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Victoria County, Ontario Canada
History of St. Mary's Church,
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 settlers' 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 related 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
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
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 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-fourth year of his life and
the nineteenth year of his Peterborough pastorate.
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
travelling 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 wagonloads 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 dugout borrowed from "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
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
townsite; 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 Greenan, 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 MichaeI Lenihan.
Then, as no nails, glass or putty could be had nearer than Port
Hope, Nicholas Connolly 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 altar 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
The first mass in the church was said on November 1, 1841. On Corpus
Christi day of the following year the brush piles around the
building were burnt and the church itself narrowly escaped
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 was 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
an 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.
Chisholm Plans New Church
For the eight years 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 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 completed 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, 1359. 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
In May 18 6 8, 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's 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.