Speaking to the annual meeting of the Ontario Historical Association held in Windsor in September 1951, the late George F. Macdonald stated: “It will be a long time before the story of Assumption parish is accurately written because up to the present time facts and traditions have been so often scrambled together that it is difficult to separate them. The bicentennial of the establishment of the parish, it seems to me, affords a fitting occasion for attempting a fairly definitive history, at least in outline form, of the oldest parish in the province of Ontario.
In my quest for primary source material to sift the facts from fables (traditions may be true), I have relied heavily upon the Assumption church records, letters in the archives of the dioceses of Quebec, Kingston, Toronto and London to which the parish successively belonged. Other important sources of information have been: Father Point’s letters which are preserved at St. Mary’s College, Montréal; The Chronicles of St. Mary’s Academy, Windsor; The Archives of the Basilian Fathers, Toronto. Nearly all the quotations from these depositories are translations from the French for which I alone am responsible. As a rule, I have tried to retain the original sentence structures and grammatical forms.
Much assistance has been derived from published and unpublished monographs on various aspects of our subject. In this connection I wish to mention especially articles by H. Predhomme, Fathers Pierre Point, S. J., Francis Nelligan, S. J., J. C. Plomer, and Bishop Hubert Dignan.
I am greatly indebted to our local storehouses of historical information—The Hiram Walker Historical Museum, The Essex County Registry Office, and The Malden Museum. They have supplied records, pictures and newspaper reports that have proven invaluable.
After an introductory chapter on the Huron Mission, I have chosen to divide this treatise along the lines of the various pastorates that functioned in the parish. In some instances it has seemed desirable to unite two or more successive pastorates to form one section. This sort of division lends itself to an orderly treatment of the subject matter along chronological lines. Such a record may easily serve as a point of departure should a more detailed study of any period be desired. It may also prove helpful in tracing some theme through several pastorates, as I have attempted to do in the chapter entitled LA FABRIQUE.
With some justice it may be objected that in presenting this story in pastorate divisions I have not given due recognition to the assiduous labors performed by the numerous curates. That is regrettably true, but to include their individual contributions would have taken us far beyond the intended scope of this narrative. We all know that to the curates is due a large share of the credit for many of the accomplishments herein recorded.
Similarly, the co-operation of lay personnel — caretakers, organists, sacristans, secretaries, teachers, directors of the choir, officers of societies and clubs — has been largely responsible for whatever success has been achieved in the parish. These people are legion and can only be mentioned here in a general way.
It is my earnest hope that this short historical review will awaken enough interest in our glorious past to move us to give appropriate thanks to God for two centuries of parochial blessings at this place under the patronage of Our Lady of the Assumption.
E. J. LA JEUNESSE, C.S.B.
It was given the imposing title of the Mission of our Lady of the Assumption among the Hurons of Détroit. It is important to note that such a mission was entirely independent of the parish in which it was located. In New France Jesuit missionaries to the Indians were supported by the government and were responsible only to their religious superior at Quebec.
Because of troubles that arose amongst the various Indian tribes of the region, on October 13, 1742, Father La Richardie transferred the mission to the south end of Bois Blanc (Bob-lo) Island at the mouth of the river some twenty miles downstream from the fort. Some Indian encampments and fields were located on the adjacent mainland. Bois Blanc Island must be considered the site of the first Mass in the territory that now constitutes Essex County. On September 25, 1744, Father Pierre Potier arrived at the island to serve as assistant missionary. However, in the summer of 1746, illness forced Father La Richardie to return to Quebec. The mission records indicate that during his eighteen years among the Hurons of Détroit he had baptized 683 members of the tribe.
Father Potier suddenly found himself in full charge of the mission during some very hectic times. On May 20th of the following year the island mission was totally destroyed by rebel Huron Indians from Sandusky in a plot to massacre all the French at the post of Détroit. Father La Richardie returned from Quebec and decided to change once more the location of the Indian village and mission head-quarters. The site chosen was on the south shore at the bend of the river on the fields of the Hurons. There they would enjoy the protection of the fort at a place known as La Pointe de Montréal, where Ambassador Bridge now crosses into Canada. Happily, a reminder of their abode at this place has been retained in the names of some streets in the vicinity—Huron Line, Wyandotte St. and Indian Road.
At this new location the missionaries were given by the Huron Indians a parcel of land approximately seven arpents (191.8 ft.) wide by forty deep. This tract lay immediately east of the present University Centre, and extended from the river to Tecumseh Road. With the help of a grant of 5,000 livres (francs) from the Governor of New France a chapel and mission buildings were started in 1748. Pierre Meloche erected the framework, Parent was the carpenter and Janis (sic) was the stone-mason and plasterer. The first Mass in the new chapel of the Assumption was celebrated on September 8, 1749.
As at Bois Blanc, connected with the mission there were a store, a blacksmith shop and a farm. Jesuit Brothers Regis and Latour operated the store; Chauvin was the first blacksmith; Niagara Campeau cultivated the farm on a share-crop basis. Interesting items relating to these enterprises appear in the Mission Account Book preserved at the Burton Historical Collection in Détroit.
At about the same time as the transfer of the Huron Mission to La Pointe de Montréal, French settlers began to receive grants of land on the south shore. Technically these settlers belonged to the parish of Ste. Anne, the church of the fort on the other side of the river, but occasionally they attended divine services and received the sacraments in the small Huron Chapel. From 1751 to 1756 seventeen baptisms of white children were recorded at the mission. Then there is a gap of five years in the records. Perhaps the pages for that period have been lost. That takes us to the end of the Seven Years’ War in Canada and the consequent British occupation of the Fort of Détroit, an event that took place on November 29, 1760. By that time some fifty families had established habitations for themselves along the south shore.
Under their new masters the settlers were permitted to live their religious lives pretty much as before, on condition of swearing the oath of allegiance to the British Crown. Father Potier had special reasons for apprehension. There was the fear that the rigours of English law against Roman Catholic priests might be introduced into the conquered territory. In January 1761 he left his mission and went to the Illinois country, perhaps fearing his priestly ministrations would have to come to an end at Détroit. In any case it is clear that he was back at the mission in July 1761, and that he had accepted the new order.
It was not long before his allegiance was put to the test. In the Indian revolt of 1763 the support of the French settlers would have been sufficient to turn the tide in favor of the red-men. At Détroit the gathering resentment of the Indians centered around the person of the Ottawa Chief Pontiac who with 800 warriors besieged the fort from May to October. On the advice of Father Potier the French of the south shore generally did not enter the fray. Father Potier had more difficulty in controlling his Indian subjects. At that time the Hurons were living under two separate chiefs. One received the war-belts from Pontiac with shouts of joy, while the other refused. On May 11, the eve of the feast of the Ascension, Pontiac held a council at the Huron village, at which he threatened to massacre all those who would not cast their lot with him. Having only sixty warriors the recalcitrant band agreed to join the battle after Mass the next day. In the uprising the Indians failed to strike a decisive blow quickly and anxiety prevailed in the region until the end of October when Pontiac sent a note to Major Henry Gladwin in the fort that his Indians had buried their hatchets.
Although the British conquest brought little change in the religious life of the French Catholic inhabitants of the south shore, a definite change in the care of souls took place after Father Potier’s return from his Illinois trip. Beginning July 16, 1761, he kept in Latin a register of the French children baptized at the Mission of the Hurons. During the next six years there were 111 entries. For the same period the marriage vows of fifteen French couples were witnessed by him. These marriages were also recorded at Ste. Anne’s Church with the notation that permission had been obtained for these parties to pronounce their vows and receive the nuptial blessings at the Huron Mission. This procedure indicates that Father Potier was not yet a pastor in his own right. Moreover, in all these records Father Potier signed himself as ‘missionary of the Hurons at La Pointe de Montréal’. His ministry to the French was by virtue of a special arrangement between himself and the pastor of Ste. Anne’s parish on the other side of the river. Referring to this sharing of the care of souls along the Détroit River, Father Simple Bocquet of Ste. Anne’s wrote to the church authorities at Quebec that he had given the Jesuit missionary permission to act in his place, and had surrendered to him nearly all the tithes of the settlers on the south shore because “he (Potier) had nothing on which to live.”
In 1765 some sixty families living on the south shore petitioned for a parish of their own. Instead of erecting a second religious centre in the same locality, it was decided that the Huron Mission should become the parish of the Assumption entrusted with the care of the souls of both the Huron Indians and the French settlers. A new church, sixty by thirty feet, was built by the settlers to replace the chapel of 1749 which was falling into ruin. This integrating development was canonically effected in 1767 when Father Potier, the Jesuit missionary of the Hurons, became the first pastor of the parish. When virtually all the rest of southern Ontario was still a wilderness, on its westernmost point the Church had established a permanent position under the patronage of Our Lady of the Assumption.
To all intents and purposes in 1761 the chapel of the Hurons became the ordinary place of worship for the settlers on the south shore. Why did it take six years for the parish of the Assumption to be canonically erected? The answer lies in the fact that the See of Quebec was vacant. Bishop Pontbriand had died in June 1760, and it took six years to get a successor. For three years after the Capitulation of Montréal the ultimate destiny of the colony was in doubt. The country had been conquered but was not ceded by France until the Treaty of Paris in 1763. In the meantime the country was under military rule, and the Church was governed by administrators for different districts. It took three more years before a nominee of the Chapter of Quebec could receive the approval of London and Rome. Finally Bishop Briand was consecrated quietly in the oratory of a chateau near Paris on Passion Sunday, March 16, 1766. He returned to Quebec on June 28, and took possession of his See in the Seminary Chapel on July 19, 1766—more than six years after the death of his predecessor.
Within a year the Bishop was able to give his attention to the problem of regularizing the religious status quo at Assumption. In a letter of August 7, 1767, he wrote to Father Bocquet, pastor of Ste. Anne du Détroit: “I consent to give Father Potier charge of all the south shore and to assign it to his care so that he will perform all functions and receive all emoluments.” On October 21, 1767, Father Bocquet replied as follows: “I have placed Father Potier in charge of his new parish, and I thank you with all my heart for the great relief you have procured for me. Beginning October 3, 1767, Father Potier opened a new register of baptisms and marriages in French in which he signed himself as Jesuit missionary performing the pastoral duties in the Church of the Assumption at La Pointe de Montréal du Détroit.’
In the light of this documentary evidence, the beginning of October 1767 must be considered the date of the formal change‑ over from the Huron Mission to the parish of the Assumption. Confirming this change of status on September 6, 1768, Father Potier wrote to Bishop Briand the following letter:
I have received Your Lordship’s letter confiding to my care the south shore of Détroit. This new parish consists of over sixty families of whom about one third paid their pastoral dues last year. The Hurons whom I have served for the past twenty-four years pay no dues. The new chapel which I have built with the help of the people is in debt, and I have been obliged to sell the mission land to pay for it. I furnish the wine for Mass, and also the candles. Your Lordship will see from this that the establishment of a fabrique (parish corporation) is useless for the present; but the people have elected wardens to assist me, and as soon as I have paid off the debts on the chapel, they will begin their duties.The sale of land mentioned in the letter refers to the easternmost four arpents of the original tract.
On October 15, 1767, this transfer of property to Francois Marentet (sic) was notarized at the price of 1600 livres (francs), money to be paid later. Two years later another arpent plus was added to the deed without mention of any increase in the price. Thus by 1769 more than five-sevenths of the original grant had been disposed to support the newly constituted parish.
The above-quoted letter is the only one to be found from Father Potier to his bishop. The explanation for this lack of communication is that Jesuit missionaries were accustomed to correspond with their superior at Quebec, and the latter could then report to the bishop. Father Potier’s letters to his superior, which could provide so many precious details, as well as their copies, have been lost. Moreover, the extant portion of the Account Book of Father Potier’s pastorate covers only the years 1775 to 1781, and provides very little information about activities in the parish. It was kept by Father Potier himself and contains only repetitious receipts of payments or amounts owed to the church for services or pew-rents or for failure to provide the bread to be blessed at the parochial Mass on Sundays and Holy Days.
