Some Prince Edward Island Catholics are confident that their very first bishop, Angus Bernard MacEachern, will one day be recognized as a saint.
A committee has started the process it
hopes will lead to his canonization.
“We believe there exists among the people a deeply felt affection,
even a devotion, to the memory of this pioneer missionary bishop,” said
the committee in a release.
The project has the approval of the diocese and Bishop Richard Grecco, and in the minds of some, is long overdue.
Fr. Angus Bernard MacEachern was 31 in 1790 when he joined his family
which had emigrated from Scotland to Prince Edward Island almost 20
years earlier. For the next 40 years, he travelled and laboured
unendingly, generally alone, with almost no financial support. His is an
inspiring story of missionary zeal, resilience, perseverance, diplomacy
and very hard work.
MacEachern came to minister to the local Scottish Catholics. But the
colony was still part of the diocese of Quebec, and his bishop directed
him to serve the whole island, plus New Brunswick, Cape Breton, parts of
mainland Nova Scotia and the Magdalen Islands. In addition to the
Scots, his scattered flock included Acadians who had escaped
deportation, Mi’kmaq natives who had become Catholic, Irish immigrants
and a few English Catholics.
When he arrived in the colony, Catholicism was tolerated but
officially forbidden. There were only two decaying chapels and virtually
no roads to get to them. Conditions in the adjoining provinces were
similar. Yet when he died there were 18 churches, some native-born
priests and several seminarians. Indeed, since his arrival the island
province has never been without a priest to offer Mass and administer
In 1816, he was advised by a visiting Quebec bishop to build a church
in Charlottetown and dedicate it to St. Dunstan. That became the first
of several St. Dunstan’s that occupy the lot where the current St.
Dunstan’s Cathedral stands.
In 1829 the diocese of Charlottetown was created and included New
MacEachern, then 62, was named its bishop. Despite years of
effort, he still could not obtain more priests, so he set up St.
Andrew’s College in his own rectory, which opened on the saint’s feast
day, Nov. 30, 1831. It was the first institute of higher learning on
PEI, and the first such Catholic institution in Atlantic Canada.
Although he suffered a fatal stroke only four years later, the
bishop’s efforts bore rich fruit.
Some who studied at St. Andrew’s
became priests, some took other leadership roles.
Eventually more than a
dozen priests came from the area, and from among them came four
MacEachern was deeply loved by his people, and won the respect of the
colony’s civil authorities as well. Announcing his death,
Charlottetown’s Royal Gazette termed him “truly pious and estimable …
beloved, respected and esteemed by every member of this community …
faithful to the last.”
Today there is a renewed awareness of his pivotal role in establishing Roman Catholicism firmly in this part of Canada.
The committee working on MacEachern’s canonization is seeking
accounts of MacEachern folklore, anything demonstrating devotion to his
memory and respect for his virtues, and reports of special favours
attributed to his intercession.
Information can be sent to