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Updated:  Aug 12, 2013
prev: Ambrose Saint-John Ambrose Saint-John Archdiocese of Saint John's next: Archdiocese of Saint John's

Diocese of Saint John

Located in Province of New Brunswick, Canada

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Errata* for Diocese of Saint John:

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* Published by Encyclopedia Press, 1913.

Saint John, Diocese of (SANCTI JOANNIS), in the Province of New Brunswick, Canada. The diocese includes the following counties: Albert, Carleton, Charlotte, Kings, Queens, St. John, Sunbury, Westmoreland, York, and a portion of Kent. The City of St. John is the oldest incorporated city in British North America, its charter dating back to 1785; it is also the largest city in New Brunswick. Among the earliest Catholic missionaries to visit New Brunswick, which was then part of Acadia, were the Jesuit Fathers, Biard and Massé, in 1611. They remained until after the destruction of Port Royal by Argall in 1613, and were succeeded by Recollects. With the erection of Quebec into a diocese, special interest was attached to the Acadian missions. Msgr. St. Vallier left the St. Lawrence, May 7, 1686, proceeded to the St. John, and reached Medoctec, an Indian village eight miles below Woodstock. There the bishop established a mission, and left it under the direction of Father Simon, a Recollect. Subsequently another mission was formed at Aukpaque. After the death of Fathers Simon and Moireau, the missions on the St. John passed into the hands of the Jesuits, among whom were Fathers Aubery, Loyard, Danielou, Loverga, Audren, and Germain. The Indian church at Medoctec was probably the first erected in New Brunswick. On the original site of this church a small stone tablet was discovered in June, 1890, bearing a Latin inscription the translation of which reads: "To God, most Good and Great, in honor of St. John the Baptist, the Maliseets erected this church A.D. 1717, while Jean Loyard, a priest of the Society of Jesus, was Procurator of the mission." After the Peace of St. Germain-en-Laye (1632), and notably after the Treaty of Breda (1667), there arrived from France colonies of Catholic immigrants, the progenitors of the Acadians now scattered over New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. About 1767 Rev. Charles-Francois Bailly, afterwards Coadjutor Bishop of Quebec, ministered to the Catholics along the St. John River. The first native Acadian priest was Rev. Joseph M. Bourg. Born in 1744, he fled during the expulsion (1755) with his parents to the Isle of St. John, but was eventually deported to France; after some years he returned to Quebec, where he was ordained by Msgr. Briand in 1773. Appointed Vicar-General of Acadia, he had an immense area to govern, with little assistance. In 1813 Bishop Plessis of Quebec received into his diocese an Irish Dominican, Rev. Charles D. Ffrench, a convert and son of an Anglican bishop, and assigned him to duty in St. John. He celebrated Mass in the City Court Room on Market Square. A church was built soon afterwards, and at the suggestion of Bishop Plessis it was dedicated to St. Malachy; it was opened for worship on October 1, 1815. With the influx of Irish immigrants the number of Catholics rapidly increased. The first resident priest of St. John was Rev. Joseph Morrisset; he was succeeded by Rev. Patrick McMahon, and in 1828 Rev. John Carroll, the last priest prior to the establishment of a diocese in the Maritime Provinces, was sent from Quebec.

Between 1820 and 1827 the Micmac Indians and Acadian settlers at Richibucto were ministered to by Rev. Francois-Norbert Blanchet, who afterwards became first Archbishop of Oregon City. In August, 1829, Charlottetown (Prince Edward Island) was created an episcopal see, with New Brunswick under its jurisdiction. Thirteen years later New Brunswick was formed into a separate diocese; its first bishop was Dr. William Dollard (b. in Ballytarina, Co. Kilkenny, Ireland; d. August 29, 1851), a man of apostolic virtue and a typical pioneer bishop. He made his theological studies at Quebec, and was sent as a missionary to Cape Breton, and afterwards to Miramichi. He was Vicar-General of the Diocese of Charlottetown, and was consecrated bishop at Quebec, June 11, 1843. His successor was Right Rev. Thomas L. Connolly (b. at Cork, Ireland), who, after receiving his preliminary education at Cork, became a novice in the Capuchin Order, and was sent to Rome to complete his studies. He was ordained in the cathedral at Lyons in 1838, and for the next four years was stationed at the Capuchin Church, Dublin. In 1842 he volunteered for the Foreign Missions, and his services were accepted by the Right Rev. William Walsh (afterwards Archbishop of Halifax). Consecrated Bishop of New Brunswick August 15, 1852, Dr. Connolly arrived in St. John, his episcopal city, September 11 of the same year. One of the first duties he undertook was the building of a cathedral; but it was not until Christmas Day, 1855, that the building was ready for Divine service. In June, 1854, the cholera appeared at St. John, and did not abate until after the middle of August. It is estimated that 600 Catholics died of it; as a consequence, about 150 orphans were thrown on the bishop's hands. To care for them, he organized a diocesan sisterhood known as the Sisters of Charity. In 1859 Dr. Connolly was promoted to Halifax in succession to Archbishop Walsh.

A division was then made of the Diocese of New Brunswick; the southern portion (the present See of St. John) being assigned to Right Rev. John Sweeny (b. in 1821 at Clones, Co. Monaghan, Ireland; d. March 25, 1901). John Sweeny had emigrated with his parents in 1828; his classical studies were made at St. Andrew's College, near Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, after which he went to Quebec for theology. He, was ordained in September, 1844, and was first assigned to St. John, whence he went from time to time throughout the country on missions. His next labors were at Chatham and Barachois. He was vicar-general successively under Bishops Dollard and Connolly, and administrator of the diocese on both occasions when the see was vacant. On April 15, 1860, he was elevated to the episcopate; and in 1870 he went to Rome to attend the Vatican Council. Under him the cathedral was completed; it was consecrated on July 16, 1885. Bishop Sweeny was noted for his wisdom, tact, and administrative abilities. The Catholic settlement of Johnville, Carleton County, was established by him, and grew into a flourishing colony under his encouragement. In the summer of 1899 he applied to Rome for a coadjutor, and Rev. Timothy Casey, pastor of St. Dunstan's Church, Fredericton, was appointed. In January, 1901, Bishop Sweeny retired to St. Patrick's Industrial School, Silver Falls.

Bishop Casey, the present incumbent (b. at Flume Ridge, Charlotte County, New Brunswick, 1862), received his early education in the public schools of St. Stephen, New Brunswick, and afterwards studied at St. Joseph's College, Memramcook, and at Laval University, Quebec; he was ordained priest June 29, 1886. His consecration as titular Bishop of Utina and coadjutor to Bishop Sweeny took place in the cathedral at St. John, February 11, 1900. Since the beginning of Bishop Casey's administration, a new school has been erected in the city; and fifteen new churches, in different parishes, have been dedicated.

There are two religious orders of men in the diocese: the Redemptorists, who arrived in July, 1884, and who are in charge of St. Peter's Church in North St. John; and the Fathers of the Holy Cross at Memramcook, who have conducted the University of St. Joseph's College since 1864. There are three communities of women: the Sisters of Charity, the Religious of the Good Shepherd, and the Little Sisters of the Holy Family. Diocesan priests number 52; priests of religious orders, 25. There are 2 orphan asylums; 2 academies, 1 home for the aged, and 1 college. The Catholic population is about 58,000.


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