SAINT ALEXANDER'S PARISH, LOCHIEL
We have already asked our readers to be indulgent, for we foresaw that our task would require considerable research work. We now realize that to write a history of such parishes as St. Raphael's, or St. Andrew's, which date back to the times of the American War of Independence, 1775-83, is to court disaster, unless time is taken to collect material, to sift evidence, and to consult authorities.
We have received valuable information from the Archives of the Propaganda in Rome; we are in touch with people in Scotland, in Ireland, and in different parts of Canada, who have given, or who have promised to give, information which we hope to publish for the first time. Our readers will therefore pardon us if a reasonable time elapses before we give biographical sketches of the men who came first to these parts, and if we withhold for a future date the story of their labors. Many of the older generation of people have traditionary stories of great value, and also have documents or letters in their possession which would clear up a number disputed historical points.
One has to bear in mind, that here in Glengarry there is historyto be written which embraces every phase of Canadian military, political and religious life, since the days when many of our forefathers had socks knitted for them by the Sisters in Quebec, after the taking of Canada by the English; for, according to Gosselin, there were many Catholic Highlanders among the soldiers in Wolfe's army who enjoyed the kind services of the gentle Daughters of the Hotel Dieu.
The writer is well acquainted with Glengarry people, whose ancestors fought under Wolfe. However, so thorough has been the process of the melting-pot in the past century and a half that we know not, except in particular cases, who is descended from the takers of Louisburg, the victors of the Plains of Abraham, the United Empire Loyalists, the immigrants on board the ship
McDonald in 1786, or immigrants on board the many ships which came during the closing years of the eighteenth century or the first decades of the nineteenth. It is certain, however, that disbanded soldiers settled in fairly large numbers in the Province of Quebec, from Gaspe up to the villages around Montreal.
When United Empire Loyalists or shiploads of Highland immigrants landed, it was but natural that small parties sought relatives throughout the Lower Provinces and settled temporarily, and in many cases permanently, in such districts where old friends and relatives were located. Something analogous to what is happening to-day took place at that time.
We know that Father Andrew Macdonell, 0. S. B., is taking out settlers from the Highlands of Scotland to Red Deer, Alberta. Last year, several hundred were given land in that district. They came in chartered vessels. When they arrived at Montreal a few families would express the desire to visit relatives in Montreal or here in Glengarry. Some of them took up their permanentresidence here; others remained for a year and then joined the main party at Red Deer. Only recently we saw that Father Macdonell had brought over two more parties of Highland immigrants who will enlarge the present colony, and, in time, a new Glengarry will be formed in Western Canada.
And so, in 1783-86, Glengarry, in Ontario, became the center for immigrants who left the glens of the Western Highlands of Scotland. It also became a center of attraction for those who had settled here and there along the shores of the St. Lawrence from Quebec to Kingston, formerly known as Cataraqui.
Here are two notices from Canadian newspapers.
(Neilson's "Quebec Gazette," Sept. 7, 1786)
`Arrived at Quebec, Ship McDonald, Captain Robert
Stevenson, from Greenock with immigrants, nearly the whole of a parish in the north of Scotland, who immigrated with their Priest, the Reverend Alexander Macdonell Scotus, and nineteen cabin passengers, together with five hundred and twenty steerage passengers, to better their case, up to Cataraqui.'
They, of course, remained in Glengarry, as we know, instead of proceeding west.
(Montreal "Gazette," April 15, 1924)
"Arrived at St. John, S. S. Martoch, having first party (300 in number) of immigrants from north of Scotland, accompanied by Reverend Andrew Macdonell. They entrained for Red Deer, Alberta, to join their friends and relatives who settled there last year."
The writer received a letter from Father Andrew Macdonell, written on board the vessel. It was transferred to a fast paqueboat in the mail service and was delivered to me in Lochiel, before the notice of the Marloch's landing appeared in the Gazette.
