St. Luke's, Emily - The New Roman Catholic Church at Downeyville - 1895

The Religious History of the Parish – An Interesting Sketch of the Various Pastors Since the First Settlement of the Township – The Present Church and Pastor.

In a recent issue we gave a full description of the R.C. church at Downeyville, and an extended report of ceremonies in connection with the re-opening and dedication of the building to divine service. Today we reproduce faithful photo-engravings of the church and rectory, and of the present pastor.

The northern portion of the township of Emily, which constitutes the parish of St. Luke, was one of the earliest settled districts in Central Ontario. The first settlers came into this country with the Robinson immigrants in 1825,and tempted by the fertility of the soil in Emily, took up land there. The spiritual necessities of the settlers were not well attended to at that time, for pastors were scattered and few there being in 1823 only six Catholic priests in all Ontario. It is probable an occasional visit was made to the settlers by Father Abern or Haran (both names given). This clergyman was in charge of Richmond, on the Ottawa in 1826, but as mention is made of his visits by the older settlers of the Peterborough district, it is likely the earlier residents of Emily received his ministrations on visits made by him through the Midland district.

The first regular pastoral visits to Emily were made by Rev. James Crowley, who went to live near Peterborough in 1828. Only a few visits were made by Father Crowley, but these occasions were times of rejoicing for the settlers. These early pastoral visits were known as “Stations” and consisted in the celebration of mass and the administration of the sacraments in the cabin of some settler in a central portion of the settlement. Father Crowley succeeded in the pastorate of Peterborough mission by Rev. Jas. Bennett, in Dec. 1832, and Father Bennett by Rev. Timothy O’Meara, in Sept. 1833. The Peterborough mission in that day reached from Peterborough and Cobourg westward to Bowmanville, and northward as far as Orillia, and in the trackless condition of the country at that time pastoral visitations were made with great difficulty. Fathers Bennett and O’Meara made only one visit each to Ops, and it is probable a visit to Emily was made at the same times.

After the appointment of Father Butler to the Peterborough mission in 1835, more frequent and regular attendance to the people of Emily was the rule, and the older members of the parish have pleasant recollections of many religious occasions at which Father Butler officiated. In June, 1840, Rev. Hugh Fitzpatrick was placed in charge of Lindsay parish, and took up his residence there, and for the next eleven years the priest from Lindsay attended the people of Emily. One of the first labours of Father Fitzpatrick in Emily was the erection of a church, to which was given the name St. Luke the Apostle. A small but comfortable church was built on the site of he present cemetery, a mile west of the present church, and this humble structure did service till 1838, when a substantial frame church was erected on the present church site by Father Coyle. Father McEvay, (uncle of Mgr. McEvay of Hamilton), came to Lindsay as pastor on Sept. 1844, and Rev. Dr. Chisholm assumed charge in October, 1848.

Dr. Chisholm visited Emily from the date of his appointment until the first resident priest went to live in Emily. This event took place in Nov. 1851, when Rev. John Bourke received faculties for Emily and Ennismore. As there was no dwelling ready for the pastor Father Bourke occupied a room in the building at Downeyville, now used as a post office but in those days occupied a hotel. Here he dwelt for two years after his appointment, when he erected a frame dwelling on the farm of the late Mr. William Lehane, just opposite the residence of Mrs. Costello.

With the presence of a resident pastor a new era began in the parish. A fair amount of worldly prosperity had rewarded the labours of the settlers, but in times of sickness, when immediate attention by the pastor at the death-bed was imperative, the trip to Peterborough through a dense wilderness took up too much time on many occasions, and the settler died without those religious comforts which are desired of every Catholic. But the priest’s residence in the settlement ended this, and christenings, marriages and other religious ceremonies were performed when the occasion arose. And Father Bourke found plenty of work to do. In spite of the attentiveness and labours of the pastors from Lindsay, much desirable work had to be left undone, but after the coming Father Bourke a pleasing change appeared on spiritual side of the parish. The new pastor was a man of great vigour and a hard worker, a fact which soon told on his constitution, for he died at the age of 46 in 1857.

Father Bernard Coyle followed as parish priest and during a long pastorate of twenty years continued to discharge with unremitting and apostolic zeal the various duties of his office. It was during Father Coyle’s pastorate that the second church was built, and the present site was chosen at the cross-roads as being a more central location. During the last few months of his life Father Coyle was assisted in his parochial work by Rev. John Hogan, a young priest who had been ordained at Kingston by Bishop O’Brien, Dec. 23rd, 1876.

After Father Coyle’s death Father Hogan continued in charge of the parish for two years, and during that period made himself beloved by everyone who met him, whether members of his flock or not. Added to many graces of mind, Father Hogan had that practical turn which not only originates but carries successfully into effect methods for advancing the interests of the people amongst whom he lived. Father Hogan was born at Perth, Lanark Co., in 1839 and pursued his early studies at the grammar school there. He completed his classical course at St. Michael’s college, Toronto, and made his theological studies at Laval University, Quebec. Emily was his first parochial charge, and after his removal he ministered to the congregations of Erinsville and Gananoque, and was appointed to the important parish of Napanee in 1889, where he still resides, beloved by all who have the pleasure of his acquaintance.

In 1879 Father Hogan was succeeded by Rev. M.E. Connolly, who, like his predecessor, was born in the County of Lanark, Ontario. Father Connolly’s early studies were pursued at the Perth grammar school, and his classical and theological courses completed at Regiopolis college, Kingston. His first clerical experience was gained as curate at Napanee, after which he acted in the same capacity at Belleville, where he resided about two years. In 1874 he was appointed to the parish of Victoria road, and five years later went to Downeyville as parish priest, Father Connolly was place in charge of Campbellford in February 1894, and during the present autumn was transferred to Hastings after the death of Father Quirk.

