Monday, September 30, 2013

Sainthood cause launched for PEI’s first bishop 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 the sacraments.

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 Brunswick. 

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 bishops.

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 wanda.macdonald1@pei.