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

During the years, when these centres of population were being established throughout Prince Edward Island, the one grand outstanding figure, that was ever at the back of the movement, and the one that particularly elicits our respect and admiration is Right Reverend Angus Bernard MacEachern, first Bishop of Charlottetown. On his shoulders lay the burden of providing for the spiritual welfare of all the Catholic people, not only of those, whose coming to the country we have just been describing; but also of those who were settled along the Gulf Shore of Nova Scotia and Cape Breton Island. These latter people had grown quite numerous, especially during the latter years, and on that account claimed much of his attention, for he visited them as often as he could steal away from the pious importunities of his flock in Prince Edward Island.

In later years when he became diocesan bishop, his sphere of activity was considerably enlarged, and besides the extensive region above mentioned, he travelled the whole of New Brunswick, which at first formed part of the Diocese of Charlottetown.

In the year 1819, after he had spent twenty nine years as a missionary priest, he was appointed bishop, and two years later he was able to make his way to Quebec, where he received episcopal consecration, on the 17th of June, 1821. This additional dignity, however, did not relieve the difficulties of the situation in which he was placed, nor did it lessen in the smallest degree the sum total of the labors that fell to his lot. Being only an auxiliary bishop, without independent jurisdiction, he was still subject to the Bishop of Quebec, and therefore his hands were tied to a great extent, and he was not in a position to introduce the reforms or inaugurate the works, that he might deem useful or essential to the welfare of religion throughout the region, in which he lived and labored.

It was not till August 11th, 1829, that Charlottetown was cut off from Quebec, and raised to the standing of an independent diocese. This was in very truth a red-letter day for the Church in Prince Edward Island. It ushered in an era of progress and prosperity, that happily continues in ever increasing vigor until our day.

It is characteristic of God's providential care for His people, that He selects for their guidance, men endowed with special aptitude to cope with the particular needs and difficulties of their times. To these chosen leaders He opens the treasures of His own wisdom, and bestows or. them qualities of mind and heart, that make them fit and effective instruments for carrying out the designs of His Providence. Such a man, without any doubt, was Angus Bernard MacEachern, pioneer bishop of the Diocese of Charlottetown. He was a man of vision, who saw and understood the possibilities of the situation, and who, grasping the opportunities of his time, turned them all into ways and means of promoting the interests of souls.

The one great drawback to the advancement of religion, with which he was confronted during his missionary days in Prince Edward Island, was the lack of priests, and this great want he had endeavored, in season and out of season, to impress upon the minds of the authorities at Quebec. But his efforts in this matter had hitherto proved unavailing, and little or nothing had been done to relieve the tension of the situation. Hence, no sooner was he in a position to act for himself, than he took up the matter in a serious and determined manner, and forthwith began to devise ways and means to educate a native clergy, who would supply the future wants of the missions entrusted to his care. From the first, he was convinced of the fact, that if the people would be left depending on priests from abroad, they would always be short of clergy, and would often be without clergy at all. His hopes therefore centered in a local institution of learning, wherein vocations would be fostered, and young men having an inclination for the priesthood, would receive a classical education, together with the moral training necessary as a preparation for that holy state. Accordingly, he turned his house at Saint Andrews into a college, thereby founding the first institution for higher education in the Maritime Provinces. It was a difficult undertaking with the slender means at his disposal; but time fully justified the wisdom of his course, for the institution thus founded proved a veritable boon to the Church in this section of Eastern Canada. It became in time a nursery of religious vocations, and from its walls came forth a band of young men, who went abroad to finish their clerical education, and then returned to their native land, to devote their lives to the salvation of souls. In this connection, it is sufficient to mention the names of Right Reverend Peter MacIntyre, third Bishop of Charlottetown: Reverend Francis John Macdonald, who labored so long in the eastern section of the Province : Very Reverend James Macdonald, Vicar General under two bishops: Reverend Pius MacPhee, for many years identified with the cause of Religion in the north eastern portion of King's County: Reverend James AEneas Maclntyre, the first native Islander to win the Doctorate in Theology, at the Propaganda College in Rome: Reverend Daniel Macdonald, another Roman Doctor, whose memory still lingers amongst the older people of Charlottetown. To these may be added a list of others, whose sphere of clerical activity was comprised in the Provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. In this way Saint Andrew's College proved the stay of religion in Prince Edward Island, and its foundation will stand forever as a monument to the foresight, energy and sacrifices of Bishop MacEachern and the Scottish Catholics of his time. It rendered splendid service in its day, and when through the changes wrought by time, it was found inadequate to the growing needs that arose, it gave place to the new St. Dunstan's, founded by the immediate successor of Bishop MacEachern, and which working along the same lines, has been blessed with a wonderful measure of success.

The Bishop lived at the College for some years, until a new residence, he had commenced at Savage Harbor had been completed. It may be said, however, that he spent only a small portion of his time at Saint Andrew's, because the duties of his office kept him almost continually travelling from place to place. He continued to visit the settlements as he had done in his earlier days, administering the sacraments, visiting the sick, catechising the younger generation, settling disputes where such existed, and spreading abroad amongst the people, whom he served, the aroma of his own personal sanctity. We will never know, and therefore can never fully appreciate how much the cause of Catholicity owes to his zeal and devotedness, particularly in those days, when singly and alone he bore aloft the banner of religion, and like another Moses, led his people out from the. bondage of early want and privation into the Promised Land of progress and hopeful development. A true Apostle was he, who in the early days of our diocesan history, labored with a spirit of devotedness, and a singleness of aim and purpose, that won forever the love and affection of his people.