It is so short a time since Father Connolly resided in Downeyville that it is only necessary to mention his name to recall the usefulness and disinterestedness of his life and labours on Emily. His characteristic was the spirit of self-sacrifice, and no amount of discomfort, no consideration of labour or inconvenience, had sufficient influence to prevent him from doing for his people not only the duty which was his as pastor, but his duty over and over again, with a patience that was untiring and a solicitude that was more than paternal. Father Connolly will always be remembered by the present generation in Emily as the ideal of a loving and zealous pastor and friend.

Shortly after Father Connolly came to Downeyville he began the erection of a residence, the old one east of the village having fallen victim to decay and being considered too far situated from the church. The present handsome dwelling was the result of the generosity and public spirit of the parishioners. It had been Father Connolly’s desire for some time to improve the old church, and nothing but his expected transfer to another and a larger mission prevented him from carrying out his ambition in this particular. The work of completing the new church was reserved for Father Bretherton, and to say that the work has been well done is to state but a small part of the truth.

At the small cost of between $4,000 and $5,000 the staunch and well-built frame of the old structure has been bricked and presents on the exterior a very handsome appearance, while the interior finish has been done in the most modern and durable manner. No small part of the credit due for the economical and substantial character of the work belongs to the Very Rev. Vicar Gen. Laurent, who spent many valuable hours around the church during the past summer. The ripe judgment and experience of the vicar general as a builder of churches have been of inestimable value to the people of Emily, and have been generously and freely accorded to the gentlemen in charge of the work and the esteemed pastor, Father Bretherton.

The present pastor, Rev. C. S. Bretherton, is a native of Birkenhead, Cheshire, England, where he was born on Nov. 7th, 1955. Entering St. Cuthbert’s college, at Ushaw, near Durham, he completed the prescribed curriculum of studies at an early age, and after coming to Toronto in 1871, began his classical course in St. Michael’s college, from whence he went to Salpicion Seminary, Montreal, to pursue the study of theology.

He was ordained by Bishop Jamot at Peterborough, April 15th, 1883, and as the first student to receive holy orders in the Episcopal city. After a short curacy under Father Laurent at Bracebridge he accompanied Bishop Jamot to Rome in 1885, where he had audience with the present pontiff, Leo, XIII. After his return to Bracebridge he remained in charge of that parish until 1888, where he became assistant to Vicar Gen. Laurent, of Lindsay. Transferred in 1890 to village of Victoria Road, he did pastoral duty there till Feb., 1894, where he as appointed to Emily parish. Father Bretherton is essentially a practical man, and is displaying in his present charge a strong capacity for administrative and executive work. With a perseverance that is admirable he is developing the resources of the parish and gaining a place in the affection of his parishioners that holds much promise of future good to St. Luke’s parish.



Under the above heading Very Rev. Dean John S. O’Conner, of Chesterville writes under date of Nov. 3rd as follows:

DEAR SIR. – Through the kindness of a dear friend I have been favoured with a copy of the Examiner of 31st ult., containing an article of a recent date, giving a report anent the splendid new church at Downeyville, Ont., with a brief historical sketch of that mission; and naturally connecting it with the parent mission of Peterborough, to which it erstwhile belonged.

Now, Mr. Editor, as I am perhaps, the oldest native of your embryo city who can vouch from actual knowledge as to the correctness, so far as it goes, of that historical sketch, I trust the writer thereof, and your readers generally, will pardon me while I succinctly point out wherein it is lacking. It correctly states that Peterborough was the first Catholic mission established in that section of what was then known as Upper Canada, and that Father James Crowley became its regular pastor early in 1825. Also that Father Crowley aforesaid went to reside near Peterborough, (just east of Little lake, as it was then designated,) in 1838. Here I would remark that it must have been very early, indeed in that year when Father Crowley settled there, for my family records establish that he baptized me, an infant at the time of two weeks old, on 28th of Feb., 1828.

Said article also correctly states that Father Crowley was succeeded in Peterborough mission from December 1832, until September 1833, by Rev. James Bennett; who, in turn, was there followed by Rev.Timothy O’Meara, who continued in charge until the spring of 1835, when he gave place to the Rev. John Butler, who was appointed to Peterborough mission by the late Right Rev. Bishop MacDonnell, of Kingston.

Although but little more than seven years old at the time, I distinctly remember Father Butler’s installation in the old frame chapel on Henthorn’s hill, and his introduction to the small congregation there assembled as their future pastor, and what helps me to fix that event in my memory is the historical fact that the late Right Reverend and Honourable Alexander MacDonnell, first Bishop of Upper Canada, towered in stature over Father Butler, “the little priest”, as the people styled him. Small wonder that, since Bishop MacDonnell stood six feet four inches in height, and was of powerful physique whereas good Father Butler was of slight built and barely touched five feet four inches in attitude.

In giving the territorial boundaries of Peterborough mission, the correspondent should have stated that they reached from the iron mines of Marmora township on the east, to Bowmanville on the west and north-west, including Orillia and Lindsay, while northward they stopped at the “Back Lakes”. And in this connection I have a vivid recollection, from schoolboy days, of often seeing the good old Father butler starting off on horseback, the best mode of journeying through the back woods in those days on his “Easter Stations”, which not unfrequently extended over three weeks at a stretch, east, south, north, and west.

I shall not, however, further encroach upon your valuable space at present with these reminiscences, pleasing though they be to old Peterboroughians like your humble servant, and useful as they undoubtedly shall prove to the future impartial historian of Peterborough, but I shall content myself just here with the expression of my great joy at noting the grand strides onward made by my native town from the date of its foundation to 1893. – Yours, John S. O’Connor.

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