Father Potier, a Jesuit, was at Assumption at the time of the Brief suppressing the Society issued by Pope Clement XIV in 1773, and he remained here until his death eight years later. That is because the Brief went into effect only when the bishop of the diocese promulgated it. Bishop Briand did not promulgate it because Governor Carleton wanted the Jesuits to continue their labors. There is no evidence that Father Potier was ever officially notified. If not, he likely learned of the Suppression from Father Pierre Gibault who visited him during the winter of 1775-76 while on his way to Quebec from the Illinois mission of Prairie du Rocher. From that place on March 29, 1775, Father Meurin, S. J., had written a letter to Bishop Briand asking to be adopted as a priest in his diocese as a consequence of the Suppression.
Even though the Brief was not enforced, the Jesuits in Canada were doomed to extinction. Under the terms of the Capitulation of Montréal, they had not been permitted to receive new members. The result was that, at the time of the Suppression, their members were only thirteen in number. These were allowed to remain at their posts until their death. A careful watch was kept on them and their personal property was seized by the Crown as soon as they died. In 1778 Lieutenant-Governor Hamilton at Détroit wrote to Governor Carleton of Quebec: “That as the Jesuit missionary at this place is advanced in years and very infirm, I have directed that in case of his death all his papers be secured and sealed up till I have Your Excellency’s orders to their possession.”
Father Potier’s infirmities did not prevent him from going to the fort that summer. At the request of the Lieutenant-Governor he went there to remind his men of the sacredness of their oath and to renew it before starting on an expedition to recapture Fort Vincennes in Indiana, an important outpost in the American Revolutionary War. Hamilton later reported that on the campaign the men showed themselves more faithful than he had expected.
At the time of Hamilton’s letter Father Potier had nothing of value to seize, only debts. However, he was able to settle most of his accounts two years later by the sale of land given to him by the Hurons in 1747. On September 27, 1780, the Hurons gave him a written title to the remaining two arpents of the original frontage. Shortly afterwards, while retaining only two small lots between the river and the coulee (stream), on which were located the church buildings, garden and cemetery, Father Potier sold this newly-registered parcel of land to Francis Pratt for 3000 livres (francs). Patricia Street now runs along that property. Because the reservation of the lots had not been specifically mentioned in the registered transfer of property (a separate renunciation was not notarized a year later), Pratt was later able to claim ownership of these lots, including the cemetery.
Father Potier continued his ministry until his sudden death on July 16, 1781, exactly twenty years after he had assumed virtual charge of the French settlers on the south shore of the Détroit River. During that time he had baptized 500 of their children. When we add this number to the 699 Hurons he had baptized after Father Richardie’s departure, the total represents a very bountiful harvest for him to present to the Lord of the Vineyard.
On July 18, 1781, there was buried in the sanctuary of the church of this parish on the gospel side the body of Rev. Fr. Pierre Potier, Jesuit missionary for about 37 years, at the age of 73 years and 3 months. He died on the 16th instant, according to the certificate of Mr. Anthon, surgeon, of a fall on an andiron. The said burial was made by the Rev. Fr. Simple, Recollect missionary, in the presence of a large number of parishioners.
On July 28, 1781, a meeting of the churchwardens was held and the following minutes recorded:
After calling a general meeting in the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption, at the close of prayer, it was resolved unanimously that one or several wardens would be chosen as deputies to His Lordship in order to obtain a successor to the late Rev. Fr. Potier. For this purpose there assembled Sirs Maisonville, Marentet, Pouget, Labute, Susor, Langlois, Bouron, Touranjeau, Bondy, Meloche and Jacques Parent, all former and new wardens, to consider the most suitable ways to request, in the name of all the people, a missionary from His Lordship, and to take the necessary steps with the Jesuit Fathers concerning the affairs of the church, the presbytery, and other buildings belonging to the mission. The above-named Sirs elected Sirs Pouget and Belaire, to whom they gave power of attorney and full authority to take the necessary steps mentioned above.
Father, in the name of God and of all the Huron Nation, help us in our urgent need of a missionary. The loss of Fr. Potier has plunged our village into a general grief which will not cease until he is replaced by another. Instructed from childhood in the principles of the Christian religion, we follow them faithfully under the direction of our spiritual leaders. But, what will become of us now? The souls of our warriors will tremble henceforth at the thought of death that awaits them at every moment; the blood of our old men and women runs cold at the approach of the last moment of their lingering lives; the mothers are distressed at the fate of their children; in any case, your charitable zeal, more than our words, will lead you to act in our behalf. We ask you to consider zealously our pressing need which urges you to avoid all delays, as every moment is precious in the present affair. We pray God to be favourable to us in the request that we make of you and for the preservation of Your Excellency.
In response to the urgent plea of the Indians and the parishioners for a successor to Father Potier, the Bishop of Quebec sent his Vicar-General to be pastor of Assumption parish. Father Francois-Xavier Hubert arrived at his new post in November 1781. Because nearly all the church lands had been sold by his predecessor, it was necessary to acquire new property. Again the Hurons came to the assistance of their missionary. On March 4, 1782, they made a donation of a tract of land six arpents wide by forty deep adjoining the Pratt farm on the east and the Indian lands on the west. The present Assumption church is situated on the eastern half of that property. Later the Land Board granted continuations in the rear of this farm to include the second and third concessions. The need of fire-wood was reason enough for requesting these tensions. The church glebe then consisted of approximately 300 acres of land along the eastern side of Huron Line. After the wood was cleared off, the land in the second and third concessions was rented or leased for farming and gardening purposes. The revenue derived from these transactions was very minimal, sometimes just a few bushels of grain. The western half of the donation (Huron Line to Rosedale Blvd.) was intended for the Sisters of the Congregation of Montréal, if they would come and found a school for girls. When they declined the offer, the lands were returned to the parish.
Father Hubert was an enterprising man. Immediately he activated the fabrique and set himself to the tasks of building a new church and presbytery and of opening two schools—one for boys and one for girls. In those days education was not considered a function of the community, but rather a matter attended to, if at all, by private individuals or by the local church officials. Father Hubert did not stay long enough to see his projects completed. Only the presbytery, to which was annexed ‘lasalle des habitants,’ was built in 1785 when he was chosen Coadjutor to the Bishop of Quebec, whom he succeeded three years later.
What he had been unable to accomplish as pastor of Assumption he helped to realize by making a generous contribution towards the construction of the church, and by sending two women in 1786 from Quebec as teachers to start a school for girls in the parish. These two objectives were achieved during the pastorate of Father Francois-Xavier Dufaux, a Sulpician priest from Montréal who in 1786 replaced Father Pierre Fréchette, who had served as interim pastor for one year.
The new church, opened in 1787, was built of timbers and was situated on the present Kennedy Place. To pay for its construction the western half of the church lands (Huron Line to Rosedale Blvd.) was sold to Thomas Pajot. The right back quarter of the nave was reserved for the use of the Huron Indians on the condition that they would erect their own pews for their chiefs. Owing to their fast dwindling number in the vicinity the Indians did not bother erecting any pews in their reserved section.
A controversy over a pew in another corner of the church assumed such proportions that it had to be referred to the bishop for his decision. It was customary for a pew of honor at the front of the church to be occupied by the highest ranking representative of the government. In 1795 Francis Baby, as Deputy Lieutenant of the County of Essex in the recently organized Province of Upper Canada, requested this privilege and had a pew erected.
A clique of jealous troublemakers, led by Maisonville, Pratt and Parent, was formed to oppose it. Baby claimed that their opposition stemmed from his family’s too great attachment to the King. Be that as it may, the rebellious group threw the pew out of the church. The matter was referred to Bishop Hubert who left it to Lieutenant-Governor Simcoe to name the government representative. He named Francis Baby. The letters of the bishop and the lieutenant-governor were read in church. Baby erected the pew once more. The following Sunday the mutinous group threw it out again. Baby wrote to the bishop that, although he had more supporters than the opposition, he would relinquish his claim in order to avoid scandal in the church. Thus ended an incident, amusing in retrospect, that threatened a serious split in the parish of Assumption.
The pulpit in the new church, the work of a woodcarver named Frerot, was erected in 1793, and it is still in use in the present edifice. This is the only relic of the eighteenth-century church that has been preserved to our day. Originally this pulpit was surmounted by the wooden figure of an angel blowing a trumpet. This bit of sculpture was ordered removed by Bishop Plessis on the occasion of his visit in 1816 because he considered it an indecent representation. In the parish Account Book for the year 1792 are found these two entries:
Paid in cash to Frerot for the pulpit 285 livres
Paid to Morand for wood for the pulpit….. 36 livres
Father Dufaux died on September 11, 1796. The Parish Register states that he was buried under the church on the gospel side of the altar. The entry is signed by Father Levadoux, pastor of Ste. Anne’s Church, a Sulpician confrere who had come to the United States in the wake of the French Revolution.
A week later the tearful parishioners sent Mr. Francis Pratt to Bishop Hubert to implore a new spiritual guide. At Niagara this delegate met Father Edmund Burke, who had scurried across the Détroit River border from River Raisin (Monroe, Michigan) when the American troops came to occupy Détroit in July of that year. Immediately Father Burke returned to Assumption to take charge of the parish temporarily. Father Burke later became the first Bishop of Halifax.
The petition carried by Mr. Pratt read in part as follows:
We presume that you are going to mingle your tears with ours when trembling with emotion we announce to you the death of our dear Father Dufaux, who died on the eleventh of this month at ten o’clock in the evening. The whole parish joins you in offering to the God of all goodness sincere prayers for the repose of his soul. Our children and the poor have lost a father, and we would be inconsolable if we did not feel assured that he is our advocate before God and that his blessed soul is enjoying eternal rest.
After all, Your Excellency, we have been your parishioners, and you are still our pastor. Our whole parish beseeches you not to leave us long without the spiritual help you are in a position to give us. We want to live and die in the religion of our fathers, and we are ready to shed the last drop of our blood for the faith of Jesus-Christ. . . .
Once more the Bishop of Quebec turned to the Sulpicians for assistance, and their choice fell upon Jean-Baptiste Marchand, former Rector of the College of Montréal. At Christmas time in 1796 the parishioners joyfully welcomed to Assumption the priest who was to rule over the destinies of the parish for almost thirty years.
L’Assomption du Détroit,
January 31, 1797
In spite of the precautions we had taken to get here promptly, we arrived only on Christmas Day in the even¬ing. In two weeks we reached Fort Erie on November 5th, but we were unable to set sail until the evening of the 30th. After coming in sight of the Sandusky Islands the west wind became so furious that we had to turn around on the feast of St. Francis Xavier (Dec. 3). After running great risk of being cast on the shore below Presqu’isle in a fright¬ful cold, and after much tossing we finally returned to Fort Erie on the second Sunday of Advent, where we anchored about ten o’clock in the morning. Without wasting any time we made preparations for the trip by land.
On the day after the feast of the Immaculate Conception we went down to Niagara. In the morning of the feast of St. Lucy (Dec. 13) Mr. Pratt and I, each riding on horse-back, carrying a few clothes as well as provisions for ourselves and our horses, started on our way to Détroit by the Grand River of the Mohawks. After a day’s ride from the River of the Mohawks we came upon the River La Tranche (Thames), which we followed down for nearly eighty leagues, sixty of which were through the woods. There were a few houses along our way, and we had to sleep outside only two nights with some slight suffering from cold and rain. . . .
The day after my arrival I went to the church where I met Father Burke to whom I gave the letter of my appoint¬ment that I had obtained in your name from the Coadjutor-Bishop. He immediately installed me and I sang the High Mass. He expressed much joy at my arrival, about which he had been very anxious because of the bad news that had spread around Détroit that we were in the islands. . . .
