Spotlight Parish: St. Augustine’s, Rustico

April 12, 2019

Beautiful Rustico in the Winter

      A few Acadian families began to appear in this area during the late 1700s.  One of the earliest priests to serve the people there was Father James MacDonald from Scotland who ministered to these residents from his arrival here in 1772 until his death in 1785. 

It is interesting that at this point a layman, Jean Doucette of Rustico, was mandated by the Bishop of Quebec to witness marriages and to baptize in that wider area of the Island, especially when there were no priests here. {Editor’s note: According to the late Deacon Cyrus Gallant the Acadian people referred to these specially mandated laymen as “The Wooden Priests”}

2016 Christmas Mass at St. Augustine’s Church, Rustico.

Two Quebec bishops visited the Rustico area and beyond, Bishop Denaut in 1803 and Bishop Plessis in 1812.  The first modest church in Rustico was built in 1785 and the second in 1812.  A few French priests from Quebec or France spent intermittent periods in Rustico between roughly 1800 and 1822.  These were Fathers de Calonne, Pichard, Beaubien and Cecile.

Greater stability came in 1822 when Father Bernard MacDonald was ordained, the first Islander to reach holy orders.    He had spent ten years studying in Quebec and was almost immediately sent to minister to the Acadian people of Rustico and beyond. In 1837 this young Father MacDonald was named the second Bishop of Charlottetown and he chose to keep Rustico as his residence which he did for the whole 22 years of his episcopacy.

St. Augustine’s Church from the 1880 Atlas

The new church in Rustico, the present one, opened in 1838 though not completely finished at the time. It became known as the pro-cathedral of the diocese and many priestly ordinations took place there over the years.  Two smaller rectories gave way eventually to a more spacious one built in 1844, lived in by the bishop and an assistant priest.  Most of that rectory remains today. The good Bishop MacDonald died in 1859 at the early age of 62.  His largely attended funeral was held in St. Dunstan’s Cathedral with burial eventually in St. Andrew’s, near the place of his birth.

Fr. Belcourt

      Upon the death of Bishop MacDonald and the great vacancy that he left in Rustico, Father Antoine Belcourt, a priest from Quebec, came to the parish and remained for ten years.  He had served for much of his priesthood in the mission fields of what is today western Canada and the Dakotas of U.S.A.  

The Farmer’s Bank

While pastor of Rustico, Belcourt supervised the building of the large stone structure near the church which became known as the “Farmers’ Bank” and served in that capacity for nearly 30 years.   It is now a museum.  To encourage good reading,  Belcourt also founded a considerable library for which he received many volumes, plus the gift of a thousand francs from Emperor Napoleon III of France.  Father Belcourt transferred to the Magdalene Islands in 1869, died in 1874 with burial in Memramcook, New Brunswick.  

Original Notre Dame Convent School, Rustico

      The parish of Rustico was highly blessed in 1882 with the arrival of the Sisters of Notre Dame who began a special era of education for that part of the country.  Their first convent was destroyed by fire in February of 1932 but a new one was up and ready by the end of that year.   This great convent school continued until roughly the 1960s.  Eventually the building was purchased by the Diocese of Charlottetown and served as a very practical and cozy retreat house for some forty years under the historic name of “Belcourt Centre.”  

Stella Maris Church, North Rustico

A mission church was opened in North Rustico in 1920 and today that area is the bustling Stella Maris Parish there. A most unusual historical point of this Rustico parish is that three future archbishops were baptized there.  Cornelius O’Brien (1843-1906) was a priest here and then was Archbishop of Halifax for 24 years until his death.  James McGuigan (1894-1974) was ordained in Rustico and later became Archbishop of Regina and of Toronto.  In 1946 he was named a cardinal and died in 1974.  A mission church of Rustico parish was opened at Hunter River, the cardinal’s birthplace, in 1950. It was closed and sold in recent years.  John McNally (1871-1952) was ordained for the Diocese of Ottawa and was Bishop of Calgary, of Hamilton and Archbishop of Halifax. 

Some of the many Sisters of Notre Dame who taught in North Rustico

Ten priests came from St. Augustine’s Parish and about the same number of religious sisters.  The laity and pastors over these long years have kept the parish alive in numerous ways and are still doing that today in splendid fashion.  Deo gratias.

