks no less the loyal son of Holy Church as the truly religious man. Personal honors he ever regarded as an acknowledgment from the Father of Christendom that his "beloved Prefecture," as he was wont subsequently to say of it, was advancing. On the contrary it would appear that
First Prefect of St. George's, (1868 - 1885)
Bishop Mullock was planning to give the West Coast over to the Fathers of the Holy Cross. This plan never materialized. And I venture to think why it did not materialize was because Bishop Mullock was convinced after a short time that the West was safe in the hands of the new missionary Fr. Sears was not appointed Vicar General as apparently was so in the case of Fr. Belanger but he enjoyed faculties as extensive as one.
It was only some years after his arrival that the Western portion of Newfoundland was constituted a Prefecture Apostolic. The decree is dated June 2d, 1870. The new Prefecture consisted of the whole of the Western seaboard and on the South Coast extended as far as Cape La Hune, covering in round figures a distance of 500 miles. The flock confided to Fr. Sears lived here and there in little coves and islands. His report to the Society of the Propagation in 1873, which I give in full from the original document with the exception of a few passages already quoted and acknowledged, gives a vivid description of conditions at the time.
"As in this degenerate age the Almighty Ruler of the world has been pleased to raise up your highly meritorious Association to become the main prop and right hand of that Divine Mission given to the Church of Christ, Preach the Gospel to every creature, the humble missioner to whose pastoral charge is committed the breaking of the Bread of Life to some thousands of souls dispersed over a vast territory forming the Western portion of the Island of Newfoundland now undertakes for the first time to lay before you the state of the Prefecture Apostolic of St. George's.
" Your holy Association which has done so much
He then gives the boundary of the Prefecture date of erection etc. and continues:
"There is no mission in any part of the world where the territory is directly under the control of the European or Caucasian race where so little of European improvements are introduced as here unless it be the frigid regions of Hudson Bay or of McKenzie River in the extreme North West of America. The reason for this anomaly is not that the place is sterile and uninhabitable for the white man like the above shores. We have here decidedly the most temperate and salubrious climate in all British North America from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic sea-board besides a soil as luxuriant as is to be found in any of the Lower Provinces; still with these natural advantages in this whole territory there is not one mile of road and consequently neither a carriage or wheeled vehicle. Neither had we the convenience of mail communication till last year.
The cause of this anomaly is said to be the existence of certain Treaties between France and Great Britain by which as is thought it was stipulated that the Territory of Newfoundland should become exclusively British still the right to fish on a certain portion of this coast was reserved to France with the right to
"This is the reason assigned by the British authorities for not giving the local Legislature full control over this portion of the coast and which the local Government give as their reason for not opening up the interior with roads or granting aid for purposes of Education.
This fact is what renders the world of the missioner almost as difficult here as on the coast of Africa or the unclaimed forests of South North America. Without the aid of teachers religious orders or any other means of educating the young' except through the sole efforts of the poor missioner how can it be expected that his single efforts can do much when he has to travel several hundreds of miles to visit the whole of his flock, and then no means of travelling except in an open boat or when he chances to meet a small craft or vessel trading from one harbor or Bay to another."
He then proceeds to give an account of the different races that have contributed towards the formation of his flock but as I have already given this information repetition would serve no useful purpose here. Continuing, he gives us some idea of the religious state of the people on his arrival as well as the contributing causes:
"It was lamentable to contemplate the state of these poor people who were left, till within the last twenty-five years without the administration of Holy Religion. If the so-called philanthropist of Europe could see what man would soon come to without the salutary influence of Religion as was; instanced in the case of these poor people, we would not hear of so
much persecution of Holy Church as the news from Europe brings us day by day. In vain would it be averred that the civilization of Europe would maintain the social order without religion. See what this same civilization comes to where the direct dogmas of Christianity are overlooked in governing a people. One could but lament the state of society, or rather the absence of a social order in seeing men come from various places form the acquaintance of young persons of the other sex, enter into what might be called matrimonial contracts without civil or religious sanction, and discard them out of their choice as their fancy may be taken by another. We may lament this state of things... but do we not actually see the same take place now-a-days constantly and by the sanction of the civil law in those countries where discarding sanctity of Christian marriage they have introduced the obscenity of the divorce courts. Hence what wonder if that while without the control of the Church or of the Civil Magistrate many of these poor people left to themselves for a generation or more should be found notwithstanding their attachment to the Church of their forefathers, to be plunged into those excesses which our modern anti-Catholic civilization sanctions and encourages. Hence for a time marriage was nothing more than a private contract which each felt justified in dissolving at their own good will.
"But no sooner was it found that a priest had actually decided to live among them than they consented to submit to the discipline of the Church. However, there were many, thank God indeed the greater part, who never abandoned the Christian view.
