In pioneer days this whole Maritime region formed part of the Diocese of Quebec, that vast ecclesiastical territory that stretched from the Altantic Ocean west to the Mississippi and beond. The first recorded visit of a priest on this Island was in 1721 when a small number of French and aboriginals lived here. During that French regime a succession of priests from France resided on the Island and by 1752 as many as four small parishes were in existence here. That all ended in 1758 when British authorities expelled the French and shipped most of them to Europe. A few escaped and others returned to form the nucleus of the Acadian people on this Island.
A further expansion of the Church on P.E.I. (then St. John’s Island) began in 1772 when the first band of Scottish Catholic immigrants arrived accompanied by their own priest, Father James MacDonald. With another group of Highland settlers in 1790 came Father Angus MacEachern who might well be called the founder of the Church on this Island. An outstanding missionary priest in these parts, MacEachern served also as auxiliary bishop of Quebec from 1821 and in 1829 he became the first Bishop of Charlottetown.
At its beginning, our diocese was geographically quite large and included all of New Brunswick as well as the Magdalen Islands. In 1842 the former became a diocese of its own while in 1946 the latter unit was transferred to the Diocese of Gaspé.
Diocesan educational institutions have included St. Andrew’s College (1831-1844), St. Dunstan’s College/University (1855-1969) and St. Patrick’s School (1870-1877). In addition, the Sisters of Notre Dame conducted Notre Dame Academy for a century as well as convent schools around the Island for varying periods of years.
Diocesan health-care and related institutions have been the Charlottetown Hospital (1879-1981), St. Vincent’s Orphanage (1910-1963), Sacred Heart Home (1925-1994), and the Alberton Hospital (1944-1991).
Religious orders of women have been very prominent in our diocese, as follows: Congregation of Notre Dame (1857-present), Grey Nuns of Quebec (1879-1925), Filles de Jésus (1903-1909), Little Sisters of the Holy Family (1909-1916), Sisters of St. Martha (1916-present), Sisters of the Precious Blood (1929-present), Notre-Dame-du-Sacré-Coeur (1959-1979) and Saint-Coeur de Marie (1977-1989).
Among religious orders of men in the diocese we have had the Brothers of the Christian Schools (1870-1877), the Jesuits (1880-1881) and the Redemptorists (1929-1975).
The Diocese of Charlottetown has long been a seed bed for vocations to the priesthood and religious life. More than 900 Island women joined 55 different religious orders for service at home, across the continent, and beyond.
In addition to supplying the needs of the diocese here, some 250 Island men were ordained for ministry “away,” in dioceses and religious orders across and beyond this continent. Included among these have been eight bishops: Cardinal James McGuigan; Archbishops Cornelius O’Brien, John McNally, and Alfred Sinnott; Bishops James Morrison, Francis Kelley, Leo Nelligan, and Faber MacDonald.
The Catholic population of our diocese today stands at 65,000. There are 47 parishes, served by 36 priests and a great number of dedicated lay women and men.
Fr. Art O’Shea
September 14, 2010
Fr. O’Shea’s Book: “A Faith Walk” has been scanned by the Robertson Library at UPEI and is available for viewing here: A Faith Walk
Fr. Art also has a series of short historical notes. Here are links to the the nineteen that he has written so far.