Our cathedral’s centennial year: memories by Father O’Shea

St. Dunstan’s Cathedral Under Construction

For a time in the early 1950s while spending the weekends in town I was a member of the basilica choir when Leo Chaisson was choir director and very friendly to all.  Two other youngsters my age were in the choir at that time.  One was Cuker Pineau and the other was Jimmy Flanagan.  The latter was a grand singer who also took part in musicals, especially minstrel shows, around town and beyond.  Poor Jimmy died suddenly at the age of 35 from a hidden and fatal health condition.  He left behind a widow and four young children, as well as many fond memories all over town and more.  

Leo Chaisson was the basilica choir director from the late 1940’s, having been a choir member there since boyhood days.  As well, he played in the League of the Cross and Recce bands.    Leo joined the army and served overseas in the 1940’s.   For that he received a citation from General Montgomery “for outstanding service beyond the call of duty.” 

After the war Leo was a trusted employee in the P.E.I. Department of Education Office in Charlottetown.   In addition to his choir direction, he sang morning weekday High Mass for many years.  On April 13, 1956, as he walked up the basilica steps on his way to sing at the 7 am Mass, he collapsed and died in hospital an hour later.  He was only 51. 

His largely attended funeral Mass took place at the basilica with the rector, Father McMahon, as celebrant.  A full choir sang heartfully but also with hearts heavy in a parting salute to their great friend and leader, dropped from this life so quickly and so young.    Rest in peace Leo among those choirs of angels now.   

Marguerite Bourgeoys, saint, missionary, educator

St, Marguerite

      Next week, on April 17, Marguerite’s 400th birthday appears, stirring up a new round of celebrations in her honour.  Filled with a wide spiritual horizon, young Marguerite came to this country as a true pilgrim from her native France and settled in today’s Montreal, at that time only a village.  By 1658 she was the prime mover in the formation of the Congregation of Notre Dame whose charter referred in particular to “its instruction of young girls in piety to enable them to practise the Christian and moral virtues according to their state.”  This new religious order gradually spread its wings widely. 

Under the invitation of our Bishop Bernard MacDonald, the first four of these sisters to arrive here in 1857 began a modest school on Sydney Street in the city’s east end.  In the bishop’s vision they were “to provide young girls of Charlottetown and elsewhere the advantage of a polite education, coupled with both moral and religious training.”  

Notre Dame Convent, Charlottetown

Before long this modest school would evolve into the magnificent Notre Dame Academy, a private school for girls, which would continue for a full century.   The St. Joseph’s Sisters’ school on Pownal Street began in 1863 and in due time a wave of their convent schools opened, as follows: Miscouche, Tignish and Summerside in the 1860’s, Souris and Rustico in the 1880’s.  All of these hit the century mark with the one in North Rustico beginning only in 1940.  

I was the assistant priest in Tignish in 1968 when the CND sisters celebrated the centennial of their convent there.  Newly ordained Tignish native, Father Lee Gillis, and the Mother Superior arrived for the memorial by horse and wagon from down in the village.  That evening a con-celebrated Mass in a very full church was celebrated at which Tignish native, retired Bishop Leo Nelligan, gave the homily.    Next evening in the parish centre the bishop delighted his large audience with historical input, laced with his witty yarns aplenty. The bishop stayed with us at the rectory for a number of days.  

Some of the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame gathered on the stairs in front of the St. Marguerite Stained glass window at Our Lady of Hope Retreat Centre

The contribution made by the Sisters of Notre Dame in this diocese for a century and a half is surely a marvelous one. More than 300 Island women became sisters in this great congregation, a goodly number serving on P.E.I.  What a story, but as Tennyson said “So sad, so fresh those days that are no more.”  

Marguerite Bourgeoys, the foundress of this Congregation, was canonized in 1982, her feast day being January 12.  Some thirty CND sisters reside on P.E.I. today. To them and to all members of that superb religious order we repeat again “Well done good and faithful servants all.”

April 12, 2019   Happy and blessed Easter season!   Fr. Art O’Shea # 39