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The Scottish Catholics in Prince Edward Island 1772 - 1922
Chapter II


This first immigration of Catholic Highlanders to Prince Edward island was well organized in every respect. Preparations for the same had been carried on for a long time, and by wise and prudent oversight everything that would be needed on the Ocean voyage had been provided, and also much that would be required by the immigrants, particularly during their first year in the new Colony. All, without exception, did everything that lay in their power to help the matter along, and the success that crowned their efforts was due under God to the united action of men bound by a single purpose, and determined that by no fault of theirs would that purpose come to naught. There were three men, however, whose names stand forth more prominently, and who for the part they played in connection with the movement deserve more than a passing notice. They were Reverend Father James MacDonald, Captain John MacDonald and Doctor Roderick MacDonald.

Father James MacDonald, the central figure on board the "Alexander", was a cousin of Captain John MacDonald, and was thirty-six years of age at the time of the immigration. He made his earlier studies in Scotland, and in his eighteenth year was sent to the Scots College in Rome, where he remained eleven years. In 1765 he was raised to the Priesthood and returned to his native land, where he at once took up the work of the Ministry, and continued the same for about seven years, having his headquarters at Drummond in the Highlands.

At the time when Boisdale's afflicted tenants were prayerfully trying to make up their minds to go out to America, one of the obstacles that stood in the way of their prompt decision and kept the project in abeyance for a considerable time was the fact, that there was no Priest residing in Prince Edward Island, and should they come hither they would be necessarily cut off from many of the practices of their religion, as were the few Catholics then residing in the Colony. To be obliged to share in this spiritual abandonment was not a pleasant prospect for the intending immigrants, and hence they hesitated long before taking the final step. When their cruel landlord had insisted that, they should hold no further intercourse with the Priests of the Church, they rejected with disdain his heartless proposal, and declared themselves ready to endure every kind of hardship rather than consent to a measure, that aimed at nothing less than the absolute ruin of their Faith. Now however, they are face to face with a proposition of equal danger, because it meant going out to a land where intercourse with Priests was impossible, and where in reality their last state would be worse than the first.

For, be it remembered that despite the difficulties they experienced in Scotland, they were never deprived entirely of the consoling ministry of the Priesthood. In the darkest days of persecution in Scotland the Priests never abandoned their flocks, but secretly went from place to place bringing succor where it was most needed, and buoying up their afflicted people by the consolations, that the true Catholic ever finds in his holy religion. Hiding from the public eye throughout the day, and going forth only under cover of night, saying Mass in remote recesses that must have recalled the traditions of the Catacombs, leading lives ever shadowed by the possibility of violence, or perhaps of death, in this way did the Catholic Clergy in the Highland Districts preserve the Faith amongst their people. As a modern writer tersely puts it: "While John Knox thundered his heresy from the window of his house upon Edinburgh's High Street, and listening crowds of fanatics applauded him to the echo; away beyond Arthur's Seat, far up in the recesses of the Trossachs, outside the cities and in the deep glens of the Highlands, the Catholic priests were stealing along, in fear and trembling, to pay their visits to the sick, to hear the confessions of the faithful mountaineers, or to chant the Mass for the tartained "children of the Mist."

Ah ! it is a grand, an inspiring, a noble history that of the Catholic Faith in Scotland! With the tenacity of the Celt did they cling to their Cross, and with the endurance of Highland strength did they resist the persecutions to which they were subjected. The mad fury of the Covenanters, the frantic bigotry of Claverhouse and the "Lords of Convention," the wild and maniac ravings of a host of Habakkuk Mucklewraiths, the fire and the stake, all were vain efforts to quench the flames of Catholicity, that burned in the hearts of that gallant race."

But even this precarious ministry was not to be found in Prince Edward Island, and little wonder therefore, that the prospective immigrants hesitated long before committing themselves to a course of action that might spell spiritual ruin for themselves and their children. Better far, thought they, to remain where we are, where Priests will come to us from time to time and minister to our needs, than go to a Country where priests are unknown, and where we must live on, dear knows how long, without the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, without the Sacraments, and without the thousand and one Spiritual helps which Mother Church so bountifully supplies to her faithful children.

These considerations took deep hold of the minds of the people, and soon became so serious an obstacle to the: immigration, that it seemed for a time as if the entire scheme would have to be abandoned.

Here it was, that Father James stepped in and saved the situation. He decided to join the immigrants, and in making known to them his decision he promised not merely to go out with them to America, but that he would remain with them, sharing in their hardships that they might have the consolations of Religion in their homes beyond the seas. This was most agreeable news for them all. It dispelled their hesitation, removed all their doubts, and contributed perhaps more than any other factor to their store of firm determination, without which the undertaking could never have succeeded.

It were well perhaps, to stop here and consider how much this decision must have cost the man of God. He did not act hurriedly and did not fail to give the matter due deliberation. He considered well the hardships he must necessarily encounter, and yet they deterred him not. That he must live in separation from brother Priests did not stay the ardor of his charity; the sad prospect that death itself might find him alone, with no one near to administer to him the last rites of Holy Church did not dishearten or discourage him; these considerations, depressing as they must have been, instead of holding him back only served to fire his martyr-like enthusiasm, and he leaned with confidence on the arm of Divine Providence; knowing full well, that whatever may be the ways of men, Gad is never outdone in generosity. Accordingly he boarded the "Alexander" with the other immigrants, and was their comfort and joy on the voyage across the Ocean.

Another prominent passenger aboard the "Alexander" was Doctor Roderick MacDonald, who accompanied the immigrants in the capacity of medical officer. He too, was a near relative of Captain MacDonald, and rendered the latter valuable assistance in organizing the immigration. Like the others he was a Highlander, and had made his medical studies in Edinburgh, where he graduated in medicine at a comparatively early age. He then returned to the Highlands and took up the practice of his profession among his kindred, and when they decided to go to Prince Edward Island he made up his mind to accompany them and continue his ministrations to them in the new Colony.

Captain John MacDonald did not sail with the immigrants, although he did more than any of them to promote the movement. He was proprietor of two large Estates in Scotland, that of Glenaladale and that of Glenfinnan, whence came the name by which he was familiarly known "Fer an Ghlinne" or Laird of the Glens, and being an officer of high standing in the Army he enjoyed considerable prestige in the community. He was moreover a man of excellent education having spent some years at Ratisbon in Germany, where he made a complete course of studies. At the time of the Stuart rising he was a mere boy, too young to understand the meaning of the stirring events transpiring round about him; but his father deeply sympathized with the Prince, whom he regarded as his lawful Sovereign, and consequently followed him throughout the entire campaign, from the raising of his Standard at Glenfinnan till it dropped forever on Culloden's fatal field. Captain John, grown to men's estate, succeeded his father at Glenaladale and Glenfinnan, and for the time, freed from the clash of arms, he enjoyed the comfortable life of a country gentleman. But though living in comfort himself, he was not indifferent to the circumstances of his countrymen; and as was natural to a man of his character and education he sympathized with them in their troubles, and hence when they began to talk of emigration he took up their views and threw himself heart and soul into the movement. By his position lie naturally became its leader, and henceforth the arrangements and the general work of preparation lay practically in his hands. When all arrangements had been completed and the "Alexander" was ready to set sail Captain MacDonald was detained in Scotland by business of importance, and did not come to America till the following year.


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