(By Mrs. Joseph Greene)
Originally printed 1907
The history of the Catholic Church in the Niagara peninsula began many years before the erection of the present edifice known as St. Vincent de Paul's Church (it was the first Catholic Church erected on the Niagara Peninsula) and to record that history, in a manner which would do it justice, even in a moderate degree, would require the pen of one infinitely more gifted than the writer, for there is a wealth of historic lore, both civil and religious, surrounding this charming and picturesque old town of Niagara. Its religious history may be said to date from the year 1626, when Father Daillon made his way to the Niagara Peninsula with a view of evangelizing the "Neutrals," which tribe claimed the peninsula as its own. Few pens can adequately portray the apparently insurmountable difficulties which the early pioneer priests of western Canada had to encounter and overcome, the incalculable dangers and obstacles which were continuously besetting them as they journeyed through dense and desolate forests, across fallen timbers and swollen streams with nothing to guide them other than a 'blaze' which intimated to the weary traveler that a settlement lay beyond. Nevertheless, we invariably find, that no difficulties daunted them nor did disappointments nor rebuffs discourage them, and, as a result of this untiring zeal, we are now, in our comfortable churches, reaping the fruits of their almost superhuman exertions.
As previously stated, Father Daillon bent his energies to the lofty task of sowing the seeds of Christianity among those godless savages, but with poor success, in fact they would have meted out to him a terrible death but for the intervention of heir Chief, Soharrisen.
About 1636 Father Brebeuf, that heroic
missionary and martyr, visited the same tribe, living on the
same food as they used, sleeping in their wigwams, continually
exposed to torture and death by an unreliable and merciless foe,
risking everything in the hope of saving immortal souls.
We are informed by Father Charlevoix, the Jesuit historian, that he said mass at Fort Niagara in 1721 on his way to the Mississippi, and there is a record of a Recollect, Father Grespel, as having been Chaplain at the Fort in 1733. Father Picquett, a Sulpician, in 1751 travelled over the Niagara Peninsula, instructing and converting the natives and instilling renewed ardor and faith into the converts of earlier days, and according to his own account, he also said mass at the Chapel at Fort Niagara; and Sir Win. Johnson tells that two British officers were buried under the Chapel in 1759, but no trace of it remains.
In 1794 Father Edmund Burke, an Irish Priest, of the diocese of Quebec, believing that there was pressing need for a missionary priest in the Western part of the Province, sought and obtained permission to embark on that laudable undertaking. He came from Quebec to Niagara and in addition to his labors among the Indians acted as Chaplain to the Catholic soldiers who were stationed here at the time. Having been held in high repute by the officials of the Government, he secured grants of land from Governor Simcoe in different parts of Canada, one being in this vicinity on which he proposed erecting a monastery for the education of priests for the Western Mission, and in order to further this object he again journeyed to Quebec, but returned here in 1798. He eventually left here in 1800 on account of ill health. For one who had been a Professor in the University of Paris and surrounded with all the culture and refinement incidental to such a position, it must have been extremely repugnant to reconcile himself to his savage surroundings and apply himself to the uninteresting task of mastering the Indian tongue. He was consecrated Bishop of Halifax in 1818. He was an intimate friend of the Duke of Kent and was known and admired by all the Military and Naval Officers who commanded in British America at the time. He was of commanding appearance, of a cheerful and engaging manner and Great Britain had no more loyal subject than the Right Rev. Edmund Burke.
In 1802 Father Des Jardins succeeded
Father Burke as Chaplain to the soldiers, but he remained only
a short time and left no parish records. This information appears
in an article written by the late D. A. O'Sullivan and published
in the Toronto Jubilee volume, 1892.
When Father Macdonell came to this country in 1803 there were only three Catholic Churches in the whole Province, through his perseverance and energy he succeeded in having thirty-five built during his thirty years of unceasing labor. There were also twenty-two priests throughout the different parts of the Province, most of whom were educated at his expense. He was created first Bishop of Kingston in 1826. It was a favorite saying of his "that every man of his name should be either a priest or a soldier." Apropos of this, at the breaking out of the war of 1812, among the first to take up arms in defence of his country was Lieut.-Colonel John Macdonell, who was Attorney-General for Upper Canada, being only 24 years of age. General Brock appointed him his Provincial Aide-de-camp and at the battle of Queenston Heights, when the heroic Brock fell mortally wounded, Colonel Macdonell assumed command, but while leading his men up the heights, he also fell.