The only difficulty I found in the parish was with regard to a pew of honor requested by the King. On the 7th instant Father Burke notified me and the chief warden of Your Lordship’s orders as well as those of Governor Simcoe in this matter. He drew up an ordinance which I read at the sermon the following Sunday, complying with the order that he gave me viva voce. He was present and he spoke on this topic in an attempt to calm the minds of the people. Nevertheless immediately after Mass the pew, that Mr. Baby had had installed relying upon Father Burke’s ordinance, was thrown out of the church and the place was auctioned off and awarded the following Sunday to a man named Goyeau who erected a pew last Saturday. Mr. Baby has instituted action against those who removed the pew and the case is being followed seriously. Follow¬ing your orders I did not take any part in this dispute. . . .
I found the church and sacristy in very good order and fully furnished with clean linens and vestments. But I can’t find anything relating to the fees of the pastor or of the church. In the rectory I found only a clock, a stove, a mattress, a few dishes, a few pieces of kitchen furniture, three chairs, and the armchair of the late Father Potier. With regard to the library, I did not find the list of books that you left me. Father Levadou (sic) was satisfied with sixty volumes and there remain 540 volumes, some good and some bad, but good enough for a parish priest. . . .
The parish is made up of only 150 settlers including 12 at River Thames, 5 along the shore of Lake Erie and 4 at La Rivière aux Canards. As for the Hurons, there remain only four or five lodges with few occupants at La Rivière aux Canards. Fort Malden is an infant establishment where there are only two or three Catholics. Besides Niagara and Kingston which can more easily be served from Montréal, the only mission that could be attended from this place is Sault Ste. Marie where there are only ten or twelve settlers.
This letter is dated from L’Assomption du Détroit. Before long the name of Sandwich will be appearing on letters from this locality. Why the change? When the Americans came to occupy Détroit in 1796 there were many residents who preferred to live under the British flag. For their convenience the Honor¬able Peter Russell, President of the Executive Council of the Province of Upper Canada, purchased a tract of land from the “Indian Reserve at the Huron Church,” and sub-divided an area into one-acre lots for settlement. It is noteworthy that two of the streets paralleling the river (Peter and Russell) were named after the buyer. The other one was called Bedford (now Sand¬wich) probably because Russell’s ancestors were from Bedford County in England. The original plot extended from Détroit Street to South Street. The other cross-streets were Mill (so called because it led to the Baby Mill on the river front), Huron (now Brock), and Chippewa. A draw for the lots in the new town was held on June 7, 1797, and approved by the Council at Newark on August 14 of the same year. Lots were reserved for public buildings and Sandwich became the capital of the Western District of the Province of Upper Canada. In the next century the expression ‘Sandwich Parish’ will often be used to designate the parish of Our Lady of the Assumption.
On his way from Montréal to L’Assomption du Détroit Father Marchand had discovered twelve Catholic families living along the lower Thames River. In July 1800 he wrote to the Bishop of Quebec that he was planning to open for these people (now more than twenty families) St. Peter’s Mission near a place known today as Prairie Siding in Tilbury East Township. At the same time he was working on the chapel of St. John the Baptist at Malden, which later developed into the parish of Amherstburg. These two stations were going to add consider¬ably to his labors, and the bishop decided to give him an assist¬ant. Father Marchand was reluctant to accept this aid because he thought that the parish could not support more than one priest.
In May 1801 Bishop Denaut notified Father Marchand that he intended to visit that summer the westernmost community of his diocese. He reached Amherstburg on June 13th, and made his solemn entry into Sandwich three days later. The exercises began with a spiritual retreat to prepare the people for the re¬ception of the sacrament of Confirmation. At the close of the exercises the bishop confirmed nearly 500 members of the parish. He remained in the area until July 15th, and during that period he confirmed 550 at Ste. Anne’s, and 295 at Raisin River (Mon¬roe, Michigan). The size of these confirmation classes is not surprising when we consider that this was the first episcopal visitation in the century-long history of the settlement along the shores of the Détroit River.
Bishop Denaut brought with him Father Felix Gatien whom he had recently ordained, and left him at Assumption as curate. The following year the young priest helped to open the mission churches at Amherstburg and at the mouth of the Thames. In 1806 Father Gatien was appointed professor of Philosophy at the Seminary of Quebec. For the next decade Father Marchand administered the parish and the two missions all alone.
He had a clerical companion, however, for a short time during the War of 1812. When the British troops were occupy¬ing Détroit, Father Gabriel Richard, pastor of Ste. Anne’s, in¬curred the displeasure of General Procter and was committed to the custody of his Sulpician confrere at Sandwich to await de¬portation to Lower Canada. After being a virtual prisoner at the rectory from May 21 to June 6, 1813, Father Richard was permitted to return to his flock on the promise of discreet be¬havior.
Over most of these years Father Marchand’s great temporal concern was the litigation and dispute over the land sold to Francis Pratt in 1780. Probably still rankling because in 1799 he had been summoned to give to the fabrique an explanation of his administration as chief warden, two years later Pratt moved his fence over onto the church lands and the matter was taken to the courts. The 1781 renunciation of the lots by Pratt was not opposed to the usurper, likely because no one knew of its existence in the Registers of the City of Détroit. In 1806 the suit was finally decided at Toronto in Pratt’s favor, and he was awarded all the property lying between his farm and the river. Thus the church lost the cemetery, the old rectory and garden, plus the sexton’s house and lot. A new burial place was opened in what is now Ambassador Park. On his death-bed ten years later Pratt consented to submit the matter to arbitration, but his son and heir refused to honor his father’s dying agreement and the property was lost to the church forever.
Bishop Plessis visited the parish in the summer of 1816 and he noted the Catholic population to be approximately 2000 at Assumption, 300 at St. Peter’s and 300 at Amherstburg. He decided that Father Marchand should have an assistant. In the fall of that year Father Joseph Crevier arrived at Sandwich where he was to remain for fifteen years. Immediately the new curate made a gallant effort to open a secondary school for boys with himself teaching Latin and mathematics, and a lay teacher taking care of the other subjects. The first year there were 13 or 14 students, but the following fall the project had to be abandoned for lack of candidates.
At that time there were some privately operated co-educa¬tional primary schools, two at Petite ate (La Salle area) one aux Outaouais (Windsor East). Six years later on June 2, 1823, Father Marchand reported to his bishop. “Several schools are being established, mostly co-educational. I have some for girls only but I fear there will not be enough pupils to support them.”
After being relieved of his teaching Father Crevier was able to devote more time to the growing missions of the parish. In 1821 there were 559 Catholics at Amherstburg and 553 along the Thames. New facilities were needed. In 1824 a new church was built at St. Peter’s to replace the original one that had been demolished by a windstorm. Two years later a chapel was built at Belle River. Father Crevier also made missionary journeys to Drummond Island and Sault Ste. Marie. Besides, the parish continued to serve the Huron Indians at their Reserve (now Anderdon Township), where in 1821 their numbers had been reduced to 130. Their graveyard near the river bank below River Canard is one of the oldest historic places in Essex County.
Father Marchand died on April 16, 1825, having completed nearly three decades as pastor of Assumption, the longest in¬cumbency in the long history of the parish. His remains were buried under the 1767 church and now rest under the nave of the present edifice with those of the two former pastors who also died ‘on the job’—Fathers Potier and Dufaux.
Father Marchand was succeeded by his assistant, Father Crevier. Father Louis Fluet was named curate and he was soon placed in full charge of the missions of St. Peter’s and Amherst-burg, with residence at the latter place. Once more Father Crevier attempted to open a continuation school for boys. On November 17, 1825, he wrote to Quebec for grammars and “classical books” and a teacher, saying that he had eight or ten students. This proved to be just another abortive attempt at secondary education.
In 1826 the diocese of Kingston was erected to serve the province of Upper Canada. Alexander Macdonell, organizer and chaplain of the Glengarry Fencible Regiment, was its first bishop. On his visit to Assumption in July 1827, he put the fol¬lowing questions to the churchwardens and received the follow¬ing answers:
Q. How long will the present church last? A. About 8 or 10 years with repairs.
Q. Is it not necessary to build a church-school as well as a church? A. Both are necessary.
Q. When are you determined to commence the church? A. They have already begun to collect the material, and will continue to do so.
Q. What are the dimensions of the convent or school for girls? A. 50 by 35 feet.
Q. What are the dimensions of the school for boys? A. 45 by 35 feet.
Q. When have you decided to build the schools? A. During the coming winter.
This turned out to be a long winter. In 1828, however, an off-shoot of the Grey Nuns of Montréal (one sister and three postulants) came to open a girls’ school in a large family dwell¬ing. The first year they instructed 50 children with the help of an American young lady who joined them. There was a question of building a convent, but the whole project collapsed after Sister Raizenne, the superior of the newly-formed Congregation of the Infant Jesus, died after a stay of only one year. At the insistence of the parishioners her remains were buried under the present church on September 1, 1850, along with those of Fathers Potier, Dufaux and Marchand.
The set-back occasioned by Sister Raizenne’s death did not discourage Bishop Macdonell in his educational efforts. On November 20, 1830, he addressed to the pastor, the elders and the church-wardens a strongly-worded letter to proceed with provisions for the education of the youth of the parish, which has been so woefully and, I will add, so shamefully neglected. . . . The Catholics for want of education are not only kept in the background and neglected, but are made the hewers of wood and the drawers of water to those who came into the country adventurers and beggars. . . . We order that the said committee (for inspecting the church accounts) do enter forthwith upon the discharge of the duty for which they have been appointed, and we request to be informed of any opposition or obstacles that may be thrown in their way.. .
This ordinance is to be read from the altar on three successive Sundays and to be inserted in the parish register.
The above-mentioned committee had been set up on October 3, 1830, on the occasion of an official visit by Vicar-General O’Grady of York (Toronto), as a result of reports to the bishop that church funds were being mal-administered and that proper accounts were not being kept. Information con¬tinued to reach the bishop about Father Crevier’s irregular con¬duct of financial affairs and also of having campaigned against Francis Baby in the general election held that fall.
Posthaste the bishop directed O’Grady to go and investi¬gate the charges with full authority to make any enactments that he might deem necessary. He advised him to bring along Father Thomas Cullen to explain his actions to the Canadians (French). The visitor arrived early in February 1831 and im¬mediately proceeded to act in a very cavalier manner. He sus¬pended the pastor and transferred him to the Indian mission at Penetang. The majority of the parishioners sided with Father Crevier and prevented O’Grady and Cullen from entering the church. O’Grady promptly placed the parish under interdict. This was a very gloomy period in the life of Assumption as a threat of schism hung over the parish.
After receiving a letter from repentant Crevier, Bishop Macdonell replied on March 3, 1831: “As soon as you receive this letter you will resume your functions as pastor, console your flock and prepare them for Easter. P.S. Instruct your flock of dangers of heresy and schism.” At the same time he sent a conciliatory letter to the wardens to be read in church. A month later the bishop wrote to Baby: “You and your party have per-mission to make your Easter duty to any priest you choose.”
A semblance of order was restored, but irreparable damage had been done. In the extant correspondence of the period there are undertones of some opposition between Father Crevier and the church authorities. After five years in the new ‘English’ diocese of Kingston Father Crevier preferred to be re-attached to his old diocese of Quebec. In October 1831 Bishop Macdonell himself made a visitation to Assumption accompanied by his nephew, Father Angus MacDonell. When it was decided that Father Crevier would not remain, the bishop left his Scottish nephew as pastor of this predominantly French-Canadian parish.
At first Father MacDonell was very much a man-in-the¬middle—spurred on by his soldierly bishop uncle to proceed with the construction of schools and a church on the one hand, and meeting with general resistance born of apathy and resentment on the other hand. In 1834, however, some meeting of minds was achieved with the result that a convent school was completed, and architect Robert Elliott of Détroit was commissioned to draw preliminary plans of the new church. On May 17, 1835, in a general assembly of the parish it was decided by a majority to begin immediately the construction of the church, to be built southwest of the old church. The following men were elected as trustees to supervise the construction: Chrisostome Pajot, Benjamin Lavallée, Gabriel Bondi (sic), Simon Leduc and Benjamin Parent. Along with the pastor and the churchwardens they composed the Church Building Committee.
