The religious life of a people is a vital factor in its history. Few interests, if any, affect man more closely than his spiritual convictions. To attempt, however, to sketch a century of church development throughout the whole of a county would give only a diffuse confusion of petty, parochial details without any unifying principle as yet to give the narrative coherence and intelligibility. I have therefore taken the church history of Lindsay, the county town, as typical of that diversity of creed and practice which is so common in our own and other Ontario counties. We have here six denominations of varying strengths. The abounding activity of congregations in this new country is nowhere shown better than in the building of churches. From 1841 to 1921 the population of Lindsay has grown from perhaps 50 up to about 8000, and during that same 80 years the local congregations have put up no fewer than 19 church buildings. This seems at once a proof of enormous vitality and a confession of the prodigality of energy and means which goes with diversity of faith and duplication of effort. These points are implicit in the more detailed sketches of individual churches which now follow.
(Note: In preparing a history of the R.C. parish of St. Mary’s, the author has been greatly indebted to the notes of the late Dr. W.V. Lynch.)
The pioneer church in Ops and the vicinity of Lindsay was the Roman Catholic Church. Prior to 1840, no priest was stationed locally. Lindsay and the surrounding country lay within the parish of Peterborough and it was from the latter village that pastoral expeditions came.
The first priest to visit Ops was Father Crowley, an elderly Irishman from Cork, who had come out in 1825 as shepherd of the Robinson immigrants. His first mass in Ops was said in 1830 in the shanty of John Maloney. Stations were also held at Terence Brady’s, Patrick Connell’s, Dennis Twohey’s and John Murphy’s. He received from the government 200 acres of land (lot 16 in the 5th concession), which was ultimately patented, in the name of his nephew, John Ambrose. The grant was made to help settlement and a house for storing settler’s effects was built on the west bank of the river. The spot was therefore long known as “the Priest’s Landing”. Father Crowley was hot-tempered and had many bitter quarrels with his parishioners. It is relayed that when Patrick O’Keefe and Cornelius Hogan gave him a churlish refusal to pledge money to the church, they received his malediction, and within a year O’Keefe became permanently blind and Hogan a cripple for life. He retired in poor health in 1832 and died at Rochester, N.Y. in 1835.
His successor, Father Bennett, was a slight but energetic young man of middle height, described as cultured and eloquent. As his pastoral tours extended as far as Coldwater and Penetanguishene, he paid only one visit to Ops. On that occasion, he said mass in Dennis Twohey’s shanty.
He was succeeded in September 1833 by Father Timothy O’Meara, a tall, powerful man of forty, who said mass at Terence Brady’s and Patrick Connell’s. Father O’Meara was followed in 1834 by Father Butler, a very small, thin man, who was a native of Tipperary and had previously been a schoolmaster. He paid Ops frequent visits and said mass at several times in the house of John Murphy. He was severely injured in 1838 by falling twenty-five feet from the roof of a church which he was building in Peterborough. It was not, however, until June 25, 1853 that he died, being then in the seventy-first year of his life and the nineteenth year of his Peterborough pastorate.
First Resident Priest of Lindsay
Prior to 1840 one priest, stationed at Peterborough, had to minister to a mission which extended from the Marmora mines on the east to Bowmanville, Orillia, and the back lakes, on the south, west and north. To cover all this district in a year, even by traveling on horse-back for three weeks at a stretch, was an almost impossible task. Accordingly the parish of St. Mary’s, focused at Lindsay, was formed in 1840, and Father Hugh Fitzpatrick, of Fermanagh, Ireland, was appointed as the first resident priest.
In June, 1840 Father Fitzpatrick left his previous parish in Adjala Township in Simcoe County, and came to Lindsay by way of Port Perry, with two wagon-loads of furniture and his old house-keeper, Mrs. Moran. At Port Perry he was met by Patrick Brady and James Maloney, who, as night was at hand, stored his effects in a tumble down warehouse on the shore of Scugog Lake. Brady and Maloney slept in this warehouse while the priest put up at Crandell’s tavern. All were given a nervous night, the two former by rats and the latter by restless Orangemen. In the morning all the baggage – tables, chairs, beds, and high-backed writing desk – was stowed in a capacious thirty-foot dug-out borrowed from the “King Connell”; the party embarked; and their slow voyage down to Lindsay began. At Lindsay, they landed at the old mill at the foot of Ridout street, where most of the villagers had gathered to escort the priest to his home in a log shack in rear of the present Royal Hotel. This shack had been previously used as a shop by Captain Murphy and was later replaced by Hiram Bigelow with a stone store, destroyed in the great fire of 1861. In 1840 and 1841, however, it served as both church and presbytery.