Those two great men were buried in the same spot at Fort George, where the bodies lay for twelve years. Their remains now rest in the sarcophagus in a monument second to none in America, erected on Queenston Heights by a grateful Canadian people. The following is a quotation from a letter, written by one of the Militia who took part in the battle dated 14th Oct. 1812.
"This heroic young man, the constant attendant of the General, strove to support to the last a cause never to be despaired of, because it involved the salvation 6f the Country." Lieut.-Colonel Macdonell was a practical Catholic, as evidenced, by his approaching the sacrament before leaving for the frontier.
When Father Campion had this mission
assigned to him in 1826 there were only three priests to look
after the needs of the Catholics scattered over 225 miles of
territory between Detroit and Niagara and the whole northwestern
part of Ontario, viz Fathers Fluet, Crevier and Campion. Father
Campion had also to attend Dundas once a month, which is about
50 miles distant from here, and London and St. Thomas twice a
year. When this good priest's presence was required at a death
bed he had not infrequently to travel over one or even two hundred
miles, and when one remembers that the greater part of the land
at that times was a dismal wilderness, with but an occasional
settlement, one can in a slight degree appreciate the hardships
Father Campion had to encounter. At the present writing we have
residing among us an old lady (Mrs. Paynter, born in 1819, whose
recollections of the pioneer days are very entertaining. She
remembers Father Campion very well, he having frequently visited
her father's house (Simon Walsh) where he was always a welcome
guest. Patrick McArdle and John Harris also took an active interest
in the welfare of the mission and were the first to greet Father
Campion on his arrival here. Patrick McArdle came to Niagara
in 1816. He was an Irishman and a staunch Catholic, John Harris
was an Englishman, his ancestors having settled
The first entry in the old Niagara
Register in the hand writing of Father Campion, reads as follows
the first day of June, by me Roman Catholic Missionary for Niagara,
Dundas, etc., has been baptized Mary Ann Hughes, born on the
2nd day of January, 1827, of the lawful marriage of James Hughes
and Mary May."
The following is an extract from the
same register of a marriage, which shows how careful and conscientious
the early Catholic Priests were to guard the sanctity of the
marriage tie. "The 8th day of October, 1827 Cornelius Calahan
and Mary Carroll both from Ireland, having solemnly declared
and given a certificate of their not being married or contracted
before with any person, and not being able to discover any impediment
to prevent them from getting married, I, the undersigned Roman
Catholic Missionary for Niagara, Dundas, etc., etc., have received
their mutual consent of marriage and have given the benediction
according to the rules of the Holy Roinan Catholic church in
presence of Patrick Cullen, Patrick Handy, Andrew Boylan, Patrick
Flynn and Mary Kelley."
At the date Father Campion was removed,
the Catholics had no church, no church property of any kind,
not excepting a graveyard, and their dead were buried in St.
Mark's Episcopal Cemetery. Services were held at one time in
a hall over the brick store on Queen St. now occupied by Mr.
Doyle, at another time, in the house now owned and occupied by
Miss Catholine. At that period it was one large room but was
apparently of sufficient capacity to embrace the congregation
that gathered there to be present at the celebration of the Mass.
The following year viz. 1832, the
church was begun; Bishop Macdonell, who was conspicuous not only
in the ecclesiastical, but also the political life of the country,
having secured a grant of four acres of land from the government
on which it was erected. It is a frame building measuring 60
x 40 ft., with ten large Gothic windows of stained glass and
a commodious sanctuary and vestry. There is also a tower with
a large window surmounted by a steeple 50 ft. high and a cross.
The interior arrangements of the edifice consist of three aisles
with two central and two side rows of pews. There are two galleries,
the cost of those having been entirely assumed by the Catholic
soldiers, who were stationed here at the time, and for whom one
of the galleries ';was reserved. There are three altars daintily
finished in white and gold. Those are not the original altars,
they having been discarded at the time the church was repaired.
The altar of the Blessed Virgin Mary to the left of the main
altar was a gift from the Barron family, and St. Joseph's Altar
to the right of the main altar was presented by Mrs. Newton,
daughter of Col. McDougal, mentioned as having been President
of the first meeting held in 1831.
Father Polin succeeded Father Cullen, but remained only a short time. During his tenure of office here he records ten baptisms and one marriage, one baptism having been performed in "Gravelly Bay", now Port Colborne, thirty miles from here.