Why was the church built at such a distance from Sandwich Street (now Riverside Drive)? At the time there was considerable talk that a new road would be cut through connecting Windsor and Sandwich. The church was situated far enough back to face this still definitively uncharted road which, strange to say, was not opened until 1875 as London Street (now University Avenue). In the meantime the people coming from the east had to go along the only east-west thoroughfare (Sand-wich Street), then turn up Huron Line to reach the church. In order to shorten the walk of the parishioners from Sandwich town on the west, Mr. Pajot opened a short street in the front of his farm which he named Church Street. It is now that part of University Avenue that runs from Huron Line to Rosedale Boulevard.
On June 7, 1835, the Building Committee decided to accept Elliott’s preliminary plan of a rectangular church with a tower and turrets on each side. It looked like things were really going to roll. A lime-kiln was built and a brick-yard was opened just east of the present Assumption High School building. Abraham Johnson was the brick-maker.
On July 27th it was decided to start digging the foundations, make lime and arrange for hauling the bricks.
The accounts for the year 1834 through to July 20, 1835, contain these items:
To Mr. Elliott for church plan – $10.00
6508 feet of lumber for the church – $65.08
51/2 toises (six feet) of stone taken from the foundation of the old mill – $11.00
[This church-owned grist-mill was located near the river west of Huron Line and was regularly leased to a miller].
200 cords of wood for the brick-yard – $250.00
Other items for the brick-yard included molds, forks and two wheelbarrows. The total expenditure for the new church up to July 16, 1835, amounted to $642.17.
This flurry of activity was short-lived. No more record of expenditures for the church appear until June 1842. Was the construction interrupted by the unsettled conditions of the approaching Rebellion of 1837-38, or for lack of funds, or both? Or for the lack of enthusiasm for the project? In any case, Father MacDonell was frequently absent during the next seven years, including a three-year span from October 1838 to October 1841, when he accompanied his uncle bishop on a trip to Scotland where he (the bishop) died on June 15, 1840. Father Edmond Yvelin was acting pastor during most of this period. Other priests who assisted or substituted for Father MacDonell during his pastorate were Fathers J. Foley, J. Lostrie, Pierre Schneider and Jean B. Morin.
In 1841 the western part of the diocese of Kingston was constituted as the diocese of Toronto with Bishop Michael Power as its chief shepherd. He was consecrated on May 8, 1842. Subsequently, if not consequently, a spirited exertion was made to proceed with the construction of the 120 by 60-foot church. In the first week of June payments were made for lime and brick. On June 9th it was resolved to pay Jacques Reaume $1.75 per day for working on the masonry of the new church and for directing the work provided that he made the men work an eleven-hour day. ‘Full speed ahead’ was the watchword. So much so that in six weeks it was possible to lay the corner-stone.
The Western Herald (published at Sandwich) of July 29th reported this event in part as follows:
The corner stone of a Roman Catholic Church was laid near this town with all the usual ceremonies, by the Right Rev. Bishop Lefebre of Détroit, on Thursday last, the 21 instant. . . . A collection was taken up on the spot, which amounted to ninety dollars, although such a thing was not anticipated by many.
The building is to be of brick of which 300,000 are already on the spot. They were manufactured by our enter¬prising townsman, Mr. Collins, and are said to be of an excellent quality. Mr. Collins is fast rearing another kiln of the same quality, which will complete his contract.
Did these bricks come from the brick-yard opened up in 1835? That is not clear. In any case, they were not made by the same brick-maker. In 1836 Mr. Collins had invented a machine capable of moulding 40,000 bricks per day. Within a year after the laying of the corner-stone, the piles of bricks had been transformed into the 2-foot thick walls of the church. They were nearly completed at the end of July 1843 when Father MacDonell was relieved of the pastorate, and the Jesuit Fathers assumed charge of Assumption parish.
Such a group supplied racially acceptable spiritual leaders in sufficient number to serve adequately the increasing Catholic population of the area. In 1842 the census of Religion for the Township of Sandwich gave the population of the Church of Rome as 2673 souls. That would work out to about 500 families scattered over an area of more than 125 square miles. In addition to these numbers within the confines of the parish there were missions to be served at Maidstone (100 families), Raleigh (St. Peter’s on the Thames), Chatham, Sarnia, Amherstburg (1846-49) and later (1856) at the newly erected chapel of St. Alphonsus in Windsor.
Even this extensive territory could not satisfy the zeal of these new blackrobes. Like their religious ancestors of the seventeenth century their quest for souls led them afar to minister to the Indians of the lakes region. In 1844 Father Chazelle established missions at Walpole and Manitoulin Islands. He died the next summer while on his way to Sault Ste. Marie. In 1847 Father Nicolas Point visited Manitoulin, and five years later he reached Fort William, 600 miles away from home. Truly the spirit of Brebeuf, Menard and Marquette was not dead.
The first task that faced Father Point and his associates in 1843 was the completion of the church. At the end of October he was able to report that the masonry was finished up to the first course of the cornice, the framework to the plate for the rafters, and that the main timbers of the first section of the belfry were in place. The expenditures so far amounted to $9,000, and the debt was $3,000. There was discussion about letting the rest of the work to a contractor who would be able to complete the construction in a short time.
For lack of immediately available funds it was decided to proceed on a pay-as¬-you go basis. To economize the sacristy of the old church was temporarily erected at the rear of the new structure. Finally the church was officially opened for services on July 20, 1845, a full decade after it was decided to start digging the foundations. In August of 1846, a five by seven-foot representation of Murillo’s Assumption of the Blessed Virgin was hung over the main altar. This beautiful work of art was executed by the renowned Canadian painter A. S. Plamondon, and was a gift of Judge Phillipe Panet of Quebec (See Frontis¬piece).
It would take a book to recount in detail the many material and spiritual accomplishments of the Jesuit Fathers during their sixteen-year stay in the parish. Fortunately for posterity, Father Point prepared the following list of things done from July 31, 1843, to May 10, 1857
House moved for rectory (convent school building of 1834), sacristy added in 1853 on the east side of the church, fence around the church lot, new cemetery opened in 1848 southwest of the church, pulpit installed, communion rail, table of main altar, side altars, statues, candel-abra, stations of the Cross (not the present set), baptistry, organ ($2200 gift of Mr. Chas. Baby and Col. Arthur Rankin), platform for choir, chapel for retreats on the west side of the church, interior of the rectory renovated, rectory grounds fenced, Chapel at the Trait Carré (Tecumseh) and house for the missionary. The Windsor Chapel (St. Alphonsus) under construction. Convent (Beaubien Foundation) opened May 1, 1852. College built in 1856 and opened February 10, 1857.
Arch-confraternity of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Dec. 8, 1843). About 1,100 members.
Confraternity of the Scapular. About 1,240 members. Propagation of the Faith (Feb. 24, 1844). The number varied each year.
Association of the Holy Childhood (March 10, 1848). 533 members.
Congregation of the Immaculate Conception for young ladies (Dec. 8, 1852). What will contribute most to instruction and piety is their upkeep of the library. Regular visits to schools.
Temperance Society (May 26, 1853). Over 2,000 mem-bers. They meet on the first Friday of each month for Mass, renewal of promises, and reception of new members. Retreats—First Communion, Confirmation, Young Ladies, Married Women, Married Men.
Association of St. John the Baptist (March 6, 1857). For young men sixteen and over. Purpose—to combat drunkenness, immorality and blasphemy.
Novena to St. Francis Xavier.
Lent—Three sermons a week, exclusive of Sundays.
Catechism on weekdays.
The above-quoted list of accomplishments in Assumption parish was prepared by Father Point for the first visit of Bishop Pinsonneault. In 1856 the diocese of Toronto was divided. Out of its westernmost section was formed the diocese of London, with the Most Reverend Pierre Adolphe Pinsonneault at its head. On his first visit to Sandwich he was much pleased with reception accorded him by the people, and he declared that he would have preferred being Bishop of Sandwich to being Bishop of London.
In 1859 he realized his wish, transferred his See to Sandwich, and Assumption church became the Cathedral of the diocese. The joy of the parishioners in welcoming their chief shepherd in their midst was soon tempered by the consequent departure of the Jesuits who by their many apostolic labors had written the brightest chapter in the annals of Assumption. Father Pierre Point, the zealous leader of this parish renewal and development died at Montréal in September 1896 in his ninety-fifth year.
He had lived to celebrate the seventieth anniversary of his priestly ordination.
In the diocese of Quebec la fabrique was a corporation composed of the pastor and a number (usually three) of laymen called mar guillers or wardens charged with holding and adminis¬tering the temporalities (lands, buildings and finances) of the parish. The oldest in point of service, le marguiller en charge or the chief warden, was responsible for collecting pew-rents, tithes, offerings, stipends for services, etc., as well as for paying all the current bills of the church.
To his safekeeping was entrusted le coffre or the money-box fitted with two locks, the key to one of the locks being held by the pastor. Keeping an account of all receipts and expenditures was also the responsibility of the chief warden. When he could not write, as was often the case, the pastor kept the books and made the entries as the items were reported to him.
A new warden was chosen each year at an election ordinarily held on the last Sunday of December, and the chief warden then retired into the honorable body of past wardens who were no longer eligible for election. These men, however, along with the present wardens retained a vote for the election of future wardens, and when the parish was faced with some serious problem they were invited to the meeting as advisers. The active wardens occupied a raised pew in the church whence they could preside over the assembly and see that order was maintained during the services.
In view of the present trend towards increased lay participation and responsibility in church administration, it might be of interest to trace the history of this corporation in our parish. In his letter of July 1768 to Bishop Briand of Quebec Father Potier wrote:
Your Lordship will understand that the establishment ofa fabrique is useless for the time being. However, the people have elected wardens to help me, and as soon as I have paid the debt on the chapel they will enter into their functions.
The only account book extant of Father Potier’s pastorate was kept by Father Potier himself, and it contains no accounts of any elections of wardens or minutes of any meetings. For the year 1779, however, there appears an entry of payment of wages in which Mr. Pierre Meloche signs himself as marguiller en charge. Moreover, on Father Potier’s death (1781) a meeting of the new and old wardens (twelve present) was called to deliberate on the best means of obtaining a successor. We can, therefore, conclude that there was a fabrique operating in some sort of way in Assumption parish for a number of years before 1781.
With the arrival of Father Hubert in October of that year the corporation entered fully into its duties. This fact is clearly indicated in the minutes of the first three meetings which were held in rapid succession:
November 25, 1781 — the wardens and other inhabitants of the parish of the Assumption of Détroit having assembled at the sound of the bell in the usual manner for the purpose of electing a new warden in the place of Mr. Jacques Parent who is retiring from office, by a majority of the votes, Mr. J. Bte. Oualette (sic) was elected warden and he accepted the said position which he promised to fill faithfully.
December 2, 1781—Mr. Jacques Parent who is retiring from office has turned over to Mr. Louis Suzor 309 livres ( francs) and 16 sous saying that this was all he had be¬longing to the church, there having been up to that time no books kept in due form.
December 9, 1781—The wardens, old and new, assembled in the ordinary manner have approved and named as sexton Pierre Javerai on the following conditions: [My summary] He will faithfully perform the work assigned by the wardens. He will receive 200 francs per year plus suitable lodging in a house provided by the corporation. He will be obliged to receive the corpses of parishioners awaiting burial, to lodge the children who are being instructed for their first communion, and to permit the persons who bring a load of wood to warm themselves in the said house.
For the next thirty-five years there are itemized accounts of receipts and expenditures with balances struck at the end of each year. These books were inspected and approved by the bishop of Quebec on the occasion of his visitations in 1801 and 1816. For the next ten years the elections of wardens were held each year and were duly recorded, but the account book shows long lists of arrears owed to the church that had been permitted to accumulate. Writing to the bishop shortly after Father Marchand’s death (1825) Father Crevier, the new pastor, complained that the parish accounts were in bad shape. As we shall see, he did not do much to improve the situation.