A writer, who well remembered him, thus describes his last visit to the Mission of Saint Mary's at Indian River: "Bishop MacEachern visited Indian River for the last time in June 1834, when he baptized all the young children, and on June 24th, the Feast of Saint John the Baptist, he confirmed all who were prepared, the writer of this sketch being among the number. After Mass, he preached the first Gaelic sermon, I ever heard, and which I remembered for many years.

"After the ceremony was over, the people went out on the green before the church door, and when the Bishop came out he addressed one of the parishoners saying: "Roderick I think you were late for Mass." The man answered that they had a saying in Scotland, that, "Late ploughing was better than no ploughing at all." The Bishop then told them that this was his last visit to Indian River, as he had only a short time to live. The man above mentioned said to him:-"when you die see that you put in a good word for us" The Bishop replied that he would make no rash promises, as he did not know how his own case would stand. He then made them all kneel, and he blessed them, and made the Sign of the Cross over the four corners of the parish, on their houses and belongings. The people began to lament and say :-"When you are dead we will be as badly off as ever for a Gaelic speaking priest. He said:-"You now complain of the scarcity of priests, but the day may come when there will be complaints that there are too many to support, and that they will take the children's bread from the hearth." He told them, when he would be gone, Reverend B. D. Macdonald would administer to them in their own tongue. He then bade them farewell."

The saintly Bishop's premonition of his impending death was only too fully realized. In the following spring, as he was on one of his missionary journey's through King's County, he suffered an attack of paralysis at the home of Dugald MacIsaac at Saint Peter's Bay. A few days after, he was taken to his home at Savage Harbor, where he lingered in a semi-conscious condition until the 22nd of April 1835, when the soul of the beloved Prelate passed to its eternal reward.

The news of his death spread rapidly throughout the country and brought deep sorrow into every Catholic home. He was mourned by all without exception, for he was without any doubt the best known. and most esteemed person in the entire country. He was beloved not only on account of the principles which he held and inculcated, but more so by reason of the many excellent qualities of mind and heart that marked him out a prince amongst men. Even those not of the household of faith revered his memory, and recognized in him a wonderful influence in the cause of right and justice. He was the chosen repository of his people's confidence, and no one went to him, that did not come away better by the interview. He possessed a marvellous insight into the motives and thoughts of people, and could discern with almost uncanny assurance their innermost thoughts and desires. The Government of the day recognizing these traits in his character, appointed him Justice of the Peace, so as to give legal value to his decisions in matters of dispute, and this appointment whilst a great saving to the people added not a little to his labors and anxieties. Usually, on his missionary journeys to the various settlements, one of his most important duties was to hear complaints and adjust whatever matters were in dispute, and no one ever questioned his decision. Everyone was ready to admit that what he said was true and what he did was right, and this absolute confidence in his sense of truth and justice was the outcome of a conviction begotten in their minds, through the personal sanctity and devotedness of his life. He was in truth their great benefactor. He seemed to live only for them. For them and for their salvation he made and was daily making untold sacrifices, and it was impossible for them not to trust him. One has but to read his letters to the Bishops of Quebec, to realize how complete was his interest in the welfare of the people, and how his only personal gratification consisted in promoting their spiritual and temporal welfare. He came into each neighborhood like a benediction from God, and when he left, an air of peace and holiness prevaded the locality, as if his spirit still hovered over the scene of his recent labors.

No wonder therefore that he was sincerely loved by young and old, and mourned when he died with a feeling sense of personal loss. It may be truly said that no such universal sorrow, had ever been felt in Prince Edward Island, as that occasioned by his death. To the older people, it recalled the grief that followed the death of the late Father James Macdonald, fifty years before. At that time, it is true, the people were more helpless in their grief, for no priest was left, to whom they could apply in case of need; but now religious affairs, thanks to the efforts of the deceased Bishop, are in better condition. There are three priests to attend to their immediate wants, whilst quite a number of young men are already well advanced in their preparation for the holy priesthood.

But still the grief occasioned by the death of Bishop MacEachern was no less deep and sincere. He had been so long the central figure in the community, he had baptized confessed instructed so many who were now grown to manhood and were the heads of families, in each neighborhood, he had won his way so triumphantly into their hearts, that they came to look upon him as one who should not die, but continue indefinitely their guide and counsellor and friend, and hence when he died it seemed as if all their hopes and aspirations were blotted out, even as the sun sometimes suffers eclipse, in the height and beauty of its noontide splendor.

The history of the Scottish Catholics in Prince Edward Island is rendered forever illustrious by the name and memory of Bishop MacEachern. If their emigration from Scotland had no other effect, but to prove the occasion of his coming to this country, that alone should make the Catholics of Prince Edward Island thank God, who led them through so many tribulations to found a diocese, blessed by the labors of this heroic man of God. For he fed "the flock of God, taking care of it, not by constraint, but willingly according to God, not for filthy lucre's sake but voluntarily : Neither as lording it over the clergy, but being made a pattern of the flock from the heart." (I Pet. V. 2. 3.)

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