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PIONEER HISTORY OF ST. GEORGE'S DIOCESE

CHAPTER VII

THE ACADIAN POPULATION OF HIS M1SSION-CHURCH
BUILDING - HARDSHIP OF TRAVEL

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"This sketch says the second part of the same report, would be imperfect without giving a few words about the French Acadian portion of our population. This is at present the largest element. These poor people, for the most part, came from the Island of Cape Breton here within the last twenty or twenty-five years.

"They are here, as elsewhere, proverbially attached to their Holy Religion and its ancient practices, and like others, they were for a time deprived of the ministrations of religion, still in all the defections from the faith here there was only 0NE SINGLE CASE of defection from their ranks.. This was a young man who married a young protestant wife and went to live with her people. Although being so long without the practices of religion they show the strongest fervor in their respect for all things sacred, especially the Blessed Sacrament of the altar, partienlariy in following out the beautiful old French custom of accompanying the Blessed Sacrament when being carried to the sick and showing the greatest respect when It is exposed.

"A very remarkable instance of the precociousness of some of our Acadians came to my notice this winter which will tend to show how an impression for good can be made on young minds. On a certain occasion as I was passing with the Blessed Sacrament to admin-

ister to a sick person, a child of six years seeing all the people follow the priest asked his mother where they were going. The mother replied that they were going to accompany "Le bon Dieu" whom the priest was carrying to the sick. The child's mind was evidently set to reflect on that great mystery of the presence of God for he asked this singular question which shows what difficulties undeveloped minds find in the mysteries of religion: Ma mere, s'il-y-a deux petres qui portent le Bon Dieu. I'un plus vite que l'autre?"

The devotion is the more praiseworthy in our devout Acadians seeing that they have not the convenience of making any outward display but have to take the Blessed Sacrament incognito as is the custom in missionary countries.

"I must now advert to the state of our church buildings and then to my perilous journeys or voyages and thus lay before your honorable Council as correct an account of this new and yet to be important mission as possible. I may begin with my principal Church. this at St. George's. This little Church dedicated to the Immaculate Conception is but a very indifferent one indeed. It is constructed of wood only 45 X 32 erected about twenty years ago. I am procuring materials to add a chancel twenty-feet in length to it and a spire. On the opposite side of the Bay, the North side about nine miles by water from St. George's at Stephenville (so called after one Stephen Le Blane a worthy old Acadian. who came some thirty years ago with a brother and their two families. These two families number now some 150 souls sprung from these two brothers. They and their connections would number over 200). there is a neat wooden building in course of erection. This is not quite so large as the first but will be much neater as it is constructed on a better

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MOST REV. MICHAEL F. HOWLEY, D.D., V.A.
First Vicar Apostolic of St. George's. (1885 - 1894)

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model. This was begun by these poor Acadians of their own free will before my coming. But they had only the frame put up and partly covered in. They gave it fair proportions outwardly but within it would have been spoiled. As there is no architect to give plans they were having a flat ceiling like an ordinary dwelling house some twelve feet from the floor. Their reason for doing so as there would be a great. vacant space was that they did not know how to make the building strong enough to stand the heavy gales that prevail here. And notwithstanding this the building was nearly destroyed by a gale which stove in the end plate. Then I got them a plan for arranging the inside putting up a small tower to the west end. By this their church when' finished will leave a vaulted ceiling, twenty-four feet high and other internal improvements to suit. This neat little Church when finished, which I expect to be next summer will be dedicated to God under the name of St. Stephen protomartyr of the Church. This will accord well with the name of the place-Stephenville.

There is in Bay St. George another small chapel on the south side, some thirty miles to the west-ward of St. George's. It was a private house which I purchased and converted into a chapel for the use of a few families of faithful Scotch Highlanders who have settled on a beautiful plateau of land just under the Cape Anguille range of mountains where the plane takes the very appropriate name of 'Highlands'. These good people speak the ancient Gaelic still. There is not a race that ever were blessed with a knowledge of God's Church more steadfast than the Catholic Highlanders. There are about sixty families of this class. faithful to their religion, loyal and obedient to their spiritual superiors.

"On the shores of this Bay almost in the shape of

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the letter U containing some seven hundred square miles of a beautiful sheet of water with a beautiful coast of over one hundred miles all around its margin there are over one hundred and sixty families of our creed, and about eighty protestant families. There is territory enough for ten times as many more on a soil of unsurpassed fertility. The discovery of a good seam of coal which is eagerly taken up by companies will if found in sufficient quantities together with several other minerals also fast getting into enterprising hands, tend to make this an important place.

"Neither must it be dreaded by those of the French nation interested in prosecuting the fisheries on this side of Newfoundland reserved for them that those good prospects for the inhabitants are going in any way to interfere with the privileges of that Nation, guaranteed by Treaty. No, but these improvements will have quite a contrary effect. At the present time there are about one thousand inhabitants in this one Bay who although the soil is much more inviting than the fisheries still owing to the want of any and all conveniences for cultivating it have to maintain themselves mainly from the water. This is of course taking more or less what is reserved to France.

