History of St. Mary’s Parish
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.
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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.” 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 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.
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 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 wagon-loads of furniture and his old housekeeper, 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 highbacked writing-desk – was stowed in a capacious thirty-foot dug-out 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 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 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 previlege 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 Michael 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 Kennan and Thomas Spratt for their own use.
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 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 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. 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 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.
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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, 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 totalled $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 were 2290 Roman Catholics in the parish.
According to the 1981 Dominion Census, there were 3270 Roman Catholics in the parish. The Irish formed by far the largest group within the early church while the French, Anglo-Saxon or Scottish formed the balance. Today the make up has shifted so that those of Irish Ancestry are almost balanced by new Canadians of a variety of ethnic backgrounds. Those of French culture still form about the same proportion as in the past while the numbers of Anglo-Saxon or Scottish have almost tripled.
Successive pastors have piloted St. Mary’s Parish through good times and poor times – through the happiness of families – the grief of families – so that our Parish has indeed been the beacon that was envisioned by the pioneer priests. Their lasting influence has been felt not only in our parish but in the community at large.
Working beside the pastors throughout all these many years have been dedicated Assistant Clergy. They have worked assiduously, each in turn, each in his own way, with generation after generation of our people, particularly with the youth. Their labours may often have appeared to have gone unrecognized. We affirm here that such was not the case.
St. Mary’s rectory, a gift from the Knowlson family, has always been a vital part of our Parish history.
Reproduced from the Centennial History of Victoria County (1927) with the kind permission of Mrs. Walter Kirkconnell.
Parish Priest Roll – 1840 to Present Rev. Hugh Fitzpatrick
Rev. Father Roche
Rev. Father McCormick
Rev. F. P. McEvoy
Rev. Hugh Fitzpatrick
Rev. Father Chisholm D. D.
Rev. Jas. Farrelly
Rev. Michael Stafford
Rev. Michael Lynch
Rt. Rev. P. D. Laurent V.G.
Rt. Rev. Monsignor D. Casey
Very Rev. George Whibbs
Rt. Rev. Monsignor W. J. McColl V.G.
Rt. Rev. J. V. McAuley D.P.
Rev. Cyril Carroll
Rev. Monsignor G. Sullivan
Rev. Louis Dubbury
Rev. Raymond Hart
Rev. David Bollo
Rev. Peter Seabrooke
Rev. James Sercely
Rev. Brian McColl
Rev. Tom Lynch
Curates Rev. William J. McColl
Rev. Francis O’Sullivan
Rev. John O’Leary
Rev. Joseph O’Sullivan
Rev. Joseph B. Ferguson
Rev. Michael O’Brien
Rev. William P. Meagher
Rev. L.M. Dubbury
Rev. Kevin Corkery
Rev. Charles Begley
Rev. W.C. McCarney
Rev. V.G. Perdue
Rev. Harry A. Black R
ev. Alfred Quesnelle
Rev. Neal Roy Toronto
Rev. Hugh Hale
Msgr. Patrick Byrne
Rev. Damian Smullen
Rev. Tony Barol
Rev. Adolphus Chukwuka
Rev. William J. Keilty
Rev. Joseph Phelan
Rev. Peter J. McGuire
Rev. Michael J. McGuire
Rev. John Power
Rev. William B. Collins
Rev. E.A. Welsh
Rev. J.J. Garvey
Rev. Francis M. Fitzpatrick
Rev. Charles R. Kay
Rev. Joseph P. Collins
Rev. Vincent Corkery
Rev. Earle T. Grant
Rev. Leo Coughlin
Rev. John O’Dette
Rev. Edward Cachia
Rev. Ron Myer
Rev. Martin Nyland
Rev. Paul Gemmiti
Deacon Tim O’Connor
1830- Fr. Crowley said first mass in settlers’ homes.
Fr. Bennett and Fr. Butler continued this practice.
1840- Fr. Hugh Fitzpatrick began construction of log church at Lindsay and Russell Streets.
1841 – First mass was celebrated in log church by Fr. Fitzpatrick on November 1.
1842- A rectory was built.
1844- Brief ministries by Fr. Roche and Fr. McCormick, then Fr. F. P. McEvoy.
1847- Fr. Fitzpatrick returned.
1848- Fr. Chisolm was appointed.
1854- Church was given the present lot on Russell Street East.
Fr. Fitzpatrick organized the first separate school in the church.
1856- Fr. James Farrelley continued with church, revising plans, and making it smaller.
1859- First mass was celebrated in current location on Christmas Day.
1860- St. Mary’s Cemetery was established on Angeline Street.
1868- Fr. Michael Stafford was appointed.
St. Dominic’s Separate School was built on Lindsay Street.
1873- The current rectory was donated to parish by John Knowlson.
St. Vincent de Paul Society was active in the parish.
1874- Convent was built, at a cost of $60,000 for Sisters of Loretto.
1882- Fr. Michael Lynch was appointed pastor.
1884- Monsignor P. D. Laurent paid debt of $1,800 and erected the spire and installed two bells. The convent burned, but was immediately rebuilt.
1890- Loretto Sisters were replaced by Sisters of St. Joseph. 1894- The church was enlarged and beautified.
1897- The original parish hall was bought.
Present cemetery was established on Lindsay Street South.
1901- Fr. D. Casey was appointed and made a monsignor in the following year.
1902- Two stained glass windows were installed.
1906- Knights of Columbus Council #1124 established.
1908- There was a major fire in the vestry. The church was redecorated.
1911 – The exterior of the church was painted a cream colour.
1913- The new Karn-Warren pipe organ was installed.
1921 – Fr. George Whibbs was appointed.
Major renovations to the heating and lighting in the church. CWL was organized with 384 members.
1927- Monsignor W. J. McColl continued improvements until 1942, enlarging the sanctuary, installing marble altars, altar railings, new floor, new furnace, and improving the grounds. Renovations of St. Joseph’s Convent (girls) and St. Dominic’s School (boys) were continued.
1940- Church choir became all men’s choir.
1942- Monsignor J. V. McAuley was appointed. 1943- The Legion of Mary was established.
1954- St. Mary’s Separate School was built. 1956- Fr. Cyril Carroll was appointed.
1959- St. Mary’s Church’s 100th anniversary at this location was celebrated. History of parish was written.
Renovations to rectory were completed.
1963 – Gates to the cemetery, donated by CWL, were installed.
1971 – Monsignor G. Sullivan was appointed pastor.
1977- Fr. Louis Dubbery appointed.
1980- Pope John Paul 11 School opened.
1983 – Fr. Raymond Hart was appointed, encouraged youth, and a youth group was formed.
1984- Fr. David Bollo appointed and encouraged Renew Program.
1987- Fr. Joe Moran was appointed.
Wheelchair accessible entrance was built at east side of church. Church painted a burgundy colour.
1994- St. Dominic School opened in September.
1997- Fr. Peter Seabrooke appointed.
1999- Work began on converting sacristy into chapel and meeting room.
Columbarium was built at the cemetery and blessed in June on Memorial Sunday.