Father Edward Gordon succeeded Father Polin in 1834 and completed the erection of the church and at once took the necessary steps for the erection of a Presbytery. A meeting was called and a subscription list opened in 1835. One Lieut. Coleman of the 15th regiment was appointed to collect among the soldiers here and in Toronto. He also appears to have collected from a number of the prominent Protestant citizens and business people of the town and of Toronto. Here are a few of the names that appear on his list "Mrs. Lyons, Messrs. Stocking & Grier, Robert Dickson, E. C. Campbell, James Lockhart, W. B. Winterbottom, etc., belonging to the town. On the Toronto list some of the names are: the Hon. Mr. Elmsley, Capt. Coleman, Hugh Dougherty, J. Shaughnessy, etc. The Presbytery or "Glebe House," according to the records cost £253 14s 11 12d but the amount collected up to the year 1840 was only £50, and Father Gordon then paid the balance due from his own private funds.
On the 13th Sept., 1834, Bishop Gaulin,
coadjuter of Bishop MacDonell, admimstered the sacrament of Confirmation,
this being the first time it was administered in the mission
east of Sandwich. There were five males and six females confirmed
at that time, ranging in ages from 13 to 23 years.
At a meeting held at the chapel on
the. 20th of April, 1835, (Easter Monday) the office of Church
Warden was established, and Messrs. Hugh McNally and William
Harris were appointed for that year, at the same meeting Mr.
John Lyons was appointed to act as secretary and treasurer during
the same term and Rev. Edwaiard Gordon, Messrs. John Harris,
and Thos. Heenan were appointed collectors of subscriptions for.the
finishing of the church and Mr. Farrell was appointed to collect
"for the country" Father Gordon left a record of the
total Catholic population for a thousand square miles viz. 817
In the old register, Father Harold
discovered a petition from the congregation of St. Vincent de
Paul Church, Niagara, asking Bishop Power to give the "necessary
power and in. structions to have the stations of the cross erected
in order that we and a1.l who are disposed may have an opportunity
of receiving the many spiritual advantages to be 6btained by
devout prayer and meditation on Christ's passion" and your
Petitioners as in duty will ever pray, etc."
The document bears the date '9th Dec., 1844,' and is written on a full sheet of foolscap. The petition is on one side, the reply, granting the petition on page 2, a declaration by the pastor, that he has this' day erected, etc., in the presence of the "undersigned witnesses" no names are inscribed, however, and on page 4 is the Bishop's name in full, with the words "favored by Rev. M. P. McDonough" in one corner. The Bishop's letter, sealed with red wax, is countersigned by J. J. Hay, Sec., and recites that he has authority from a decree of Gregory XIII to delegate any priest to erect the "Via Crucis" and hereby delegates etc." The letter is given at Toronto, 13th Dec., 1844.
The priest's declaration shows that
the Stations were erected on the 5th February, Ash Wednesday.
A copy of II this declaration also exists in the archives, made
out by Father
The soldiers were permitted to attend mass for a few Sundays after dispatching the above letter, when they again failed to be present, and on inquiry; Father Gordon learned the Colonel had again prevented them. Another lengthy letter of explanation was sent by the priest to the colonel in which he states, "All Catholics are obliged in conscience to give their attendance during the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass which is always offered up to God only in the forenoon." No attention being paid to his repeated requests; Father Gordon then laid the matte? before the major General, commanding the forces in Canada, who immediately commanded Col. Kingsmill to permit his Catholic soldiers to' attend Divine Service at the hour named by their chaplain.
Father Gordon was removed to Hamilton in 1846 and was elevated to the dignity of Vicar General. He died at the Episcopal residence, Hamilton in 1870.
The next in succession was Father John Carroll who remained in charge of this mission until about 1855. He accepted a chaplaincy in Chicago, where he died in 1891, having reached the venerable age of 93 years. He was a generous subscriber towards the building fund of the church, as his name frequently appears on the different lists for a substantial sum. He was a distant relation of the Carrolls, of Carrollton, one of whom signed the Declaration of Independence, he was also a nephew of Rev. Edmund Burke, mentioned earlier in this article.
