Bishop Bernard MacDonald

Born at St. Andrew’s, P.E.I. in 1797
Bishop of the Diocese of Charlottetown: 1837-1859

Bishop MacDonald studied for ten years at the Seminary of Quebec and in 1822 he was ordained to the priesthood there, the first native Islander to become a priest. Father MacDonald served all his priestly years on P.E.I., covering most of the Island.

In 1837 he was appointed Bishop of Charlottetown and was consecrated in St. Patrick’s Church, Quebec City, on October 15 that year. The new bishop immediately took up residence in Rustico where he continued to live for the rest of his life. It was he who supervised the building of the present St. Augustine’s Church there in 1838, using it as his pro-cathedral for many episcopal events.

When he became bishop this diocese included not only P.E.I. but also the Magdalen Islands and all of New Brunswick. This burden was lightened considerably in 1842 when New Brunswick became a diocese of its own.

In 1844 Bishop MacDonald made the difficult decision to close St. Andrew’s College but he had plans to open a new one close to Charlottetown. After many delays St. Dunstan’s College opened its doors in January of 1855 in a large four-storey building with 18 students and a faculty of two.

The bishop was also responsible for the arrival in 1857 of the first Sisters of Notre Dame to Charlottetown and for the opening of their original school on Sydney Street. He also organized the building of a beautiful wooden cathedral with front doors facing the harbour. He was greatly involved in the temperance movement throughout the diocese and in the setting up of the St. Bernard’s Society in 1846 to assist retired or infirm priests. This organization would remain active until the 1960s. Bishop MacDonald visited Rome once.

Unwell for his last two years, he moved to St. Dunstan’s College and a week later died there on December 30, 1859 at the age of 62. Funeral Mass took place at the cathedral with burial in the basement below the altar. In 2000 his remains were moved to his native parish of St. Andrew’s beside the grave of Bishop MacEachern.