Father Fitzpatrick soon set about the erection of a church. A lot was secured on what is now the southwest corner of Russell and Lindsay streets. Lindsay Street was then the eastern limit of the town site. Kent Street was being chopped out for the first time; no other streets were cleared; and the church lot lay in a dense, impenetrable swamp of spruce and cedar. In the autumn of 1840, Patrick Brady and Peter Tully were given the privilege of felling the first tree. The site was cleared during the winter and all the timber necessary for building was cut and prepared on the ground. In the spring of 1841, a bee was held and the church raised. The corner men were Patrick McHugh, James Pyne, Thomas Hoey; and James Walker. The main log building; forty feet long by twenty-eight feet wide, was put up in two days. Then the roof was put on by Thomas Vaughn., who worked at Purdy’s mill. The shingles were made by hand on Peter Greenan’s farm by Owen Carlin, Donald Malady, Thomas Hoey, Terence, Patrick and Michael Brady and Peter Greennan, and when the work of shingling began more men crowded on the roof than could stay there. The sashes for the windows were made by Richard and Michael Lenihan. Then, as no nails, glass or putty could be had nearer than Port Hope, Nicholas Connoly and Patrick Leddy went around the parish and collected some thirty bushels of wheat. They took this over the bush trail to Port Hope, sold it and returned with the needed supplies. The lime to plaster the crevices between the logs of the church was made by James Bryce in a kiln near the present wharf and was laid on by the parishioners under his direction. The floor was made of rough-hewn two inch planks laid down on log joists. The alter was also built of rough boards, like a big box. The door was made by Dominic McBride and the hinges and latch by John Cunningham. There were never any pews in the body of this original church. There were, however, two galleries of four pews each, one on each side, and an end gallery built by Thomas Keenan and Thomas Spratt for their own use.
The first mass in the church was said on November 1st, 1841. On Corpus Christi day of the following year the brush piles around the building were burnt and the church itself narrowly escaped destruction.
Music was strikingly lacking in the church. A fiddle was the only instrument heard within its walls. There was no choir, but the Gillogly family sometimes sang.
Meanwhile a presbytery was being built at Father Fitzpatrick’s own expense on a lot bought by him from the government on the northwest corner of Lindsay and Russell streets. Dominic McBride had contracted for its construction but after putting up the frame in the spring of 1841 he failed to carry it any further. W. Thatcher then finished it in December 1841 and Father Fitzpatrick moved in in January 1842. During the summer he brought hawthorn trees from Sturgeon Point and planted them around his lot. This property was later transferred to the parish for the sum of $400. The present presbytery on lots 11 and 12 on the north side of Russell Street East were a gift to the church from John Knowlson in 1873.
When Father Fitzpatrick came to Lindsay in 1840 he was a powerful man in middle life. By the end of 1843 he was almost completely broken down. Scores of his parishioners had been dying off with swamp malaria. He himself had had fever and had been bled recklessly, after the practice of the day. The narrow trail by which he went to minister to Downeyville, King’s Wharf and Bobcaygeon was a interminable morass dotted with stumps. His health was no longer equal to the strain and in December 1843 he retired to Douro.
There were brief ministries by Father Roche and Father McCormick. Then in the autumn of 1844 came Father Fergus Patrick McEvoy, a fine-looking man from Mayo, Ireland. The first Sunday on which he said mass the grain lay cut in the fields and rain was imminent. Therefore, as many in the parish were ill and serious loss was threatened, he sent his congregation out to bring in the harvest. Father Fitzpatrick had, on leaving, removed all his furniture from the presbytery so that Father McEvoy was obliged to board at an hotel owned by the carpenter, Dominic McBride. In the course of time, he fell out with McBride and cursed him from the altar. McBride’s wife then left him; all his debtors refused to pay him; no one would speak to him; his hotel was burned down by incendiaries; he grew crazed and despondent; and at last disappeared from Lindsay forever. It was also in Father McEvoy’s time that Lindsay narrowly escaped a pitched battle between the villagers and a small army of Orangemen who had marched up from South Emily to shoot up the hamlet.