"It is astonishing with what fidelity the descendants of the original French settlers adhered to their faith, equaled only by the fervor of the old inhabitants of Acadia. Of this latter class and their fidelity and
"It would have been well for the interest of our Holy Religion' if those who came direct from France here during the last thirty years had adhered to the religion of their forefathers with the same pertinacity. But alas the spirit of indifferentism in matters of religion which is the bane of Europe in this generation seems to have been the characteristic of the few possessed of a little learning and ability who came from a certain locality in the west of France to this country . These young men possessed of natural ability and some learning removed from the influence of friends and former associations before the mind was thoroughly formed were soon led astray from the Church by the flattering theories of Private Judgment so insidiously insinuated in books of English Literature, the only literature available at the time and which was abundantly supplied them by ministers of Anglicanism who are always to be met in these Coasts maintained by English religious Associations at home.
"A remarkable ease of this is found in the instance of two of the leading merchants of this very harbor of Bay St. George's. The first of these is a gentleman who coming from his native Grandville to this country and being possessed of parts far above the ordinary grade, he soon formed an intimacy With the minister of the Anglican church and commenced to store his mind with historical as well as general information from the English literature available from such a source, always poisoned against the Catholic Church. The result was natural, soon after taking a protestant wife it was not to be wondered at that he would allow her to take the children her own way, but further a young
"Besides these two there are some others of less note. But had we had those two back with us we would certainly have the main influence of Bay St. George on our side. There is another large district at the distance of about one hundred miles south of this where there was no ministration of our Holy Religion till I had visited them for the first time in 1869. There is quite a number of every grade of Frenchmen there inveigled into the ranks of Anglicanism.
"Anyone taking up the records of the annual contributions for the support of that Church in this region will find such names as Le Moine Le Grandais Robillard, Le Roux, Le Breton, Le Fillatre, Le Retif, figuring as the principal contributors.
"Why should these people all natives of truly Catholic France go over to a Church called into existence by the tyranny of a King and Queen of a kingdom almost inimical to their own and leave the Church of their native country the Church of universal Christendom? The answer is given above for a few but for the greater number of cases the answer is this viz: when those settled here there was no priest to look after them and as a sort of necessity they had to go to the Church that was; being as most of them were unsophisticated youths they naturally supposed that as they found a different language and nationality in
"In the place where I met the largest number of this class a place bearing, the peculiar French name, Port-aux-Basque, there are several of them who have large families grown up even the second generation is met and still there was never a priest came to administer the sacraments there till I called to visit them five months after my landing in this country.
What wonder then if these poor people were lost to the Church? There are no less than five or six ministers of Anglicanism in the same extent of territory that is committed to my sole charge. English religious societies in a great measure support these and they, in the absence of Catholic priests, decoy young Frenchmen into their conventicles. Surely it will not be said that Catholic France will be less zealous for the salvation of the real children of her own household than England is for hers. Or that France which has done so much for the distant nations of Asia, for the wandering tribes of America, Africa and Oceania, in a word which does so much for civilization and christianizing the most distant nations, will be deaf now to an appeal to her charity on behalf of a new colony composed in a large majority of French and their descendants.
"I have said that the ministers of Anglicanism are numerous here. But it is well it is only these for as a rule where Protestantism is confined to these it tends towards the Catholic Church instinctively. Whereas where these ranting preachers of dissenting creeds have influence the tendency is the reverse. By themselves and among Catholics the greater part of the young Anglican ministers strive to make themselves and their followers believe that they are a part and parcel of the ancient and Apostolic Church. And they
"From all the good signs that I daily witness I see no obstacle to our gaining a rich harvest of souls even from the ranks of protestantism if we had the means. Could we afford to establish a good seminary of instruction for females as the first beginning we would soon gain much. A convent of five or six well educated nuns would be of the greatest importance especially in a district so peculiarly situated as this where the modern idea of abandoning the guidance of the religious element to the female side of the house obtains. As a means of paving the way to this desirable end I have obtained a fine house nearby in an efficient state to receive such. It has been the gift of the late R. Rev. Dr. Mullock of St. John's who purchased it from a government official removed from this place. The building is of sufficient dimensions being 52 x 32 and two stories high. As it was in a very dilapidated state I have expended £400 on it in the last two years. But this outlay together with repairing and constructing churches has completely exhausted my slender means. I feel utterly unable to advance a step further in this desirable undertaking unless I can get some assistance from your worthy Association?"
This is the end of the first part of this important report, which may be regarded as an account of the black side of the picture. When, however, we read in the next chapter the account of the religious spirit of the Acadians we too shall see what must have been for the hardworked missionary "The Silver lining".
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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