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"The exact year of his arrival is not known," but he was here in 1794, Patrick Phelan was a Franciscan or Friar Minor, and was stationed in the Mission of Harbor Grace." Whelan was known as a zealous worker who annually made two visitations of his parish. In September 1799, while on visitation, Whelan drowned off Grate's Cove when the boat in which he was a passenger capsized in a storm. All passengers and crew died, and Whelan's was the only body recovered; it was taken back to Harbor Grace and laid to rest in the old Catholic graveyard. There is no record of a church in the town at that time although there were undoubtedly representation of the Catholics as early as 1627 in the form of a couple of priests who were most likely, persecuted, yet the R.C's persisted and the flow constantly increased. Next came Rev. Ambrose Fitzpatrick in 1800 to 1806.
In 1806 Rev. Thomas Ewer took charge of the Harbor Grace Mission. During his tenure a wooden chapel, with a tower approximately 100 ft high was constructed. By 1830 the Mission had become a parish. In that year Bishop Fleming set out for Ireland to recruit missionaries for Newfoundland. Of the six who arrived in 1831, Rev. Charles Dalton was assigned to Harbor Grace, taking over when Yore died in 1833. The old wooden chapel was torn down, and in 1844 excavation was under way for the construction of a new Roman Catholic Cathedral. P.J. Connolly says, the corner stone was laid by Bishop Mullock in 1852. Four years later, as construction continued, the Diocese of Harbor Grace was constituted with Dr. John Dalton, Charles Dalton's nephew, as its first Bishop. He died in 1869 and construction continued under his successor, Bishop Henry Carfagnini , who under Dalton had been responsible for the architecture of the new cathedral, which was modeled after St. Peter's in Rome. Stone was brought from Kelly's Island, granite from Scotland, marble from Italy, brick from Hamburg and timber from the United States. In 1880 Carfagnini was transferred to Italy and was succeeded at Harbor Grace by Bishop Ronald MacDonald at that point the church was in its twenty-sixth year of construction. According to Connolly (p. 20) the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception was completed only a few years before it was destroyed by fire on September 2, 1889. Entirely paid for, it was valued at $350,000 but it carried no insurance.
A new cathedral, built in the Gothic style, was begun immediately and was consecrated in 1892. That church was still in use in 1983. Bishop John March succeeded MacDonald in 1906 and Bishop J.M. O'Neil succeeded March in 1940. In 1953 the church at Grand Falls was elevated to the status of Co-cathedral, and the Harbor Grace-Grand Falls Diocese was formed. Three years later the Bishop's Seat was moved to Grand Falls. The Parish of the Immaculate Conception in 1983 served the people of Harbor Grace, Spaniard's Bay, Riverhead and Island Cove. Whereas Roman Catholicism began to flourish openly only after the Emancipation of, 1829 .
Information and Records for Immaculate Conception
I would like to thank Bonnie Hickey for sending me the photo of
Immaculate Conception Church and Sister Magdalen O'Brien for
the history of the Parish.
Contributed by Barbara McGrath
Page Revised: July 2002 (Don Tate)
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