In Days of the Pioneers: Before Old St. Malachi's was a City Landmark

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In Days of the Pioneers: Before Old St. Malachi's was a City Landmark
W. K. Reynolds
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IN DAYS OF THE PIONEERS BEFORE OLD ST.MALACHI’S WAS A CITY LANDMARK The First Mass Know to Have Been Said in St. John after the Landing of the Loyalists-A Glimpse of the Early Times in this City When the Loyalists landed at St. John, in 1783, there were some Catholics among them, and as the city grew the number was increased by additions to families and by arrivals from other places. There was also a proportion of Catholic soldiers among the troops in the garrison, but for the first thirty years of the city’s history the total number was small. In those times there was none of the strife which in later years so unhappily tended to set class against class. Dr. Mather Byles was rector of Trinity church and the people of all denominations used to be glad to hear his sermons. Catholics were married by him, their children were baptized by him, and when death came the funeral service was read by him. Certain families, however, made practice of having the Rosary and other devotions at their houses on Sundays, and thus they waited patiently for the time when they and others could be organized into a regular congrégation. In the Journal of Bishop Plessis, of his mission to New Brunswick in 1812, under the date of September 9 of that year, he records, that at Madawaska he met Father Chartles Ffrench, of the Preaching Brothers (Dominicans) who applied to be admitted to the diocèse of Québec (illegible) transact some business for (illegible) Father Ffrench was a remarkable man, and not much could be told of him were it not that it would be foreign to the purpose of this paper. The son of an Anglican bishop in Ireland, he became a Catholic when a young man, and was followed by his brother, Edmund, who became one of the Catholic bishops in Ireland. Charles took orders and came to America, and first appears in New Brunswick history at the time previously named. During his subsequent career, he travelled over Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, New England and a portion of the Middle States. He sought out of the places where the people had neither churches nor pastors, and roused them to a realization of their needs, pointing out the way in which their state could be made better. When he had seen work completed by the starting of the building of a church, he would seek out some other neglected district and perform a like service there. In this way he was instrumental in building 21 churches which he left in an advanced state of completion, and of 12 which he completed himself. Considering the times and the condition of the country, this was a most extraordinary record. Fr. Ffrench died in Massachusetts in 1851 at the age of 80, having been 50 years a priest. After the visit of Bishop Plessis Father Ffrench appears to have carried on his work along the River St. John, and in the summer of 1813 he came to St, John ,where he found the little flock, which was later to form the congregation of St. Malachi’s church. It is worth noting that the first priest to publicly minister to the English-speaking Catholics of St. John was an Irishman, though New Brunswick was then part of the diocese of Quebec, in which Irish clergymen were the exception. Father Ffrench said the first Mass in the Court room of the city hall, on the Market Square. This was not the market house which of the older people may remember as having been burned in the fire of 1841, the foundation of which remained until a much later date, but it was a wooden structure, built in 1797 and torn down in 1837, when the market house in question was built. It was about 60 feet long and 40 feet wide, with two stories and a basement. It stood in the centre of the square west of the present drinking fountain. The court room where the first service was held was in the upper story, was reached by a flight of outside stairs on the end of the building nearest to King street. At the top of these stairs an outside balcony extended along the south side of the building, and the doors of the courtroom opened on this balcony. The room was used for sittings of the courts and for the meetings of the common council, the building being city property. Permission for Father Ffrench to use the court room on this occasion was granted by the mayor, William Campbell. The lower story of the building was used as a meat market, and among the butchers who had stalls there at that time were John Tool, Thomas and William Waters, all of whom were Catholics. The court room must have been more than sufficient to accommodate all the faithful who attended, for according to the statement of the late James Bustin, who was then a good sized lad, the number of male inhabitants of St. John who were known to be Catholics at that time was only about 20. The visit of Fr. French, however, seems to have given life to a movement to build a church, a most courageous undertaking for the little flock. They must have labored with great zeal, at a meeting held in August, 1814, it was ‘Resolved that the thanks for the Catholics of the city of St. John be returned to the inhabitants, and to Halifax, for their liberal subscriptions