Just consider, from this little incident, what the immigrants of nearly a century and a half ago had to face. It would take a volume to tell the experiences of our forefathers on the good Ship McDonald. There is a Gaelic song describing the incidents of that voyage which I hope to publish in English, when I relate the history of St. Raphael's parish. However, even a genius, in many volumes, could not make us to-day realize the differencein conditions brought about by modern progress. Just consider, for instance, that the Ship McDonald was tossed about in its trans-Atlantic trip for nearly two months, and that it took the immigrants of that vessel ten times as long to come from Quebec to Glengarry, about three hundred miles, as it took the immigrants of the Ship Marloch to go from St. John's, N. B., to Red Deer, Alberta, a distance more than ten times as great.
The above is a rather long, but more or less necessary, introduction to the history of St. Alexander's parish, Lochiel. We have chosen Lochiel parish for very obvious reasons. Information and records, but particularly local traditions, are more accessible. I shall tell the story of Lochiel in almost the words of a lady who was born within sight of the church, over four-score years ago. Her mother came to the country in the Ship McDonald in 1786. She lived to the age of one hundred and five years, and having been educated in the Ursuline convent of Quebec, over one hundred years ago, was familiar with all religious and political activity in the country. She it was who prepared the stretcher-bed on which Father Alexander Macdonell (Scotus) was carried as far as Lachine, where he died on his way to Montreal for medical treatment.
Here, then, is unbroken tradition. I have verified dates and facts from other sources and give this history of St. Alexander's Parish, Lochiel, which I hope will interest all. Names such as Father Fitzsimmons, Bishop Alexander Macdonell, Vicar Angus Macdonell, Father John of Perth, Father John of Alexandria, will occur, but a biography of each shall appear in later numbers.
Let us now hear the old lady's story:-
"My mother's people came on the Ship McDonald in 1786, and settled first at Terrebonne, near Montreal. They lived for a while at Lachine, and from there moved to St. Raphael's. My mother died twenty years ago, on the third of April, and was one hundred and five years old. She was baptized at St. Regis, by Father Roderick Macdonell. She was sent to the convent of the Ursulines, at Quebec, and also to a convent at Lachine. She became a school teacher and married my father, who was settled here in Lochiel on this farm where the church was built.
"His father was an elder or a member of the Committee of the church in St. Raphael's. They were United Empire Loyalists, and were given the script or parchment deed of this land in 1797. I heard my grandmother say, that they were here many years before they got the parchment. My grandfather had given the land which is now known as St. Alexander's parish property to Maigster Allister Scotus (Rev. Alexander Scotus), because as soon as St. Raphael's parish was formed, Father Alexander came up here to establish a cemetery and to find a suitable house to say Mass in. In this very house Mass was celebrated by Father Alexander Scotus Macdonell, shortly after he said his first Mass at St. Raphael's.
"He decided then to bless a cemetery, so that the Catholics of Lochiel, which extended at that time to the Ottawa River, should not have so far to come with funerals. A priest was to come from St. Raphael's to assist. However, it was about four years later that he actually blessed the cemetery.
"When the men were levelling the ground and fencing it, they came across human skeletons in large numbers. The priest told them that it must have been an Indian graveyard. Father Alexander Scotus was encouraging the men in the work, when John J. MacGillis's grandfather came up to him and said, "Father, there may have been Indians buried here, but I do not see any need for a cemetery for us. We lived five years at Terrebonne, and we have been living here quite a while and no one has died yet.'
"However, both priest and people knew that, in spite of jests, the grim reaper would sooner or later gather them in.
"And so for generations before there was a graveyard at Alexandria, or at L'Original, the MacMasters from Caledonia, the McMillans and the Kennedys from the 18th, the Camerons and McKinnons and McLeans from Kenyon, and the McDonalds and the McDougalds from the south, were buried here in St. Alexander's burying-ground. In fact, in this very house, Maigster Allister Scotus, Maigster Angus the Vicar, and the big Bishop himself, baptized many of the Presbyterians from the north, before they had a minister of their own. As the house was then divided, the rooms were so small that the big Bishop, who often said Mass here, could not stretch himself to his full length in hisbed on the floor.