When Assumption belonged to the diocese of Kingston (1826-41), there was considerable negligence in keeping the accounts and in collecting the money owed to the church. The bishop made repeated exhortations and recommendations for improvement, even set up a permanent committee to inspect the books at the end of each year. In a letter dated November 20, 1830, Bishop Macdonell wrote to the pastor, elders and wardens of Assumption church:
We most sincerely and deeply regret that your church accounts have been so culpably allowed to get into such disorder and confusion, but we trust that the salutary regulations made at the meeting (presided by his Vicar-General) will prevent in future a recurrence of similiar irregularities.
The effect was not long-lasting. On his visit to Assumption in August 1836 Coadjustor Bishop Gaulin found himself compelled to make more recommendations and regulations, but generally to little avail. This one of his enactments, however, appears to have been observed: “We strictly enjoin that in the future the election of the third warden will be done only by the old and new wardens to the exclusion of all other persons whoever they may be.”
On the occasion of his first visit to the parish on September 10, 1843, Bishop Power of Toronto wrote in the record book:
To avoid the abuses that have been taking place for several years, above all since 1836 and especially in 1838, 1839 and 1841, we forbid the chief wardens to keep the money of the corporation in their possession for more than three months. Every three months they will place in the strong box all that is not required for the current needs of the corporation. . . . We expressly forbid that the money of the corporation be used for any other purposes than for worship and for the interior of the church without a special written authorization from us. . . . We recommend to the old and new wardens to watch more scrupulously over the interests of the corporation and to act in concert with the missionaries so that the revenues of the corporation will no longer be dilapidated and what is due to the corporation may no longer be lost, as has been the case up to the present from neglect or from too much gentleness in acquitting themselves of their duties.
Actually there was no need for concern because the missionaries mentioned in the directive were the in-coming Jesuits with Father Point as the pastor. He was a very methodic and orderly person, and during his regime the meetings of the corporation were held regularly and the minutes were meticulously kept. As a sample we quote from the minutes of the last meeting recorded in the parish account book:
On the twenty-eight day of December, eighteen hundred and fifty-six, by authorization of his Lordship P. A. Pinsonault (sic), the first Bishop of London, the council of wardens duly convoked at the ordinary meeting place for the purpose of proceeding by vote to the nomination of a member to replace the out-going Mr. Jerome Dumouchelle, the name of Mr. J. B. Laframboise was proposed. He was elected unanimously. The out-going warden was commissioned to present him on Thursday January first before the High Mass for the approval of the Church and for taking of the oath of office.
At that meeting it was also decided that on January first all the pews in the church would be rented by auction for five years at the same price as the last sale provided the tenant had paid all his dues. The pew rents were a major source of revenue. The offertory collection was really and truly a penny collection and rarely amounted to a dollar. The rental for the pews was graded with the front ones rating the highest price. In this way the list of pew-holders provided a sort of social register of the parish. The system had the advantage of keeping the front pews occupied without the need of a gentle push from an obliging usher.
The above-quoted minutes contain the last mention in the Assumption church records of fabrique or wardens — expressions that had been commonplace in the parish for nearly a century. We have seen that in 1854 Bishop de Charbonnel of Toronto had dealt the system a severe blow by causing the title-deeds of the church property to be transferred from the parish wardens to the Episcopal Corporation of the diocese. The coup de grace was dealt on February 26, 1857, when Bishop Pinsonneault issued an ordinance “to place the administration of the parishes on a sure footing.” The pastor was then made the sole administrator of the church under the control of the bishop. It was still possible to present names for appointment to a Parish Committee of three to five men. It was emphasized, however, that these men would act only in an auxiliary and advisory capacity.
Was the fabrique a successful method of church management? Judging from the experience in this parish, a great deal depended on the pastor. If he was a good administrator and demanded accounts and actions, he could get them. If he tended to be easy-going, the wardens would go him one better. The fabrique still operates in the province of Quebec. It could easily serve there as a basis for implementing the directives of the recent Vatican Council urging increased lay participation and responsibility in church finances.
The Bishop’s desire for splendour was not limited to the ceremonies inside of the church but it extended likewise to all its surroundings. His ambition was to develop here a composite reproduction of what he had admired in cathedral towns of Lower Canada and Europe. To realize this dream his first need was an episcopal residence large enough and so staffed as to be able to receive his clerical visitors in style. He wanted it to be of stone. On September 6, 1859, he wrote to Toronto for permission to take 600 toises (six feet) of lime-stone from the quarry at the Huron Reserve (Anderdon Township). Unsuccessful in his bid for this durable building material, he erected a large frame and stucco building of elaborate design which ‘was called the Bishop’s Palace. This structure was L-shaped with one wing joined to the old rectory and the other extending along Huron Line. This so-called palace was not well designed and a dozen years after its opening it required extensive repairs – In 1896, only thirty-five years after its erection, the leaky mass of building had to be demolished because it was already considered beyond repair.
Improvements were effected also on the grounds. The cemetery opened south of the church in 1848 was too close to the projected residence. In 1860 the bishop had it removed to the present site at the corner of Huron Line and Wyandotte Street. Understandably, this was not a popular move with the parishioners who had relatives buried in the old churchyard whose remains had to be transferred to the new burying ground. On the north side of the palace horse-chestnut trees were planted in avenues that ended at arched gates near the streets. The palace and the gates have long since disappeared. Only the chestnut trees remain as a last vestige of Assumption’s decade of episcopal splendour.
How were these undertakings financed? Most of them were not parish but diocesan expenditures. On April 2, 1860, Father Lynch, pastor at Ingersoll, was appointed organizer of the Episcopal Fund to build and maintain the bishop’s residence. Special collections in every parish and mission were held each year during the month of January. The church lands in the second and third concessions were parcelled out into sixteen garden lots of thirteen acres more or less and most of them sold at an average price of fifteen dollars an acre.
These sources of revenue, however, did not prove sufficient to cope with the bills. On January 29, 1867, shortly after Bishop Pinsonneault had left Sandwich, never to return, the diocesan administrator Bruyere wrote to Bishop Baillargeon of Quebec:
Bishop Pinsonneault left Tuesday of last week to go to Albany. I presume he is now with Monsignor Conway. The clergy gave him a farewell address here. . . . I have stopped all useless expenses, reduced the number of domestic servants, dismissed the workmen who cluttered up the house. We must now start paying off some of the debts.
What had caused the bishop to leave so unexpectedly? After having wearied himself in efforts, mostly vain, to recruit clergy in Lower Canada, the United States and Europe to staff his parishes and the college, to place the parishes on a sure financial footing, to safeguard the teaching in the schools, to persuade Congregations of Sisters to come and establish diocesan communities in order to encourage native vocations, he became afflicted with almost total loss of hearing. Late in 1866, worn out and stone-deaf, he decided to lay down the burden of office for the good of the Church. He resigned his See — the victim of an excessive impatience to do too much, too fast. He returned to his native Montréal where he died on January 30, 1883.
It was during the interregnum following Bishop Pin¬sonneault’s resignation, precisely during the year of Canada’s Confederation, that Assumption parish completed its first century of service. During that time it had evolved from a tiny Indian Mission to the Cathedral of the diocese of Sandwich. In the course of this development successively it had belonged to the dioceses of Quebec, Kingston, Toronto and London.
Almost prophetically, it seems, Bishop Pierre Adolphe Pinsonneault’s coat of arms tells up to a point the story of his episcopate. It represents a man letting down a net from a boat over the motto `At Thy word I will cast the net.’ It was inspired by St. Luke’s account of Our Lord telling another Peter, who had labored all night and caught nothing, to cast the net once more for the big catch. Here ends the parallel. After ten years of arduous labour in the interests of the Church it was not granted to Bishop Pinsonneault to contemplate in this life the big draught of fishes. Even though his accomplishments fell short of his high hopes, he did succeed in laying the firm foundation of a future great diocese.
Typical of his frustrations is an episode that blends in well with his armorial bearings. In order to visit in style the parishes and missions along the rivers and lakes he had a boat built and equipped at the cost of fifteen hundred dollars. On being launched it sank to the bottom of the river, and the Sandwich `fisher of men’ was denied even a single cast of the net from it.
The bishop of a diocese is technically the, pastor of the Cathedral, and the one entrusted with the administration of the parish and the care of souls is called a rector. That was the situation that prevailed at Assumption from 1859 to 1869. Over that period of time the following priests acted as rector or assistants: Fathers Joseph Raynel, Joseph Bayard, V.G., James Wagner, V.F, J. M. Bruyère, V.G., Joseph Girard, P. Andrieux, A. P. Villeneuve, J. C. Duprat, J. Scanlon and P. D. Laurent.
Bishop Pinsonneault was succeeded by the Most Reverend John Walsh who was consecrated on November 10, 1867. Two years later the new prelate removed the See to London.
Assumption became once more a simple parish with a pastor in full charge in the person of Father Pierre Dominic Laurent. During his short term of office the dank brick pavement of the church was replaced by a wooden floor and two new furnaces were installed.
The new administrative arrangement lasted less than a year. Realizing the advantages of having both the parish and the college under the care of a religious congregation, Bishop Walsh entered into negotiation with the Basilian Fathers of Toronto. They accepted his invitation, and in the summer of 1870 three priests and three seminarians came to Sandwich to start a foundation that has lasted to this day.
In the concordat negotiated between the diocese and the congregation, the church lands in the first concession figured prominently. It was then believed that the college, which still carried a debt of nearly five thousand dollars, would never be a self-supporting institution. As a form of subsidy the agreement concluded in 1875 gave the Basilian Fathers for one dollar a year a 500-year lease on all the church lands south of a line drawn 220 feet ‘from the outer wall of the Roman Catholic Cathedral.’ This lease was changed to an outright sale at a nominal price in 1954 after Assumption College received a university charter. Along with that transfer of ownership a clear title was granted for the property lying between University Avenue and the river.
Father Denis O’Connor was the first superior and under his wise direction in 1874 the graceful tower and sanctuary were added to the church, thereby extending its stately lines while maintaining over-all pleasing proportions. The total cost of these additions was approximately $25,000. At the same time a touch of color was introduced by the installation of the stained glass windows in the sanctuary and apse. The brilliant windows in the main part of the church were erected in 1882 when the whole church interior was painted.
Father O’Connor continued to exercise his prerogative over the temporal affairs of the parish until 1890 when he was named Bishop of the diocese of London. On that proud occasion the parishioners presented him with two mitres at a cost of 204 dollars. After nine years at London he was elevated to the Archbishopric of Toronto where he died on June 30, 1911.
Father Jean Joseph Marie Aboulin, a native of France, was summoned from Louisville, Ohio, to be the first Basilian parish priest at Assumption. He began his duties on September 13, 1870. For the next twenty-three years a familiar sight on the local roadways was this shepherdly man of God, with short and plodding step, wending his way on foot even to the remotest parts of the parish. It was not uncommon for him to walk six or seven miles to visit the parishioners in Petite Côté or in the fourth and fifth concessions up Huron Line way. On these occasions he would gladly accept a drive back to the rectory in the evening.
The spiritual direction and care of the flock entrusted to him was always Father Aboulin’s paramount concern. By regular parish visitations he strove to establish and maintain personal contact with his 320 families (in 1870) in order to exhort and encourage them in the service of God and in devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. At the church, besides providing the ordinary services on Sundays and Holy Days, he conducted several public novenas each year and held numerous devotional exercises according to the ecclesiastical calendar of that era. The annual Corpus Christi processions on the church grounds attracted participants and spectators from far and wide.
Also a Living Rosary was organized to bring back to the fold sheep that had wandered away as a consequence of clerical scandals. Soon the delighted pastor had a frequent tale to relate: “Today I have reconciled to the Church a man who had remained away for so many years. Continue to pray the Rosary. Besides all these opportunities for the spiritual restoration and improvement of his people, during his tenure of office no less than six general missions were preached by Jesuits and Redemptorists with great success. On these occasions of inner revival the Society of the Apostleship of Prayer was organized and the Junior and Senior Leagues of the Sacred Heart were established with large memberships.