towards building a Catholic Church, amounting to nearly £800’. This resolution was signed by John Tool and Bernard Kiernan, church wardens. Kiernan was a surveyor and, I think, at times a schoolmaster, who came from Ireland about 1811. He prepared the calculations for the N.B. almanacs from 1812 to 1824, after which I can find no trace of him. Work appears to have been carried on with diligence, and in the following year, 1815, the building was enclosed, though it was not completed until some years later. In the building of it each man of the congregation gave one day a week to forward the undertaking. On Sunday, August 27,1815, the first Mass was said in this the first church (illegible) the English speaking Catholic (illegible) distinguished prelate was then on visit to St. John, having come from Halifax by way of Digby, and he was on his way to the Indian mission at Ste. Anne’s, near Fredericton. As already stated he had made a visit to other parts of the province a few years previously. On his return from Fredericton the Bishop wished to remain a day or two in St. John to meet Gen. Smyth, the administrator of the government, and to render what assistance he could to the Catholic's. “It was then decided to remain until the following Monday,” says his journal. “. . . The Catholic chapel being sufficiently enclosed to celebrate it there, the prelate announced to the faithful that he would say Mass there on the Sunday. He did so, and curiosity attracted there a crowd of Protestants, in the midst of whom the Catholics were the same as lost. He addressed to the assembly a short exhortation, scarcely half of which could be heard on account of the noise made by the Catholic soldiers of the garrison, awkwardly led by a Canadian lieutenant, an hour later than was agreed upon with him. A butcher named Tool, the most fervent Catholic of the place, he who lodges the Abbé Ffrench when he is in this town, was the only one who had the happiness of communicating at this Masse, after which someone, in view of honoring his piety, having gone to breakfast with him, was surprised at seeing him leave when all were ready to sit down at the table. He asked the reason of it, and received for answer that on the days when Mr. Tool had the happiness of receiving the Holy Communion he took no other breakfast, an edifying practice and one which makes it evident that in all the corners of the Church, even in the least cultivated, God takes care to furnish servants commendable for their fidelity and fervor. “This was about all the solemnities that day, with this exception, that the Bishop had the consolation that a Frenchman named Julien Blin wished him not to leave without his confessing, he and all his numerous family, a service which was in part rendered to them by Father Boucherville, and in part by the Bishop himself. “The Bishop on leaving St. John gave to the Catholics St. Malachi, Bishop of Armagh, as titular of their chapel, and promised to contribute £25 to aid them in having a cemetery.” St. Malachi's at that time was merely enclosed, but by October 1 of that year it was sufficiently advanced in construction to permit of the edifice being opened by Father French for regular occupation. Much apparently still remained to be done, for as late as 1820 tenders for sheathing the west end and tower were called for in the newspapers. The building was originally much shorter than it was in after years, and was a very plain structure indeed, so far as external appearance went. One of the missionaries who was in St. John in 1816 was Rev. Paul McQuade, and the limited size of the congregation of St. Malachi's at that time may be judged by Mr. Bustin's statement that the congregation consisted of 35 men and 30 women. In 1819, however, large numbers of Irish immigrants arrived, and they continued to land and settle in St. John, season after season, for many years. St. Malachi's was the third church built in St. John, not including the building where the Episcopalians first held their services. The other churches were Trinity, opened in 1791, and Germain Street Methodist, at the corner of Horsefield street, opened in 1816. St. Andrew's Kirk was opened in 1816. Other bodies, however, held regular services in the meantime. In 1815, St. John had a population of about 5,000, and there was not a brick building in the city. In those days the citizens used to be called out to do roadwork on the streets, and in 1819 I find the surveyor of highways of District No. 2, Queens Ward, summoning all the inhabitants of that district to meet him at his house, which he describes as being “near the Roman chapel,” and to bring with them the necessary implements according to law. ln 1821 Father Joseph Morrisset was sent from Quebec to be the first resident priest in St. John. At that date he was one of the only three priests in the province, another being at Indian Village, Fredericton, and the third at Dorchester and Memramcook. There are now in the province about 40 priests for each one that was to be found 75 years ago. Since the time of Fr. Morrisset the clergy list has been continuous, and has been constantly growing larger in St. John and New Brunswick. *Le Foyer Canadien, Mai-Novembre, 1865.Copies of this are now very rare A lengthy tribute to Father French appeared in the Boston Pilot of May 17, 1851, shortly after his death. W. K. REYNOLDS