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A Sketch of the Life of the Hon. and Right Reverend Alexander MacDonell
Again visits England - Is Appointed Bishop of Upper Canada - A Coadjutor Nominated


In 1816, Mr. Macdonell returned to England and waited upon Mr. Addington, then Viscount Sidmouth, who introduced him to Earl Bathurst, then principal Secretary of State for the Colonies. Part of his mission was to induce the Home Government to favour the measure proposed by the Bishop of Quebec for the division of that Diocese, in which undertaking he succeeded to a certain extent.

In July, the See of Rome separated Nova Scotia front Diocese of Quebec, and created that Province into an Apostolic- Vicariate At the same time, Lord Castlereagh induced the Court of Rome to erect two other Apostolic-Vicariates, one formed of Upper Canada, and the other of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and the Magdalen Islands. Mr. Macdonell returned to Canada in 1817. On the 12th January, 1819, he was nominated Bishop of Resina, i.p.i., and Vicar-Apostolic of Upper Canada, and was consecrated on the 31st December, 1820, in the Church of the Ursuline Convent, Quebec.

In 1825, Bishop Macdonell returned to England for two principal objects: to obtain assistance in his laborious duties and to induce the Home Government to withdraw its opposition to the appointment of titular Bishops in Canada. On the same occasion he visited Rome. He succeeded in both instances. and returned to Canada in 1826. In the same year the Reverend W. P. Macdonald, for twenty years Vicar-General, and well-known throughout the Province, came to Canada to take charge of the Bishop's intended Seminary for ecclesiastics at St. Raphael's. Mr. Macdonald was born at Eberlow, Banffshire, Scotland, on the 25th March, 1771. He was sent at an early age by Bishop Hay to the College of Douay, which he was compelled to leave on the outbreak of the French Revolution. His studies were finished at the Scots' College at Valladolid. He was ordained there oil 29th November, 1790, and returned at once to Scotland, where for twelve years he discharged the laborious and humble duties of a Missionary Priest. About the year i8oi, the British Cabinct, having formed the projectof conveying Ferdinand VII. from Bayonne, Mr. Macdonald was recommended as a fit person to be employed in that enterprise, particularly as he had perfect mastery of the French and Spanish languages. He accordingly proceeded on his mission, and cruised off Quiberon for some time; but in consequence of some information received by the French Directory, the project of the British Government was abandoned. Mr. Macdonald was afterwards employed on the British Embassy in Spain for four years, alter which he was appointed a Chaplain in the regular army. He was a thorough scholar and a polished gentleman. In 1830 he published the "Catholic" newspaper at Kingston and resumed it at Hamilton from 1841 to 1844. Universally regretted, he died at St. Michael's Palace, Toronto, on Good Friday, April 2nd, 1847, and was buried in the Cathedral on the Gospel side of the choir.

The Seminary at St. Raphael's (College of Iona) was a very modest affair, but it had the honour to produce some of the most efficient missionaries of the time, among whom may be mentioned the Reverend George Hay, of St. Andrews, the Reverend Michael Brennan, of Belleville, and the Reverend Edward Gordon, of Hamilton. Nature had furnished Mr. Hay with an extra little finger on each hand, which were amputated prior to his ordination. While at the Montreal Seminary, one of the professors is reported to have said of him, "He is a good boy, but he will never sing Mass." Singing was, in fact, a rare accomplishment among the early Scottish and Irish missionaries. The Bishop himself always said Low Mass and never attempted to sing, not even the ordinary Episcopal benediction at the end. "I once took lessons," he said, "for six months, but after my teacher got his money he discovered I had no voice."

Upper Canada was erected into a Bishopric by Leo XII. on the 14th of February, 1826, and Bishop Macdonell appointed first Bishop under the title of Regiopolis, or Kingston. His diocese corn- prised the present Province of Ontario. and has since been subdivided into the Dioceses of Kingston, Toronto, Hamilton, London, Ottawa, Pembroke, Peterborough and Alexandria. [Alexandria is named after Bishop Macdonell. It was he who built the mill there, which was the beginning of the town.]

Advancing age and increased responsibility forced the Bishop to apply for a coadjutor, and Mr. Weld, of Lulworth Castle, a descendant and representative of one of the oldest Catholic families of England, who, on the death of his wife—like another eminent Cardinal of the present day—had taken orders, was selected and consecrated Bishop of Amycla and Coadjutor of Upper Canada, on the 6th of August, 1826. By the advice of his friends and medical advisers, Bishop Weld remained some years in England and afterwards went to Rome, where, in March, 1830, he was nominated Cardinal by Pius VIII.

The Presbytery (abandoned in 1889 on the erection of the one built on the west side of the Church) and the present Church at St. Raphael's were built in anticipation of the arrival of Bishop Weld, but although always fully intending to go to Canada. he closed his days at Rome on the 10th of April, 1837. His funeral discourse was pronounced by Doctor (afterwards Cardinal) Wiseman, Rector of the English College at Rome. Bishop Macdonell obtained many favours from Rome through the influence of his intended coadjutor.

After Bishop Macdonell's last return from England, he resided for some years at York, in the house still standing on the south-east corner of Jarvis (then Nelson) and Duchess streets. The Bishop went to Kingston about the year 1836, and resided there during the remainder of his stay in Canada. The Chevalier W. J. Macdonell, whose ipsissima verha I have by permission, in many instances, adopted, states:-

"The Bishop was a thorough Highlander, and did not relish remarks that seemed to reflect on the manners and customs of his countrymen. The writer one day gave his unasked opinion that oatmeal was not wholesome, inasmuch as he had known several young fellows brought upon on that diet whose skins were very rough. The Bishop replied rather curtly, 'You don't know what you are talking about.' On another occasion the writer was reading from Bercastel's 'History of the Church,' an account of the hardships undergone by the missionaries sent by St. Vincent de Paul to keep alive the faith in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. The historian states that the missionaries frequently passed several days without food, and at the end of that time their only refection was oatmeal cakes or barley bread, with cheese or salt butter. 'Under the circumstances.' remarked the Bishop, 'I think they fared very well.' Although the Bishop 'had no voice,' he was fond of the national music. A great dinner was given at the old British American Hotel, in Kingston, to Sir James Macdonell, 'the hero of Hougoumont.' The whole town attended. The Bishop was Chairman. A regimental piper in the garb of old Gaul, with his pibroch in full blast, marched round the table. Vicar-General Macdonell, who, though every inch a Scotchman, was a bit of a wag, declared that every time the piper passed behind the Bishop the latter inclined his head to one side that his ears might be tickled by the ribbons and tassels of the passing pipers!"


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