In all this ministerial work fortunately Father Aboulin was not alone, because he was a perfectionist who wanted no stone left unturned. In addition to the occasional help received from the priests on the college staff he was aided by the following assistants: Father Charles Faure who served faithfully for the first fifteen years, and Fathers J. Mazenod, G. Maynard, J. Crespin, B. Gery and B. Granottier, whose combined services were spread over the remaining eight years of his incumbency.
Through Father Aboulin’s untiring efforts many church furnishings were obtained that are still with us. The church records mention the following:
1883—Stations of the Cross in oil paintings acquired at a cost of 500 dollars.
1887—The elaborate stone main altar was imported from Caen, France and cost 2,000 dollars. It was con¬secrated by Bishop Walsh on October 22nd of the same year.
1889—Blessing of the statue of St. Joseph donated by M.G. (Mr. Girardot?)
1890—A new altar of the Sacred Heart, a $500 gift of Mr. Charles Armand Janisse.
Blessing of the Pieta donated by the family of Louis Mailloux.
Blessing of the statue of Ste. Anne.
In the spring of 1878 a staff vacancy presented an opportunity of providing religious teachers for the young girls in the Common School of Sandwich. It was seized upon immediately. At the urgent request of Fathers O’Connor and Aboulin, seconded by Inspector Theodule Girardot, the Congregation of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary agreed to send Sr. Louise and Sr. Télesphore to this mission. In pleasant weather they often commuted on foot from St. Mary’s Academy on Ouellette Avenue. At other times the community carriage or the horse-drawn street cars transported them to and from the school located on Mill Street. That building is now occupied by the Sandwich Branch Library. It was then divided into two class¬rooms, one for the boys and one for the girls. The change to religious teachers for the girls was so popular that in one year the number of pupils jumped from 32 to 84.
This arrangement lasted until 1890 when the Sisters were withdrawn on account of some difficulty over their inspection by the Protestant Board of Education. At this time a sort of amalgamation was in effect between the Catholic and Protestant elements of the population, and all the schools in the town were operated under a joint board. This system was strongly denounced by Bishop McEvay in September 1899 on the occasion of his first episcopal visitation to this end of the diocese.
Father Aboulin continued to exercise his spiritual ministry until 1893 when he was named Master of the Basilian Novitiate in Toronto. He was long remembered with grateful affection by his numerous spiritual children of Assumption parish. After spending fourteen years as Master of Novices and twenty-one years as assistant at Ste. Anne’s in Détroit, the `abbe’, as he was affectionately called, returned to pass prayerfully his last few years in the locality he had known so well and loved so much. After sixty-four years in the priesthood he died at Assumption College in August 1931, venerated by many as a saint.
The first major project to receive his attention was the blessing and installation of the new bell in the tower. This event took place on December 17, 1893. The bell weighing 4126 pounds was donated by the young men of the parish and cost $858.50. For nearly three quarters of a century its deep-toned peals have been heard summoning parishioners to worship and intoning the Angelus morning, noon and night.
After an expert inspection of the palace built by Bishop Pinsonneault, it was decided not to attempt any more repairs. Consequently in 1896 it was razed to the ground and replaced on the same site by the present brick rectory at a cost of seven to eight thousand dollars. In 1902 this building was wired for electricity at the same time as the church.
At the turn of the century a major repair job was needed in the church. The original plaster had been applied directly onto the brick walls. It became apparent that humidity was accomplishing its disintegrating mischief as patches of dis-coloration and corrosion increased and multiplied. In 1903-1904 the interior walls of the church were lathed, re-plastered and decorated. At the same time double windows were installed throughout the building as an added precaution against the ravages of moisture.
In 1901 Bishop McEvay pressed for the establishment of Separate Schools wherever there was a sufficient number of Catholic families. Not without stubborn opposition, arising mostly from the prospect of higher taxes, did Father Semande succeed in establishing three of these schools, one at Petite ate, one at Grand Marais and one in the town of Sandwich.
To teach in the Sandwich school he was fortunate enough to be able once again to obtain the high-calibre services of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, this time come to stay. On September 3, 1901, Sisters Roseanne, Théophane, and Claire-Isabelle opened their classes to 117 pupils. In the follow¬ing spring when the Mill Street building was awarded to the Protestant Board of Education, the Sisters were requested by the sheriff of the county to dismiss the students and hand over to him the keys of the school. In this sorry plight classroom quarters were improvised in the old chapel and old sacristy of the church and in one room of the rectory. Under these cramped conditions the educational work was carried on until March 25th of the following year. On that day a four-room school on the north side of Peter Street was blessed and opened to classes. It was named St. Francis-Xavier, presumably after the patron saint of the pastor. Although not an elected trustee, in those days the pastor was considered an honorary member of the Separate School Board and was invited to all the meetings.
Amidst all these undertakings the spiritual side of the parish was not neglected. It was in 1905 that Pope Pius X pub¬lished the decree advising the frequent and even daily reception of Holy Communion. Father Semande immediately applied himself with heart and soul to its implementation. To his un¬tiring zeal is due an admirable progress in the reception of the sacraments and the consequent promotion of piety among the faithful. His zealous efforts in the care of souls were ably seconded by the following confreres: Fathers B. Granottier, A. J. ate, A. J. Montreuil, Joseph Kennedy, T. Gignac, and P. Chalandard. Moreover, at regular intervals missions were preached by Jesuit and Redemptorist Fathers with abundant results.
In 1907 the old sacristy on the east side of the church and the retreat chapel on the west side needed replacement. Besides being dilapidated structures, their lean-to roofs covering most of the two front windows made that part of the church very dark. These two appendages had to be torn down. Once more Father Semande was given an opportunity to indulge his demolishing propensities. The scars of this severing operation are still visible on the front buttresses on both sides of the church. The plans called for both the new sacristy and chapel to be erected on the west side in such an arrangement as not to obstruct the flow of light through the church windows.
Construction was just getting under way in the summer of 1907 when Father Semande was called upon to exercise his proven business acumen as bursar of the college. He was succeeded at the church by his talented assistant Father Alfred J. Côté, also a native of La Rivière aux Canards. In 1921 Father Semande returned to the parish as assistant, where six years later he died while making his thanksgiving in the church he had so greatly improved during his pastorate of fourteen years.
The new house of prayer was called Rosary Chapel. The stained glass windows which bear the names of the donors, represent the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary. The main altar was donated by Ste. Anne’s Society, the side altars by Mr. Leo Page, and the sanctuary lamp by Mr. Adolphe Tournier.
In 1909 the cemetery was given a considerable face-lifting. The territory was enlarged, leveled, cleaned and surrounded by a fence, enhanced by three monumental gates. A roadway was constructed all around, and an iron cross was erected in the geographic centre. The total expenditure amounted to 2,000 dollars, all raised in two picnics.
Father Côté kept a running account of the improvements made during the rest of his pastorate. We’ll let the record book tell the story along with parts of Father’s delightfully refreshing commentary:
1910—A shed (200 by 32 feet) to shelter horses and carriages was constructed to replace the rows of hitching posts. A central wall divided the building lengthwise with twenty compartments on each side. The cost was $1,700. Stall spaces were rented for $2.50 a year.
1913—A porch was added to the presbytery which makes it very comfortable especially in the summer. It also gives the building a distinctive architectural appearance. Two side doors were opened up at the front entrance of the church at a cost of $2,700. This was a great necessity.
1914—Two latrines and a garage were constructed behind the church. They fill a great need.
[The garage was for a Model-T Ford that had been presented to Father Côté by the parishioners. This was a dangerous toy to place in the hands of Father Côté because he tended to be distracted while driving].
The wooden floor of the vestibule was replaced by terrazza. At the same time the whole vestibule was decorated.
1915—The electric lighting in the church was improved. The effect is like a revelation. The new fixtures light up the church perfectly and give it a fairy¬land appearance.
1919—At the beginning of the year a new organ was offered the church by Mr. W. J. McKee to replace the 1849 gift of his father-in-law Charles Baby and of his uncle Col. Arthur Rankin. The new instrument was erected by Casavant Frères at a cost of $6,500.
In the fall the old cross of the spire was falling into fragments. It was replaced by one of the same size and design but covered with copper. It is eleven feet high and the whole job cost $800.
The church roof was re-shingled. Shortly before Christmas a violent windstorm toppled three turrets and almost punctured the roof.
1920—The stained glass window of the Assumption above the main entrance of the church was donated by Mr. Jules Robinet.
The absence of any improvements from 1915 to 1919 makes us hark back to the sad years of World War I. During these anxious times many a house had one or more vacant chairs as the young men rushed to the colors or were claimed by the growing needs of the military service. Year after year aching hearts entertained the prayerful hope of getting the boys out of the trenches before Christmas. This objective was not reached until 1918. By that time a number of parishioners had made the supreme sacrifice. The names of those who lived in the town of Sandwich are inscribed on a monument erected to their memory in Ambassador Park along with an honor roll of those who daring to die survived.’
The second decade of this century saw important changes at St. Francis (for short) school. In ten years the student popu¬lation had more than doubled, necessitating additional space immediately. In September 1911 the old Mercer home adjoining the school grounds was acquired and converted into two classrooms. This was just a stop-gap measure that inadequately filled the bill until 1914 when new facilities were provided by the purchase and re-modeling of the old Canning Factory on the southwest corner of Peter and Détroit Streets. The new quarters provided comfortable space for 700 students. Assumption church supplied a good share of the funds for the annexed auditorium which was regularly used as a parish hall.
In the meantime St. Francis School had been selected as a place of practice and observation for teachers in training. This distinction made it imperative to have a staff holding Normal School Certificates. This academic requirement brought to Sandwich Sisters Veronica, Virginia and Rosalie–names that are still affectionately repeated by our senior parishioners.
1912 is very memorable in the parish annals because in September of that year the Holy Names Sisters took abode in our midst. No more three-mile journeys to and from school. The old Girardot homestead on Mill Street was rented and un-pretentiously called Holy Names Cottage. What a big cottage! A few years later when all the classes were moved across Peter Street the former St. Francis schoolhouse was transformed into a permanent home for the Sisters. They moved into Holy Names Convent and, happily for the parish community, they are still there. God alone can count the blessings that they have earned for our parochial family by their 55-year ministry of presence, action and prayer. With grateful hearts we can only say: “God be praised for sending us the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary. Ad multos annos!”
During his 14-year term as leader of the parish Father Côté was assisted in his pastoral work by the following curates: Fathers P. Chalandard, Joseph Kennedy, E. Plourde and D. Forestell. Besides being available for occasional sermons the priests at the college supplied help for the weekend ministry, especially at the so-called English Mass. Moreover, Jesuits and Dominicans preached retreats at regular three-year intervals, usually in Lent. Deserving of special mention because of its future spiritual impact is the one given in 1917 by the Dominican Fathers LeDuc and Piché, the latter a son of the parish. On that occasion 343 men enlisted in the Holy Name Society with the intention of corporate reception of Holy Communion on the second Sunday of each month.
In the report on the 1920 mission there is mentioned a variation in schedule that reflected the changing lingual com¬position of the parish. For the first time, a week was set aside for an English mission. This was a portent of things to come. Increasingly in the next decade Assumption will become a bilingual city parish as the population of Sandwich increases and as churches are opened in the predominantly French-speaking rural sections of Petite ate (1921) and Grand Marais (1929).
Even though Father Burns did not stay long in the parish, he left his mark, and a very good one it was. Up to his time the side altars were located in the main body of the church just outside the altar rail with a solid brick wall behind them. On either side of the sanctuary were the so-called stalls or cloisters that the college students had occupied for Sunday High Mass up to 1907 when their own chapel was built. For nearly twenty years these cloisters had not been used when Father Burns got a brilliant idea. In 1925 by a bold stroke of architectural genius he breached the brick wall in two places and surmounted the openings with graceful gothic arches. Then he pushed back the side altars to their present position with beautiful little sanctuaries in front. The effect of these alterations was stunningly pleasing, just as if they had been blue-printed in the original design of the church.