Fathers Leveque, Cullen, Boyle, Musard
and Wardy each remained but a short term here, and thus we arrive
at the year 1857, when Father Mulligan assumed the charge of
Niagara Parish. While here he worked most zealously, being an
ardent advocate for the cause of temperance, he also had three
sister of St. Joseph's Order, installed as teachers in the Separate
School in 1857. This school was built on a corner of the church
property about 1842, as we are informed by a resident of the
town that he went to school there in 1843, and there was a meeting
held in it in 1844 to consider the matter of putting pews in
the church. The school was in a flourishing condition for a number
of years and many excellent scholars received their early training
within its walls. Father
Father James Hobin was next in succession. This reserved but pious priest was endowed with great mental gifts, being considered one of the best theologians of his day. He was very ready to assist the needy and distressed in a practical as well as a spiritual manner. He was succeeded by Father T. J. Sullivan in 1868 who only remained about a year. During his short pastorate here he began the refurnishing of the Presbytery and Sanctuary. He was removed to Thorold in 1869 and installed there as pastor where he still remains one of Thorold's most prominent figures, laboring with his wonted energy for the salvation of souls.
.Father Kelly was next appointed in
1869. He purchased a small pipe organ for the church, but it
was so badly damaged during a severe thunderstorm when the lightning
struck the church that it became practically useless. It was
replaced by a smaller' organ which was presented to the church
by the late Mr. Joseph Petley.
Father Laboureau succeeded Father
Kelly in 1871. He was highly educated and a good musician. He
had a marked individuality and wielded a great influence for
good among his parishioners. He made a number of necessary improvements
around the church property, but was taken from here in 1872 and
given the charge of the parish at Penetanguishene, where he still
remains. He has had erected at Penetanguishene a magnificent
memorial church to the early Jesuit martyrs which will be a lasting
monument to commemorate their heroic deeds and glorious martyrdom
and will also bear testimony to the energy and zeal of its founder.
Fathers A. J. 0' Reilly (1874-1876) P. J. Kierman (1876-1878) and E. F. Gallagher (187-1879) followed in succession. Those devoted priests 'neglected no opportunity of adding to the "treasure store of piety" and religious fervor, which is the strength' and glory of a. parish. Father P. J. Harold next assumed the charge of the parish in 1879 and remained until 1882, when he was temporarily succeeded by Rev. A. M. Murphy, O.C.C., a priest of the Carmehte Order. In 1884 Father Harold again took charge, remaining here until 1888,' when Father T. M. Shanahan was appointed pastor. This talented young priest was soon obliged to resign his parochial duties and leave Niagara on account of ill health, bearing with him the affection and regret of the parishioners. He died shortly after his departure from here and his early death caused a heartfelt sorrow.
In 1890 Father Harold was a third time appointed pastor of this mission. He found the church and Presbytery in urgent need of repairs and being very energetic and exceedingly resourceful as to ways and means, he at once set to work to make the necessary improvements. The church was so thoroughly renovated from foundation to cross, that it will, we trust, weather a few more decades. The Presbytery or "Glebe House" was sold and removed from the premises, under Father Harold's supervision, and was replaced by a much larger and more commodious structure, which contains all the modern improvements, including furnace, electric light, etc. Those very necessary changes and repairs were made with very moderate expense to the congregation.
Father Harold possessed the gift of
imparting knowledge in a remarkable degree and being a lover
of children, he made them his special care, "and in teaching
them the way to live, he taught them how to die." He was
an accomplished classical scholar and gifted with great literary
ability. He wrote a very interesting Historic Romance of the
First Century, "Irene of Corinth," the contents of
which are both fascinating and instructive.
A small melodeon was presented to the church by a friend and Mrs. Newton (nee McDougal) took charge of this and directed the choir for years with the assistance of Mr. Conroy, with great success Miss Allinson (now Mrs. Richards ) on the resignation of Mrs. Newton, then took charge of the choir, being a mere child at the time, and with the most untiring devotion and fidelity she played the organ, taught and directed the choir for years. Needless to say her success was remarkable. She also devoted much of her time to the instruction of the children in her class in Sunday School, and she did not relinquish her self-imposed but extremely praiseworthy tasks until a short time before her marriage. She organized a large Choral Society which was composed of members of all denominations. Several very successful concerts were given by this society, the proceeds from some of them being given for the benefit of the Public Library, in which institution she was much interested. It is often said, there is no one who cannot be done without. This no doubt is true, but Mrs. Richards was one of the few who left a very large niche to be filled in the hearts of the congregation of St. Vincent de Paul, and not alone in the Catholic congregation, for her departure wo sincerely regretted by all lovers of music, irrespective of creed.