Well after the cemetery was cleared and ready, Father Alexander Scotus invited all the men and their families to come the next morning for Mass and the great ceremony of blessing the graveyard. They made a large wooden cross to erect in the center. He suddenly discovered that he had forgotten his Ritual (Latin book containing special prayers). The ceremony had to be postponed for two days, and Donald McGillis and my father set out that evening for St. Regis to borrow a Ritual from Maigster Rory (Father Roderick Macdonell) who was stationed there at that time. The men had great difficulty in finding their way through the bush and swamp and across the river, but they returned within the two days and in time for the great ceremony.
"The graveyard was blessed, and Lochiel became the burial ground of all who died north of Alexandria, as far as the Ottawa River. Father Roderick Macdonell, Father Alexander Scotus Macdonell, Father Fitzsimmons, the Big Bishop, Vicar Angus Macdonell, Father John Macdonald of St. Raphael's, Father
John Macdonell of Alexandria, and several others, came at various times to say Mass here, in this very house.
"They baptized the children, solemnized marriages and, in a word, they made this house and the home of the grandfather of Mr. John J. MacGillis their headquarters for missionary work of the whole north country from the time of the first settlement until the parish of Alexandria was formed in 1832-34. After that time Father John Macdonald of Alexandria looked after the spiritual welfare of Lochiel and said Mass here every second Sunday.
"During all those years, or for nearly half a century, these priests would attend to sick-calls in all the district, west, north, and east of Lochiel. They instructed the children at Fitzhenry's Mills, now Glen Andrew. They had a mission or station there. They established Easter-duty stations at Dalkeith, in the eighteenth of Lochiel, and even as far as L'Orignal.
"A young man would leave here early Saturday morning on horseback for St. Raphael's. He would have an extra horse for the priest. Father Fitzsimmons was very intimate with my grandfather, and always maintained that, whatever happened, "the big elder from Lochiel will always be my friend." He could speak the Irish Gaelic and could thus make himself understood. He was up here shortly before he was removed to be parish priest at St. Andrew's.
"Father John of Alexandria was here almost as parish priest. He gave this house a special blessing and said that the blessing would continue as long as public dancing was not permitted. He died in May, 1845. Father Hay, P. P. of St. Andrew's, and Vicar Angus Macdonell were here for a few months until Father Denis Begley was made parish priest of Alexandria, in November, 1845.
"It was during Father Begley's time that the people of Lochiel decided to ask for a parish priest. They had frequently expressed the desire to have a resident parish priest and a church, but the great scarcity of priests who could speak their language (Gaelic) made the matter extremely difficult. Father Begley, however, advised them to petition the Bishop at Kingston. The main part of the present church was erected by the parishioners. Theycollected the timber and hewed it-all was ready. The site, they decided upon was just east of where the present church stands.
"My father had grain sowed in the field that is now church property. Father Begley came and stood upon a huge boulder to view the work. He told the men that the church would be built in the field of grain. He asked the men to kneel down and say the "Angelus" with him. They then had dinner and I sawthem start the erection of the present church on the land deeded by my father there and then. The church was not completed that year; at least there were no pews except boards on logs for several years.
"Finally, in May, 1851, the people having consulted with Father Begley decided to send a delegation to Kingston to interview the Coadjutor Bishop, who was then the Rt. Rev. Patrick Phelan. Bishop Gaulin, through ill-health, was for many years unable to administer the diocese. Mr. Rory McGillis, Mr. John Angus Macdonell, and my father went to Kingston with two petitions
-the first for a resident pastor, the second for Rev. Alexander Macdonell to act as pastor.
"They first interviewed Vicar Angus Macdonell who advised them to present the first petition, and if that were successful and the Bishop found "sunndach" (in good humor), they could present the second petition. The Bishop was very affable, and most graciously consented to open a new parish and appoint Father Alexander Macdonell as their first parish priest.
"On the first page of the register of Lochiel is inscribed the following notice: Register of Marriages, Interments, etc., for the church of St. Alexander, in the township of Lochiel, in the county of Glen garry, Anno Domini 1851, by the Rev. Alexander Macdonell, present pastor of the mission of St. Alexander's. The first entry is the baptism of John Neil McKinnon, June 11th, 1851.