At the same time improvements were made in other parts of the church. The floor in the main sanctuary was covered with tile of a strikingly beautiful pattern. The communion rail, a gift of Mr. W. J. McKee, of exquisitely carved Italian marble was installed. The whole church interior was decorated in a very harmonious design that basically has lasted to this day. All this renovation still bears witness to Father Burns’ policy of excellence — what is worth doing is worth doing well.
After the First World War a considerable housing develop¬ment took place in the town area east of the church. This brought an influx of new families into the parish.
The school population increased so rapidly that St. Francis soon became overcrowded. Instead of enlarging that school, it was decided to build a new one on California Street. And so in September 1926 St. Anthony’s school opened its doors to a host of eager students with the Holy Names Sisters in charge.
The advent of numerous new families led Father Burns to another bold venture to declare an open-door policy in the pews. To symbolize the change he removed their swinging doors. This was a difficult item to sell. Certain pews had been held in families for generations. Some of the holders became so possessive that they had even equipped their pews with padded seats and kneelers. It required a lot of tact and patience to per¬suade these people of the urgent need of accommodating all the parishioners on a first-come – first-served basis. Of course, they could still occupy their accustomed pew if they arrived at the service early enough. To compensate the loss of pew-rent revenue a seat collection was instituted. It had been a bold step, but the proof that it was wise lies in the fact that it was soon followed by many other churches in the district.
As a pastor of souls Father Burns set a shining example. His kindness, scholarliness and understanding won the love of all and incurred the dislike of no one. His sermons, in English or French, were simple, clear and persuasive homilies. In every exercise of the pastoral ministry he set a difficult pace for his assistants who were: Fathers D. Forestell, E. Plourde, F. Semande, E. W. Allor, T. Roach and L. Beuglet, two at a time.
In the summer of 1926 because of failing health Father Burns had to be relieved of his administrative burden. He re¬turned to the college where he died two years later at the age of forty-four. Fortunately, the man best qualified to continue his excellent work was right on the scene in the person of Father Edward William Allor.
As a means of communication between all these organiza¬tions and the parish in general, a Sunday Bulletin was started on May 6, 1927. This publication has been uninterrupted for over forty years. Its weekly appearance has helped greatly to create an esprit de corps in the parish family.
Father Allor’s passion for order and tidiness led him to devote his immediate attention to the church surroundings. During his first two years in office the mud driveways from Huron Line and University Avenue were paved to keep the autos from getting stuck. The advent of the automobile had rendered obsolete the horse-and-buggy shed built less than two decades before. It was demolished to clear the way for the new tennis courts. At about the same time gothic-windowed rest rooms were annexed to the southwest corner of the sacristy.
Even the cemetery experienced the effects of the new pastor’s touch. The roadways were resurfaced, a water system installed, drainage restored and a toolshed built. To crown all these improvements an orbronze crucifixion group was erected in Calvary Section. The Ambassador Bridge Company during construction had promised to build an ornamental iron fence along Huron Line and Wyandotte Street, but reneged on the deal after the Stock Market Crash of 1929.
After these outside jobs were completed, the interior em¬bellishment of the church initiated by Father Burns was continued in the same solid and beautiful style. In 1928 carved panelling and furniture in quarter-cut oak were added to the sanctuary, a donation from the Altar Society. Mr. Garret Murphy presented an $800 baptismal font in Italian marble. At the same time the church lighting was improved by the installa¬tion of new bronze chandeliers financed by the Catholic Women’s League. At the main entrance bronze doors were hung — a $1,200 gift from Mr. H. E. Gignac.
The rest of Father Allor’s pastorate synchronizes with the economic depression that followed the market crash of 1929. During that dismal era parish societies dedicated themselves to the relief effort. The C.W.L. converted the hall of Rosary Chapel into a distribution centre for food and clothing. The Ushers Club conducted raffles to raise money for welfare work. All the other groups collaborated in these good works.
An inspiriting by-product of the depression was the notable increase in the number of people who assisted at Mass and devotions to storm heaven with their prayers. The Holy Name Society membership reached an all-time high of 800 with 500 receiving Holy Communion in a body on the second Sunday of each month. The Bulletins for that period frequently report more than 250 at corporate Communion for the Sodality of the Blessed Virgin. The Confraternity of the Blessed Eucharist was instituted with an initial membership of more than 600. The weekly Holy Hour attendance ranged from 800 to 1000.
During these dark days only necessary improvements were undertaken in the church. The major one was for the purpose of keeping a roof over the heads of the people. After some patching-up efforts had proven ineffective, in 1934 it became evident that a new roof was a necessity. Asbestos slates replaced the rotting wooden shingles. At the same time the steeple and minarets were repaired and copperized. Also the old wooden balustrade at the edge of the roof was replaced by one made of stone from the old Sandwich Goal. This is the last time that the name of Sandwich will be associated with Assumption parish because in 1935 the depression with its municipal bankruptcies forced the town into amalgamation with the city of Windsor.
In 1937 at the west end of the parish there were some two hundred families who had been impoverished by the depression and subjected to prevalent communistic influences. For lack of means or of living faith many of these people were not coming to church. So Father Allor decided to bring the church to them, and he erected the mission chapel of the Blessed Sacrament. The project was financed by the whole parish. The site chosen was on Prince Road near St. Edward’s school which had been opened in 1930 and named after the pastor. The original property, pur-chased for fifty dollars, consisted of eight lots appropriated by the city for non-payment of taxes. The enterprise, started in early spring, was brought to a happy conclusion on October 10th when the new structure was blessed by Bishop Kidd. The zealous and energetic Father G. H. Wilbur was placed in charge of the mission which later became an independent parish.
While the construction of Blessed Sacrament chapel was in progress, seventy men pledged themselves to act as canvassers and collectors to raise $14,000 to complete the renovation of the interior of the mother church. Besides a new hardwood floor and pews the project included two confessionals and wall-paneling in smoked oak. This last improvement added a pleasant warmth to the devotional atmosphere of the whole edifice.
When everything was trim and tidy at Assumption, another re-modeling job was beckoning Father Allor across the river to old Ste. Anne’s. He left Windsor late in 1937 with the reputa¬tion of being a great fixer. It was rightly said of him that he could fix anything from a clock to a cathedral. Happily, he has returned to Assumption as senior assistant, able to enjoy many of the improvements he directed a generation ago because he then built solidly and elegantly.
The following are the priests who served as curates during Father Allor’s eleven-year regime, usually three at a time: Fathers T. Roach, C. Kelly, A. J. Côté, E. J. Plourde, G. W. Todd, F. L. Burns, G. V. Sharpe, F. J. Crowley, A. D. O’Brien, G. H. Wilbur, L. Beuglet, F. Lyons, J. L. Rivard, B. O’Donnell, and J. Pope.
Most of Father Beuglet’s pastorate coincided with World War II. For the second time in a quarter of a century the call to arms was sounded. Brave young men and women rushed to join their chosen branch of the service as mobilization went on apace. The people at home were busy with munition plants running day and night. War-time housing to provide accom¬modation for these workers brought an influx of new families to the parish. The routine of daily life suffered little change except for its increased tempo and occasional black-outs and drills in preparation for possible enemy air raids.
It was in these circumstances that plans were made to cele¬brate the centenary jubilee of the church. In 1942 the chapel was painted and the interior decorations of the church were cleaned, renovated, and illuminated with touches of gold leaf. It is not clear, however, just what was celebrated. It may be that Father Beuglet had been misled by an old historical plaque on the church grounds stating that Assumption church was built in 1843. ‘Abuilding’ instead of ‘built’ would have been more accurate as the church was not completed until three years later.
In any case, week-long celebrations were held in the month of June. Separate days were set aside for different groups or intentions. After a Mass for peace the pastor blessed the parish honor roll listing more than 200 members in the armed forces. Very fittingly, the jubilee functions concluded on the feast of the Assumption with the unveiling and blessing of a souvenir stone placed on the grounds south of the tennis courts.
Among the gifts received by the church during the centennial year there were organ chimes, a large crucifix now hanging on the west wall and a statuary group of the Canadian Martyrs. This last donation is presently displayed in the vestibule where it serves as an eloquent reminder that Assumption parish has its roots in an Indian Mission started by a Jesuit priest among the descendants of a scattered remnant of the Huron Nation.
In his many endeavors Father Beuglet was ably assisted by the following confreres: Fathers J. L. Rivard, J. W. Pope, J. J. Murphy, G. V. Sharpe and S. A. Perdue. In an age of rush and trouble Father Beuglet moved quietly and calmly among his people and was able to comfort and strengthen many a soul by counsel which sprang from a heart that was firmly fixed on things divine. After spending himself generously for six years in the parochial ministry he suffered a serious illness that hospitalized him for several weeks. In the summer of 1944 he was replaced by Father James Alexander Donlon—the first son of the parish to become its pastor.
It was not long, however, before he had to make fresh acquaintances in order to be ‘all things to all men,’ when many new Canadians found a home in the parish in the post-war era. Their coming altered considerably the ethnological composition of the parish. From bilingual (French and English) it soon became multi-lingual with English the only common means of communication. The good of souls demanded that sermons be given in English. The pendulum had swung all the way from all French to no French from the pulpit. Of course, confessions continued to be heard in French as well as in Italian, German and Slavic languages.
It was in the midst of this post-war influx that the final dismemberment of the parish took place. In 1950 St. Patrick’s church was opened in the southeast section. Geographically Assumption parish was then reduced to an area of about two square miles, but soon again with the largest number of families ever on its rolls. This is a striking instance of our epoch’s flight of the people to the cities.
To serve this ever-increasing urban population there was need of more office space. This was provided by enclosing the rectory verandah. At about the same time a small meeting room was paneled and furnished in the basement. These facilities are still getting a lot of use for instructions and meetings. For instance, the St. Vincent de Paul Society has been holding its weekly meetings in the basement room ever since its establish¬ment in 1952.
The Marian year of 1954 was made very memorable in Assumption parish. In the spring the pastor was sent to the centennial celebrations at Our Lady’s shrine at Lourdes in France. On his return Father Donlon immediately proceeded to restore the decorations in the church by a thorough cleansing and retouching of the painted surfaces. Outside flood lights were installed to illuminate the façade and spire of the church. A $3,000 donation from Mr. Fred Pearson made it possible to erect in memory of his wife a beautiful metal statue of Our Lady of the Assumption in the front courtyard (see the last page). There Our Lady overlooks the territory that once bore her name when the locality was known as the Settlement of L’Assomption du Détroit. At about the same time an electric organ was procured for Rosary Chapel. All in all, Marian year was markedly com¬memorated at Our Lady’s parish.
For twelve years of his pastorate Father Donlon was an elected member of the Separate School Board for Ward Five of Windsor. His special responsibility was to present the educa¬tional needs in the west end of the city. His persevering efforts bore abundant fruit in 1957 when three new schools were opened—St. Francis, St. John and St. James (named after the pastor).
In this extensive program of school development old St. Francis Hall was demolished. Father Donlon started im¬mediately to plan for a new parish hall. In 1958 a site was purchased from the city at the corner of Détroit and Russell Streets.
In October of the following year the present spacious structure was completed at a total estimated cost of $150,000. In the lobby there stands a mural by Miss Evelyn McLean that graphically depicts the long history of Assumption parish. At the insistence of the parishioners the new building was named Donlon Hall. There his name will be immortalized. But most of all it will live in the hearts and homes of his former parishioners as the couples he married repeat with pleasure to their grandchildren the humorous stories Father Donlon told at their wed¬ding breakfast.
During his eighteen years as pastor of Assumption Father Donlon was ably assisted by the following curates, in teams of three: Fathers S. A. Perdue, J. L. Rivard, T. D. Batty, G. V. Sharpe, D. L. Forestell, C. J. Crowley, E. W. Allor, C. M. Kelly, L. M. Janisse, R. F. de Billy and H. P. Nolan.