"But this Western territory is not like the rest of Newfoundland well adapted for prosecuting the fish-cries for several reasons. The fishing season is to short. Owing to the want of harbors and the shallowness of the waters in this Bay there is not sufficient time to fish. It suits well enough for the French fishing fleet. They come in Spring and remain during the short period that the fishery continues. They have also selected two islands one outside each of the promontories that form this Bay. From these instead of Harbors they sally out into the deep water in almost any weather while the inhabitants of the place who

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live up in the Bay can only go to fish on certain days sufficiently fine to have no sea running on the shore, as the only harbour, that of St. George's, is at the very end of the Bay and far from the real fishing ground. Therefore the French fishing interests will only be enhanced and protected by the improvements which are anticipated. The present population left as they are will have to live by fishing but when the other various resources of the country are developed, any of them will afford better remuneration to the labourers than fishing."

In the next part of the report he recapitulates and gives some additional information:

"We have therefore in this Bay three churches, a presbytery, a large house for a convent. A population of over one thousand souls, the two-thirds of whom are Catholics, dispersed over the whole shore of the Bay about one hundred miles, with a good prospect of a rapid increase immediately by immigration."

The next few paragraphs have reference to Bay of Islands, but as the information is inadequate and as fuller references are contained in subsequent Reports and memoranda which will in due time be presented, we may omit them here. He also makes a reference to the erection of the little Church at Channel or Port-aux-Basque. He speaks in glowing terms of the young priest who erected this little building and he hints at the difficulty of the young clerical builder who as he said from kindness of heart often came from St. John's to visit and cheer him. He also mentions how much he is indebted to him for financial succor time and again. He says in this report that he is attaching one of the letters received from this young priest showing

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his difficulties in getting the building under way. I cannot give this letter and I presume it went forward when the report was finally sent to the association though he does not mention in the rough draft of the report which I quote from, the name of this good young priest, I am sure of saying that he was Dr. Michael Howley. To continue the Report:

"I propose to give a full account of my own proceedings in this mission since my coming and the fruit which it has pleased Almighty God to attach to my humble labors I intended in this to give an account of my various sea voyages and of the various long and dangerous journeys by land in places where there was no road or path but either the sea-shore or the trackless forests. One of these journeys of over forty miles over a range of mountains over a thousand feet high where there was neither house or habitation and this in the dead of winter and that to avoid the necessity of remaining all night in the wilderness and in the snow we had to continue our journey till we got to the settlement. The account of the merciful protection of a benign providence which had protected me in so many dangers with the sacerdotal duties and labors of the mission would I know be gratifying to your Holy Association but I must defer it at least till I have more time to devote to the description.

"I must only say that at the present time I am so exhausted from these various journey s and the still increasing wants of my poor people . . . both my mental and physical powers, that I feel unable to continue my narration. The number of children of sufficient age to make their first communion and many coming to man's estate without having had any means of being sufficiently instructed to do so who apply most eagerly for such instruction without my being able on all occasions

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to comply with their demands presses like a heavy weight on my mind. And what can I do an emergency. The whole responsibility of the place was in a way thrust on me without my having any means of carrying out the onerous duties of the station thus imposed. I did protest to the present Bishop that I would still prefer remaining under the auspices of the old Diocese as I did not see how I could carry out the responsible duties of the mission in this vast region all alone without a priest to assist me or funds either in hands or in prospect to enable me to procure fellow-laborers. But the mission was such a great distance from St. John's and the good Bishop of the See, a delicate man and a great sufferer from sea-sickness, that there was no alternative but to submit to the Divine Will as expressed through that of my lawful superiors. But now after all when I see in this part a prospect of its becoming a most important locality in the course of time, and that with a little means to procure a few energetic priests and some nuns our Holy Religion would flourish conspicuously, I am not at all for the efforts required of me to bear the burden.

"I have now a petition before the Legislature of the country for a grant of some three thousand acres of fine land for educational purposes. Having been brought up in a new Colony I see the advantage of the Church having a good hold in a place before the resources of the place are developed.

"I therefore, Gentleman, thus appeal to the generosity of your Holy Association for some material assistance without which it is perfectly impossible for me to advance a step. If so weighty a task as the labors of this mission is left to myself alone I find I shall fall under the weight as my predecessor has done. I would have applied sooner to you but for the great misfortune of the

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In a post-script to this letter I find that in spite of his poverty and the failure of the fishery for two years in succession he sends twenty dollars to the Association as the contribution of his Prefecture. The means he adopted to communicate with France indicates the state of isolation of his territory at this period. He says: "If your Committee would be kind enough to mention some trustworthy person in Brest when the Atlantic fleet comes every year I could send it (letters etc.,) on to him. This would be a good way to have some of the Annals of the Propagation of the faith sent to me I would like very much to have some to distribute. Any copies of the Annals that you might thick proper to send might be sent in care of such trustworthy person in Brest addressed to me. Such person could give it in charge to some of the Captains of the Trans-Atlantic fleet. They could reach me safely."

 

 

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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