Father O’Shea’s Diocesan Reflections #35

December 4, 2018

W.P.J. MacMillian

Spotlight layman, W.J.P. MacMillan

Born on a farm in Clermont near Kensington in 1881, his lovely old homestead house remains there still, owned by a member of the Curley family.  MacMillan attended school in Kensington and studied at Prince of Wales College in Charlottetown.   From there he enrolled at McGill University in Montreal from which he received his medical degree in 1908.   He immediately set up his medical practice in Charlottetown where he soon built a spacious house at 205 Kent Street where he lived for the rest of his life.  That house today is a kind of rehab centre for those with addictions.   Dr. MacMillan gradually built up a major medical profession with his office in the house.  He was a big name at the Charlottetown Hospital downtown where he was chief of staff for many years, even though politics was for him a major attraction.

In 1923 Dr. MacMillan was elected as a Conservative for his Charlottetown district in which riding he was elected seven times and defeated twice.  In 1931 he became the first minister of health and education for the province and in 1933 upon the death of Premier Stewart he was sworn in as premier of P.E.I., only the third Catholic to hold this office at that point.  One of his proudest accomplishments as premier was insisting on and having built the beautiful new Prince of Wales College on Weymouth Street, following the disastrous fire that destroyed the former college at that time.  This impressive building in brick covers one complete block on Weymouth Street and today is the property of Holland College.  The new premier was also responsible for having Prince of Wales raised to the dignity of a junior college.   Those years of the 1930s, of course, were in the midst of Canada’s great depression with people very uneasy about the harsh economic realities of the time. Accordingly, in the provincial election of 1935 the MacMillan government was defeated by the Liberal party which captured all 30 seats in the legislature.  From 1939 until 1955 MacMillan was re-elected four times more and remained the leader of the Conservative party until 1950.

Late in 1947 Dr. MacMillan was named by Pope Pius XII “Knight Commander of the Order of St. Gregory the Great,” only the second Islander to receive this distinction to that point.  He was invested into this order in February of 1948 at the basilica by Bishop Boyle who spoke splendidly about this most eminent honor in recognition of the doctor’s loyal and distinguished service to his Church and country.  The bishop also noted the tremendous response from all classes of people for the doctor’s well-merited honor.  Late in 1957 Dr. MacMillan was appointed Lieutenant Governor of P.E.I. but died two weeks before assuming that office.   His large funeral took place at the basilica with Pontifical Mass offered by Bishop MacEachern. Bishop MacDonald of Antigonish was also present. The late doctor’s casket was carried right into the sanctuary for this Mass, with burial following in the Catholic Cemetery, Charlottetown. The doctor’s first-name letters were WJP which stood for William Joseph Parnell.  He was twice married, his first wife having died early in life. He was the father of six children.  One son was a medical doctor, another a lawyer.  Two of his daughters married prominent lawyers in Charlottetown. Dr. W.J.P was also involved in numerous Island organizations. According to him, however, the one closest to his heart was the Red Cross.

The Magdalen Islands, a chain of small islands some 60 miles off East Point, once formed part of the Diocese of Charlottetown, beginning in 1829 when our diocese was canonically erected.  These islands belonged to the province of Quebec with the great majority of its residents French speaking.  For many years four or five of our Acadian priests served over there with five of them buried there.   Until the 1940s or so, these islands were cut off from the mainland for nearly six months of the year.  Fishing was the main industry for a population of roughly 8000 by the 1940s, a time which had four active parishes.  St. Peter’s Academy, an excellent school for boys, opened in 1919 and was conducted mainly by diocesan priests.  The Sisters of Notre Dame had been there since the 1880s doing their good work and by 1919 had opened an impressive convent school for girls. Besides Island priests, a few from outside became stationed there and eventually as many as three native sons were ordained and gave great service in their home locale.  Beginning in the 1930s and ongoing for some 15 years, a move was underway to have these Magdalen Islands placed under the jurisdiction of a French-speaking diocese. Then in May of 1946 the Apostolic Delegate asked the bishops of Gaspé and Charlottetown their feelings on a possible transfer and were asked to keep these discussions quiet “under the secret of the Holy Office.”  On October 7, 1946 Bishop Boyle received word from the Apostolic Delegate that the Vatican had stated that the Magdalen Islands were now canonically separated from the Diocese of Charlottetown and annexed to the Diocese of Gaspé.  Bishop Boyle stated that the silence imposed by the Vatican on this issue was distressing to him as it was to the priests on those islands.  Yet he felt that the transfer was in the best interests, spiritual and temporal, of the Magdalen Islands people.  Today these islands are more prosperous and have become a popular tourist attraction with easy entry by air and by that splendid car ferry from Souris for most of the year now.


IN MEMORIAM: At the close of another year we remember three of our brother priests who died in 2018.  May they rest in peace.

Rupert MacLellan, aged 90.  From Indian River parish, a graduate of SDU, studied theology at St. Augustine’s Seminary.  Ordained at St. Dunstan’s Basilica by Bishop Boyle in 1954 for Diocese of Calgary.  Spent over 20 years in parish ministry and a similar period in religious education/high school ministry. Active retirement with burial in Calgary.

Lawrence Gallant, OFM, aged 87. From Bloomfield Parish, studied at St. Joseph’s in Memramcook, NB, and at Franciscan institutions in province of Quebec.   Ordained at Bloomfield in 1959 by Bishop Laberge, obtained a doctorate in Sacramental Theology from Catholic Institute of Paris. Taught at university and seminary level across Canada and served his Franciscan Order over a long life.  Burial in Montreal.

Melvin Doucette, M.Afr., aged 79.  From Palmer Road Parish, studied at St. Joseph’s College in New York and at St. Edward’s Seminary in London, England.  Ordained at Palmer Road in 1968 by Bishop MacEachern and served for 30 years in Zambia, Africa.  Back on PEI, he assisted in parishes and retreats until ill health terminated his active life. Burial in Palmer Road.

Redemptorist priests were generally noted for strong voices, even shouting at times.  A young Redemptorist priest at Holy Redeemer worked hard at his Pentecost sermon, underlining various parts of it, and presented it to the rector, as custom was, for his judgement.  Alongside one long paragraph the rector with red ink wrote: “Argument weak here. Shout like Hell.”

Clergy Quiz: no winners from last month – and it was so easy!

This month’s quiz:  Only one P.E.I. priest was a Rhodes Scholar.  Who?


O come, O come, Emmanuel.   Rejoice!  Rejoice!

December 4, 2018