Spotlight Parish: St. James, Georgetown

October 12, 2019


St. James Church, Georgetown Today

Spotlight Parish: St. James, Georgetown

This general area in earlier times was known as Three Rivers, formed by the Montague, Brudenell and Cardigan Rivers.   A few French families lived there awhile but in the mid-1770s they left the area after their property was destroyed by the invading English. 

Some Scottish pioneers from the 1803 Selkirk settlers put down roots in Georgetown Royalty and gradually families of different backgrounds came to live in the greater Georgetown area.  

The first Catholic settlers were named MacPhee, MacLellan, MacDonald, MacAulay and Morrison, all from Scotland, as well as Kearney, Kirwin, Burke and Byrne from Ireland. 

Roman Catholics built their first church there in 1837, a modest 33 by 46-foot structure, which they enlarged in 1844 making it 33 by 76 feet.   This became a very beautiful church which under the patronage of St. James would serve the people for 75 years.  In 1937 a grand centennial celebration of their first church was held in Georgetown.   Bishop O’Sullivan celebrated Mass at which numerous laity and many priests participated with great faith and joy.   Father Gregory MacLellan, V.G., preached a lively sermon and after Mass a grand parish picnic was enjoyed by all.

In 1919 the parishioners opened their second church, this time a brick structure with slate roof.   Unfortunately, before long major defects became apparent in the church’s overall fabric which seemingly pointed to the poor quality of brick in the building’s framework.   From the early 1960s the parishioners decided to spend no more money on repairs but to begin saving for an eventual new church.   In 1974 with some sadness they celebrated the last Mass in that shaky brick locale which was soon demolished.  

They then had a very interesting adventure.   

Georgetown Courthouse

Having no place of their own for liturgical celebrations, they soon arranged with the proper authorities and were given generous permission to have use of the Georgetown Courthouse.   This solid structure was easily rearranged and became the site for weekly Masses, baptisms, funerals and weddings for about a year, a fine community experience indeed. 

The beautiful new church with attached rectory then opened in 1974, a great relief for all and not many years later the whole debt was eliminated.  Much credit for this grand parish project must go to Father Floyd McGaugh, pastor of the time, as well as to his excellent co-planners and to all parishioners too.   The first rectory in the parish was built in the 1850s, very large and later used as a hall.   The second one was constructed around 1920 and sold in the 1970s. 

Father Francis MacDonald was the long-time missionary priest of that area and became Georgetown’s first resident pastor in the 1850s.   He was followed in 1875 by Father Charles MacDonald who eventually served as Bishop of Charlottetown from 1891 to 1912.  

After those two early pastors, sixteen parish priests have given steady leadership to the people there with Father Tim Broderick holding that place of honour today.    

For the past few years, of course, the pastors of Georgetown have also been administrators of Cardigan, Little Pond and St. George’s parishes. 

High praises are due the laity of St. James’ Parish who have kept the church alive over long years, usually in a quiet manner.   Five of its men have been ordained to the priesthood for service here and across Canada.  As well, eleven women from the parish became nuns serving here and off-Island. 

Georgetown, named after King George III, was incorporated as a town in 1912.   Well over a century ago it was skillfully laid out as a town, intended to be the capital of King’s County.    Its wonderful harbour, open in winter, has been generously used for the fishery, ocean trade and as a former ferry terminal.  

Bishop’s residence and annex

The Original Bishop’s Residence before the fire of 1913

In the years of Bishop MacIntyre here the new episcopal residence opened its doors in 1875, next door to the cathedral (today’s 45 Great George Street).   It was intended not only for the bishops but also for the increasing cathedral clergy and visiting priests.  

When the grand new cathedral was destroyed by fire in March of 1913, this residence was saved but badly damaged by excessive amounts of water sprayed over it.  The bishop and clergy had to move to new temporary quarters in town for a number of months while the house was being restored.  

At this point Father Tom Curran, pastor of Kelly’s Cross and a wise observer of building projects, made a brave and detailed suggestion to young Bishop Henry O’Leary who had just arrived here.   Father Tom pointed out the need for updating the residence and suggested the building of an extension to it then while it was under repair.   He neatly outlined a number of snags in the existing house: narrow corridor and narrow, steep stairway, no vault for archives, not one hardwood floor, a primitive hot water heating system and a generally sad atmosphere that the present residence had.  

St. Dunstan’s University and Bishop’s Residence Today

For these and further reasons, young Bishop O’Leary and his committee in 1914 proceeded to have a matching 32 by 50-foot extension in stone added to the building’s west side, along with updates to the original section.   Our bishops resided at that location until 1964, leaving the cathedral clergy and retired priests there until the place was sold in 2008 to the SDU Board of Governors.  

After extensive renovations shortly thereafter, basilica staff priests and retired clergy have found living quarters there and just a few months ago Bishop Grecco moved in as well, becoming the eighth of our bishops to have lived at that site.

A very near miss

It happened so quickly at Bloomfield on June 18, 1890.  A sharp lightning storm swept through the area and struck the church tower near the top.   The pastor, Father Von Blerk, sprang into action.   He summoned two nearby men who climbed up the interior of the tower and with remarkable stamina they managed to saw off the burning section, the cross and several feet of the spire which fell to the ground. The church was thus saved and the tower when repaired remained a bit shorter as it has to this day.   There now, a priest and laity working together and saving the church!!  

Sr. Anthony’s Church, Bloomfield

That St. Anthony’s church, built in the mid-1870s, is one of the prettiest in our diocese today, noting especially the superb interior woodwork.  (Father Von Blerk was from Belgium and a former Trappist.   He came to our diocese in 1876 and was pastor at Bloomfield from 1879 to 1891.  In that latter year he returned to Belgium where he died.)

Seminarians for our diocese in September, 1919: One at Holy Heart in Halifax, three at the Grand Seminary of Quebec and five at St. Augustine’s in Toronto.  All of these went on to priestly ordination.  Several others gave the seminary a try but discontinued along the way.

Ordinations to the priesthood for our diocese in the spring of 1919: Fathers Alphonse Arsenault, d.1933,  James Murphy, d. 1964, Pope McMahon, d. 1929, Lawrence Smith, d. 1930 and Richard St. John, d. 1954.

October, month of the holy rosary: Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us.

Father O’Shea’s Priestly Reflections #43 October 11, 2019