Great was the astonishment of the parishioners in the summer of 1 962 when it was learned that Father Donlon was being transferred to St. Basil’s parish in Toronto. He had been so closely identified with Assumption for so long that the ex-pression ‘Father Donlon’s parish’ was becoming commonplace in Windsor and vicinity. He was replaced by Father Joseph Thomas Roland Janisse, a direct descendant of the stonemason and plasterer who had worked on the first chapel of the Assumption at this place more than two centuries before.
The first Constitution promulgated by the Council con¬cerned Sacred Liturgy, and it went into effect on the first Sunday of Lent 1965. In preparation a lectern and an altar for Mass facing the people were installed in the sanctuary. At the lectern lay readers were invited to take an active part in the divine services, and the old pulpit was used to direct congregational singing. The prayer of the faithful after the Gospel and homily was restored.
In response to the Pope’s call for a spiritual renewal of the whole Church a General Mission was announced for all the parishes in Essex County to be held in the spring of 1967. During the course of this three-year mission program parishes throughout the county were divided into zones for inter-parochial group action. Consequent upon an extensive sociological survey of the region Assumption was associated with three other parishes, namely, Blessed Sacrament, St. Paul’s and St. Patrick’s. To coordinate all phases of the undertaking a Mission Centre was opened in St. Alphonsus Hall in Windsor. From this source a constant stream of announcements and explanatory literature issued forth to direct the work aiming at a spiritual renewal of the region ‘in all aspects of its life, its institutions, and its people.’ Assumption parish, from the pastor to the school children, cooperated abundantly.
During his term of office Father Janisse was also in great demand as a lecturer in pastoral counselling. After three years of this double duty it was deemed advisable to permit him to devote more time to this important work for the benefit of a larger community. Father Francis J. McCarty was named to succeed him in the summer of 1965.
In the early part of Father McCarty’s pastorate Vatican Council II promulgated the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity. The new pastor was quick to seize the opportunity to implement its pastoral direc¬tives for a more effective exercise of the lay apostolate on the diocesan and parish levels. Dr. Cecil Birch was elected lay representative to the forthcoming diocesan synod. A parish Discussion Group was formed for the purpose of studying and planning some changes in the general structure of parish life. As a result of their work some preliminary and experimental steps were taken in the direction of the eventual establishment of a Parish Lay Council.
Three of the six prospective lay commissions were formed to study problems related to youth activities, church properties, and liturgy. The last-mentioned became the most active and was responsible for several significant achievements in the promotion of fuller participation by the congregation in the celebration of the liturgy. One of the first steps in this program involved a change in the Sunday Mass schedule allowing enough time for an offertory procession, and the introduction of an afternoon Mass for the benefit of the shift-workers in the area. The Youth Commission was responsible for the inauguration of a special Sunday Mass for young people at Donlon Hall. The Parish Properties Commission devoted much of its energies towards an attempt at resolving problems related to the shared use of the church parking lot. Besides, the following improvements were made in connection with the physical facilities of the parish: revision and modernization of the cemetery records, provision of a new access road to the cemetery, redecoration of the interior of Donlon Hall, and installation of a new heating unit in the rectory.
Further work by the Parish Discussion Group resulted in the establishment of three lay committees: one for the supervision and operation of Donlon Hall, another for the publication of the Sunday Bulletin, and a third for the planning of activities associated with the celebration of the 200th anniversary of Assumption parish.
After two years of preparation all parishes in Essex County entered into the final phases of the General Mission — the sessions of the Reflection Groups during the fall and winter and the two weeks of preaching during Lent of 1967. Although a considerable segment of the Catholic population did not seem quite ready for this modern type of mission, those who parti¬cipated did so with unusual enthusiasm. In the post-mission evaluation Assumption parish was linked with two others in the county as having enjoyed the greatest degree of success. Much of the credit for this accomplishment belongs to the two fine young Redemptorist missionaries who were given the preaching assignments in our midst.
It was about this time that a surprise report reached the ears of the parishioners — Father McCarty was going to leave Assumption. According to the annual appointments of the Basilian Fathers, at the end of June he would be replaced by a former curate, Father Clifford J. Crowley.
Father Crowley’s recent return to the parish has merely given us time to say “Welcome back to Assumption.” Immediately he immersed himself in the multitudinous details connected with the bicenntial celebrations that are being held this month of October 1967.
During the three pastorates treated as a unit in this final chapter the following priests served as assistants: Fathers C. M. Kelly, H. P. Nolan, H. J. Curran, L. M. Janisse, F. J. Lally, J. M. Rankin, E. W. Allor, V. A. Thomson, S. Rus and E. J. Lajeunesse.
Fr. Crowley’s next major undertaking was the building of a new rectory. For a century the priests of Assumption parish had taken their meals at Assumption College. With the impending move of the College Basilians to another location it became necessary to provide eating facilities for the rectory priests. The question was whether to attach a kitchen and din¬ing-room to the old rectory which was developing cracks in the exterior walls, or else to build a new residence. It was decided to follow the latter course. Under the supervision of Fr. Crowley, a master craftsman in his own right, a one-storey building was erected facing Huron Church Road at a cost of $150,000, one third of which was subscribed by the Basilian Fathers at Assumption University. An open-house was held in May 1970.
In April 1972 a testimonial dinner was given by the parish to honour Mr. Edward Tomajko who retired as church custodian after 43 years of devoted service. Before the end of his term of office Fr. Crowley arranged the return of the Plamondon oil-painting of Murillo’s ‘Assumption’. This ar¬tistic work had been presented to Assumption Church in 1846 by Judge Philippe Panet of Quebec. It was then erected above the main altar which was located near the centre gates of the present altar rail. When the sanctuary and apse were added in 1874 the painting was removed and preserved at As¬sumption College. After an absence of nearly a hundred years the ‘Assumption’ returned to its original home and was erected in the vestibule of the church. Presently it is at The Windsor Art Gallery awaiting transportation to Ottawa to be restored by the Canadian Conservation Institute at no charge to the parish.
In the summer of 1973 Fr. Roger F. deBilly succeeded Fr. Crowley. His first enterprise was to repaint the interior of the chapel in a very plain style, eliminating the emblems and the stencil designs. His tenure was abruptly ended in January 1975 when he was granted compassionate leave to be near his aged ailing mother in the Province of Quebec. Fr. Donlon administered the parish until a successor was named.
In September of 1975 Fr. Lawrence J. Carney came from St. Anne’s Church in Détroit to take over the reins of Assumption Parish. Fr. Carney had been very active in the Charismatic Movement. It was not long before the west end weekly meetings were transferred from Blessed Sacrament Parish to Assumption. Although somewhat decreased in numbers a goodly group continues to hold prayer and song sessions in Rosary Hall on Thursday evenings.
In February 1976 Assumption Church was designated an historical building by the City of Windsor. This definition cleared the way for our application for financial assistance from the Ontario Heritage Foundation. However, it took three years of negotiations before this agency agreed to include churches in its preservation program. This belated announcement in 1979 served as a catalyst for forming a Restoration Committee to conduct a financial campaign and later to direct the work. In preparation for the funding drive the diocese remitted a $100,000 parish debt. The parishioners responded generously to the appeal for monetary assistance. Substantial contributions were received from the Ushers’ Club, The Catholic Women’s League and religious communities. Fr. Carney saw the completion of the first phase of this work — the tuck-pointing of the exterior brick and masonry, the insulation of the attic and the rewiring of the electrical system.
Some significant changes were effected in 1980.
1. On the first of July of that year the management and maintenance of the cemetery was transferred to the Board of Heavenly Rest Cemetery of Windsor. This was welcome relief from a chore that had been a thorny burden for incoming pastors.
2. A Reconciliation room was built in the chapel by extending the north-east confessional. This alteration provides an option for the people who do not like the darkness of the confession ‘box’.
3. On December 21, twenty-six Auxiliary Ministers of the Eucharist were installed by Bishop Gervais. This authorization makes it possible for many sick and handicapped people to receive Holy Communion, particularly on Sunday and feast days in conjunction with the parish Mass.
To commemorate the 200th Anniversary of Fr. Potier’s death a bilingual historical plaque was dedicated in the fall of 1981. It has been erected by the Ontario Heritage Foundation on the lawn at the northeast corner of the church.
In the summer of 1982 Fr. Patrick J. Gorman came from Owen Sound to assume the pastoral duties at Assumption. He arrived at a time when the parish had many irons in the fire. His first twenty months of service were a period of intense activity. So much so that the improvements in the life and op¬eration of the parish can best be recorded by listing them in order of occurrence.
1. One of Fr. Gorman’s first moves was to plan the revival of the Parish Council which had fallen into desuetude. This reorganization was completed on November 14, 1982 with the election of twelve members, seven women and five men. Along with their committees they have conducted numerous enterprises, most noteworthy among them follow.
2. September 1982 saw the start of the second phase of the church restoration, the releading and recasting of the stained-glass windows by Excelsior Glass Company of Toronto. This work was completed in March 1984. The same firm is now giving a similar treatment to the windows of the chapel.
3. In November the C.W.L. sponsored the preparation of a Photo Directory of the parish. Due to technical problems it was a year in the making. The finished booklet is first-rate.
4. In the spring of 1983 the steam-heating line from the University of Windsor needed replacement. Instead, the University offered to install a gas furnace for heating the church and chapel at a cost of $50,000. The job was finished just in time to cope with the chilly spells of October weather.
5. In September 1983 a very successful mission was preached by Fr. Arthur Meloche, a long-time director of missions and retreats in Canada and the United States. More than three-hundred parishioners faithfully fol¬lowed the five-day exercises.
6. Toilet facilities at the church had long been at a mini¬mum. In the fall of 1983 it was decided to install a washroom near the east entrance. This construction necessi¬tated the relocation of the Usher’s room and remodelling of the wooden screen of the eastern confessional. This work was completed in February 1984.
7. In October 1983 the painting of the interior of the church and the refurbishing of the decorations was undertaken by the firm of Nichols & Nichols Ltd., a commission happily concluded before Easter 1984. Concurrently the sacristy and the chapel were redone in a chaste two-tone design.
8. In June, Vinyl Corlon floor covering was laid in the sacristy and under the pews of the church and chapel. Pure vinyl tiles were added in the aisles of the chapel. The aisles of the church and the sanctuary of the chapel were covered with carpet.
9. As a final touch of embellishment the statues and Stations of the Cross were restored and the glaring white of the altars was toned down to a sandstone tint.
10. Lastly, the temporary altar of sacrifice is being replaced by an oaken structure with matching lectern, all in harmony with the rest of the sanctuary furniture.
Action-filled, indeed, has been Fr. Gorman’s introduction at Assumption. All this high-pressured exertion was taking its toll on the stamina of this man of action, a victim of wanting to do too much too fast. In February he was advised to go away for a rest. Later he was relieved of the pastoral responsibility in the hope that this release would hasten his healing. Fr. Donlon was named temporary administrator of the parish and he supervised the final stages of the restoration until the arrival of the new Pastor at the end of June, 1984. Welcome to Assumption Parish, Fr. John A. Burke!
During the past seventeen years the following priests served as associate pastors: Frs. E. W. Allor, E. J. Lajeunesse, L. M. Janisse, S. Rus, J. A. Donlon, C. E. Lynch, D. C. Furlong, W. J. Stoba, L. C. Campbell, C. E. Watrin and J. T. Kelly.
One hundred and thirty-nine years after its opening for divine services the historic church of Our Lady of Assump¬tion, at a total cost of $750,000 has been given a new lease on life. Approximately one half of that amount came from The Ontario Heritage Foundation and Wintario. May this stately edifice long continue to shine as a beacon of faith, hope and love for the People of God.
Fr. Daniel Zorzi
Fr. John Reddy
Fr. Paul Walsh
Fr. William Riegel –
Fr. Don McLeod – September 2014 to June 2015
Fr. Maurice Restivo – June 2015 to present