"Father Alexander Macdonell was the first resident parish priest of Lochiel parish. The name "St. Alexander" was given to the parish by Bishop Phelan because the cemetery was blessed by Father Alexander Scotus Macdonell, because Bishop Alexander Macdonell was the first Bishop, and Father Alexander Macdonell was the first parish priest. The new pastor had no parochial residence, so he lived with his relative Alexander Macdonell (Alex. the Elder,3314 Lochiel). Mrs. Peter McMaster, who is still in perfect health at the age of ninety-six, was married by him at Alex. the Elder's house in 1851.
"In August of that same year, Father Begley became seriously ill. Paralysis affected his mind, and loved as he was by the people of Alexandria and Lochiel, the sympathy he received made him very reluctant to give up his pastoral duties. He told my mother that he was broken-hearted because he felt unable to continue his work in Alexandria and Lochiel. His mother came from Ireland, and he left with her from Montreal for his native land. It made us all lonesome to see this strong man almost like a child. We were told that he died that same year.
"Our new pastor, Father Alexander Macdonell, was called to Alexandria to be parish priest, so that Lochiel was again, as formerly, a mission of Alexandria." (As Father Alexander was for three years parish priest in Alexandria, a more extended biography of him will be given in the history of that parish. For the present we shall content ourselves with saying that he came to Lochiel from the parish of L'Original, resided here about three months, and then lived in Alexandria. He died there on May 4th, 1853.
As he had been sick since the preceding October, the Rev. Father Meade acted as parish priest.)
"When the Rev. Peter McLachlan was named parish priest of Alexandria, the Rev. John Meade became resident parish of Lochiel. He lived here with us until the people built a house for him on the Quigley farm, a house which stood on the hill where Mr. Leo Lefebvre now resides. Father Meade remained here until July, 1856, when he became parish priest of Morrisburg. St. Alexander's parish again became a mission of Alexandria. Father Peter McLachlan then came up every second Sunday to say Mass. He made our house his headquarters and found all the linen and sacred vessels in that very room where they had been stored for safe-keeping by Father Meade when he left theparish. He brought Bishop Phelan up to Lochiel and the Bishop informed himself from my father and mother about conditions in the parish.
"After the episcopal visitation, Father McLachlan formed his plan for the government of the mission of Lochiel. Father Henry Byrnes was his assistant for several weeks. Father McLachlan came up here for the last Sunday of October. He arranged to return for the Feast of All Souls, when they were to hear confessions. My mother busied herself to prepare the house for the two priests. The stove was set up in the living-room, for the bad weather had already set in. They had just finished getting the house in order, when a messenger arrived saying that Father McLachlan would not be in Lochiel that day. He had said Mass that morning, and was about to sit at breakfast when his housekeeper, hearing a noise as if of one falling, came in and found him dead.
"Bishop Phelan, after the funeral of the dead priest, came to Lochiel and assured the people that Father McLachlan's plans would be carried out. Father Henry Byrnes remained in Alexandria, and acted as parish priest here from October, 1856, until the 15th of February, 1857. Meantime, Doctor the Rev. James J. Chisholm had been appointed parish priest of Alexandria, in December, 1856, where he remained until December, 1866. He came up here every second Sunday until the appointment of Father Alexander Macdonell (the late Bishop of Alexandria) as resident pastor of Lochiel.+
-To give, and benefit one person is good; but to give and benefit many, much better-as bearing a resemblance to the benefits of God, who is the universal Benefactor.
-IT pleases Jesus to lavish His gifts on certain souls in order to draw yet others to Himself; in His mercy He humbles them inwardly and gently compels them to recognize their nothingness and His Almighty Power.
"Father Chisholm built the presbytery, enlarged and renovated the church and planted the trees in front of the priest's house. The house, however, was never occupied, and as my father was named to care for it, he was in constant dread during all the years it stood unoccupied lest the property should be seriously damaged. Gaelic-speaking priests were still very scarce, and as most of the people at that time could not understand any other language, it was difficult for the Bishop to appoint a pastor.