He was relieved in the fall of 1847 by Father Fitzpatrick, who ministered again to the parish till October, 1848.Father Chisholm Plans New Church
For the eight ears that followed, the parish priest was Father Chisholm, D.D., the 27 year old son of Colonel Chisholm, of Glengarry. This young Scotch-Canadian was six feet, four inches in height, handsome, affable, and educated at Rome itself. In 1852, he bought a three-acre lot (the mansion House block) with a view to building a school for higher education. This lot was stumped by a parish bee. The educational scheme was at last abandoned and the lot sold about 1870. In 1854 the Bank of Upper Canada gave him the present church property on Russell Street East in return for his influence in promoting the granting of a bonus to the Port Hope; Lindsay, and Beaverton Railway, in which the bank was interested. On this new property; he planned to build a brick church and laid out the foundations 150 feet by 60 feet. Some 600,000 brick were ordered from Patrick Curtin and were drawn in by a bee in the winter of 1854-55. Pine was bought in 1855 from Patrick McHugh, cut on lot 4 in the third concession, and brought down the river by a man named Page. In the same year Father Chisholm first organized the Separate School, which met during the week in the old church building. His work was barely begun when he was transferred in December 1856 to Alexandria. So highly was he esteemed in Lindsay that the Catholics gave him a purse of $400 and the Protestants a like amount and a large procession of both Protestants and Catholics escorted him to Reaboro, then the head of the steel on the new railway. Father Chisholm died of heart trouble at Perth, Ontario, May 1, 1878.
The next incumbent, from January 1857 to April 1868, was Father James Farrelly of Cavan, Ireland. Father Farrelly cut the dimensions of the new church down to 100 feet by 50 feet. The contract for the brickwork was let to a Mr. Alexander, of Port Hope, who put in a new foundation and then left. His work was competed by a Mr. Carlyle, of Peterborough. Charles McCarthy, who was the architect of the building, handled the woodwork. The first mass in the new church was said on Christmas Day, 1859. A choir was then organized by a Mr. Devlin, whom Father Farrelly brought in from Ottawa, and an orchestra of a dozen violins set up under the leadership of Mrs. Devlin. The first organ was put in much later by Mr. C.L. Baker, as a gift to the church. Miss O’Connell was the first organist.A Famous Apostle of Temperance
In May, 1868, Father Michael Stafford succeeded Father Farrelly. Father Stafford ultimately enjoyed national fame for his heroic fight on behalf of temperance. In 1868 he erected the present Separate School building, acknowledged in its day as one of the finest structures of its kind in the province. In 1874, he opened a new convent, built at a cost of $60,000, for the Ladies of Loretto. This convent was burnt down on April 24, 1884, but was at once restored under the supervision of William Duffus of Lindsay, the original architect. In 1890, the Ladies of Loretto were succeeded by the St. Joseph nuns. Father Stafford died of angina pectoris on November 12, 1882 and was buried in the Catholic Church in a vault on the right hand side of the altar.
His position was held by Father Lynch from November 1882 till February, 1884 when the Rev. P.D. Laurent, V.G., a native of Brittany, France, was appointed to the parish. At this time the debt of the local church totaled $18,000. This was wiped out entirely by October 1890. In this latter year a spire was added and two bells, weighing 3000 pounds and 900 pounds respectively, were hung in the steeple. In 1894, the church was enlarged and beautified and in 1897 a large building on the church property was bought and converted into a parish hall at a cost of $4000.
Father Casey of Smith Falls succeeded Monsignor Laurent on January 19, 1902. On December 19, 1913, he was invested with the office of Domestic Prelate (carrying with it the title of Monsignor) and in June, 1920 he was made Protonotary Apostolic, one of the church’s highest officials. Father Casey died very suddenly on May 14, 1921.
According to the last Dominion census, there are 2290 Roman Catholics in the parish.
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