After Mrs. Richard's departure, the following ladies took charge of the organ and choir for a short time Miss Muirphy (now Mrs. Mooney) Mrs. Lamb, Miss McF'aul and Miss Robinson. Miss Walsh then took the choir and presided as organist for several years with much ability and success. Her strength not being sufficient to sustain the strain which the duties entailed, she eventually resigned the position. Mr. Mulholland is the present organist and director of the choir, which position he has held for over six years with admirable executive ability and characteristic modesty. It may be stated here that in no instance, has any of the organists or members of the choir received any recompense for their services other than perhaps a limited quantity of judicious praise, tempered with healthy criticism.
In .1894 Rev. Father Harold took his departure from here and was succeeded by Father Jno. J. Lynch in the same year. Energetic, zealous and scholarly, Father Lynch, apparently, had every prospect of many years of splendid opportunity before him to labor for the salvation of souls, but our Lord had willed otherwise. During his short sojourn here he was respected and beloved by his parishioners, not only because of his devotion to duty, his compassion for the sick and poor, without respect to race or creed, but also because of the affectionate warmth of his heart, his never failing courtesy and interesting personality. He had so endeared himself to all both Catholic and Protestant, as "never to estrange a friend or create an enemy." "He was of youth the guardian and 'of all, the friend." His life was closed in the morning of his priesthood, on the 9th of Sept., 1897.. He was buried in St. Vincent de Paul's Cemetery, where a monument was erected to his memory by his parishioners bearing the following inscription "We hold his name in benediction...."
memory of Rev. Father Lynch, who for three years was pastor of
this parish. He died Sept. 9th, 1897, in the 34th year of his
age and the 10th of his priesthood. Eternal rest give to him
The Presbytery has just now been thoroughly refitted and partly refurnished, owing to the laudable enterprise and energy on the part of several of the ladies and gentlemen 'of the, parish. The congregation generously contributed the requisite funds and as a result, the presbytery presents a very pleasing and comfortable appearance.
This sketch would be incomplete were we to omit the names of Such generous unselfish supporters of the church as Messrs. Peter Clarke, George Greene, Patrick Healey and James Doyle, who, with others, deserve niore than passing mention herein, would space permit. Suffice it to say they will live in affectionate remembrance in the hearts of the people of the parish. With the exception of Mr. Clarke, who returned to Ireland after the death of his wife, and eventually died there, they are resting peacefully in the little cemetery of St. Vincent de Paul in the rear of the church. In the cemetery also repose many of the pioneer residents of the early church, notably Mrs. Stevenson, who is mentioned in the old Niagara Gleaner, 1832, as performing a work of mercy by sending comforts to .the prisoners. In the McDougal family plot is the grave of Colonel McDougall, whose name appears as chairman on the original Set of Resolutions drawn up in 1831, previous to the erection of the church. When Bishop McDonell came to Niagara to consecrate, the church, he was entertained at Colonel McDougall's. Adjacent to the McDougall plot is a sarcophagus in which lie the remains of John Lyons, registrar for many years. His name appears on the records of a meeting held on Easter Monday, 1835, as Secty. Treasurer for that year. There is a tablet erected in the church with the following inscription "To the memory of Lieut. Adj't. Reginald McDonnell, Royal Canadian Rifle Regiment, who died at Niagara, C.W., on the 20th Dec. 1851, aged 39 years.. This tablet is erected by his brother officers as a testimony of regard." His remains are interred in the graveyard and a stone with a similar inscription marks the spot. Hundreds of other dear departed friends rest in our little graveyard, in fact it would be difficult to find one in the parish who has not some beloved relative resting there. "And with the morn those angel faces smile, which we have loved and lost ere yet awhile."
In collecting the facts contained in this sketch, I have consulted "Galinee's Narrative, "The History of the Catholic Church in the Niagara Peninsula", by Dean Harris; "History of the Church in Niagara" by Rev. P. J. Harold. I have also gathered authentic information from a few of the pioneer residents of the town and from ancient records of the parish. Imperfect and unpolished as this narrative is presented to you, it is history. The old pioneers are fast vanishing from our midst but the church of St. Vincent de Paul crowned with the sign of our redemption will bear testimony to their unselfish generosity and unwavering faith.