Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Diocese of Saint George's

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Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), Volume 13
Diocese of Saint George's

by Martin G. Sears


(SANCTI GEORGII)

Diocese in Newfoundland. Beginning at Garnish it takes in the western portion of the south coast and then stretches along the Gulf of St. Lawrence, northwards, almost as far as the Straits of Belle Isle, lying between 55° 20' and 59° 30' west longitude and between 47° 30' and 51° 20' north latitude. Until 1892 the diocese was practically confined to the historic French shore, so long the bone of contention between politicians, and repeatedly the subject of international conferences. In consequence of the provision of Anglo-French treaties, any attempt to establish permanent settlement on the coast was for along time discountenanced; but the lucrative herring fishery encouraged adventurers to ignore the treaties, and by 1850 a population of about 2000 had pitched their log cabins in its landlocked bays, beyond the reach of civilization and civil authority. Until 1850 there was no resident Catholic priest on the coast. Religious consolation the people had not, except when the chaplain of the French warship paid a visit, at long intervals. Dr. Mullock of St. John's visited the coast in 1848, and again in 1852. On 7 Sept., 1850, the first resident priest arrived, Rev. Alexandre Belanger (d. 7 Sept.1868). Owing to the difficulty of traveling, his missionary activities were confined to St George's bay. He visited the Bay of Islands in 1863 and again in 1868. Mgr Sears in his report to the Society for the Propagation of the Faith informs us that the hardships attending the latter visit ended the career of the heroic Frenchman. On 2 November, 1868, the real apostle and social reformer of this unknown wilderness arrived in the person of the Rev. Thomas Sears of the Antigonish diocese. Enthusiastic and practical, he recognized the resources and the possibilities of the West, and pleaded the claims of the Coast so successfully with the Insular Government, that a mail steamer was despatched in May, 1872. In 1878 the magistracy and the police were established. In 1870 the territory was erected into a prefecture, and in 1871 Father Sears was nominated prefect Apostolic; in 1881 he received the dignity of domestic prelate. During the seventeen years of his apostolate, churches, presbyteries, and schools were built, but the hardships, then inseparable from missionary adventures on the coast, shattered his constitution, never very rugged, and he died 7 Nov., 1885. He was succeeded by Dr. M. F. Howley. In 1892 the prefecture was elevated to the rank of vicariate and Dr. Howley became titular Bishop of Amastrio. At the same time the extensive district of Fortune Bay was placed under his jurisdiction. In 1893 he introduced a new foundation of Sisters of Mercy for which the diocese is indebted to the generosity of a wealthy convert, Mrs. Henrietta Brownell of Bristol, Rhode island. He was transferred to St. John's (25 Dec., 1894) and on 20 Oct., 1895, his successor, Dr. McNeil, was consecrated at Antigonish. A period of great material progress followed the completion of the transinsular railway. In 1904 the vicariate was made a diocese and he became its first bishop. He was transferred to the See of Vancouver in Feb., 1910, and was succeeded by Rt. Rev. M. F. Power, whose consecration took place 25 July, 1911. The diocese has 10 priests; 36 churches and chapels; 2 convents; 51 schools attended by 1659 pupils; a population of about 11,000.

M.G. SEARS