"The people, however, were very anxious to have a priest. They had a consultation with Doctor Chisholm and he wrote to Bishop Horan. Bishop Horan came himself to Lochiel and remained over night in this house. He asked my father and mother many questions about the people, the extent of the parish, etc., and when he understood the difficulties which the priests from Alexandria had to undergo, and the great inconvenience which the people of the parish experienced in practising their religion, he stood up and said, `Mr. Macdonell, Lochiel will have a priest this year. I have a young man who is about to be ordained. His name is Alexander Macdonell. I shall send him here.'
And so in June, 1863, Father Alexander Macdonell became pastor of St. Alexander's Church. He remained here until June, 1870, when he became parish priest of Alexandria, and afterwards first Bishop of the diocese of Alexandria. Naturally, his biography will appear in the history of St. Finnan's, so that we shall merely tell of his labors here as parish priest. He had a very large parish to attend to. It was not only much greater in extent than the present parish, but there were many more Catholic families.
There was no parish of Greenfield, nor was the parish of Glen Robertson formed. In the 18th of Lochiel, and even in the 14th, were many Catholic homes whose occupants moved to Western Canada, after having disposed of their farms to non Catholics. `Tis true, there are now many French Canadian families, but even that increase does not by any means compensate the loss in numbers of parishioners. There were then over one hundred more families. There were dozens of families with clan names, which do not appear in the parish books of to-day.
The pastor's dues and pew-rents were paid with grain which was collected, brought to Lancaster to he sold to the grain merchants for cash. It would interest many of the present parishioners to see what their grandfathers paid to the church. There are tradesmen in Montreal to-day who earn more in one day than the first sexton received for one month's work.
Father Alexander Macdonell said Mass every second Sunday at Greenfield. He frequently said Mass in the 18th and at Dalkeith. He was loved by the parishioners and as he was here so many years, he in turn became very much attached to them. He was in touch with every Catholic family. He went every second Sunday to Greenfield, and one has only to hear the beautiful tributes paid to his priestly character and zeal by many of the older parishioners, one has only to glance at the books of parish receipts and expenditures, to know that he was eminently fitted to become the first Bishop of the diocese.
In June, 1879, he was succeeded by the Rev. Father Graham, who was parish priest until August, 1881. That Father Graham was an eloquent and learned man, all the elder generation of parishioners will admit; in fact, he is to this day recognized as the greatest preacher the old people ever heard. His training and character made it difficult for him to adapt himself to the life of a country parish priest-the long drives, the lonely life, the strain of serious application to classical studies in the University-all these brought on a complete nervous collapse.
In May or June of his last year here, he went to Montreal to consult a noted specialist, who advised treatment which in his condition he was unable to follow. During his last two months as parish priest, the Rev. C. H. Gauthier (later Archbishop of Ottawa) and the Rev. Father Hartigan assisted him. In August he was forced to resign the parish and retire to Kingston, where he died within a few months of paralysis of the brain.
The Rev. Father Hartigan, whose biography will appear in the history of another parish, remained until December, when the Rev. George Cicolari became parish priest and remained until September, 1886. He is remembered as a man of kindly disposition and artistic temperament. Of Italian and Irish descent,
he was born at Kingston, Ontario. Quietly and inoffensively he did his work among a people who, although of different racial characteristics, yet to this day have naught but kind words to say of this priest who, through continued ill-health, was reluctantly forced to resign his care of souls in St. Alexander's parish. He died that same year in Kingston.
In September, 1886, the Rev. John Twomey became parish priest and remained until October,1889. During the incumbency of Father Twomey, the present presbytery was built, a dwelling, which, if constructed according to modern prices, would have been more than four times as costly. Father Twomey was appointed parish priest of Crysler in 1899, and as he was there and in Williamstown for almost a score of years, his biography will appear in the narrative of the latter parish.
Father William Fox succeeded him and remained until 1903. He in turn was succeeded by Rev. D. D. McMilIan, who was parish priest until October, 1902. The present pastor, the Rev. Ewen J. Macdonald, since that time has been in charge. The biographical sketch of the three last-named, will appear, we hope, many years hence.
St Finnan's - From A Pastor's Breviary -
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