First years of StFX in Arichat

Having secured adequate funding for his fledgling school, Bishop MacKinnon realized that the success of this venture now rested on procuring a competent teaching staff.

He convened a group at Arichat called “the friends of the Seminary” who nominated trustees. The nominees were Henry Martell, Simon Donovan, Thomas LeNoir, John Fuller senior, and Captain Babin. Henry (Honoré) Martell represented the Township of Arichat in the Provincial Legislature and John Fuller had sent the petition for renewal of the Arichat Academy grant to the provincial assembly. This body assumed responsibility for hiring staff and generally supervising the operation of the new institution.

Next was MacKinnon’s task of finding a rector for the college/seminary. Bishop MacKinnon was made aware of an outstanding student studying in Rome. John Schulte was a Prussian of exceptional piety and talent who had expressed an interest in serving in North America. Schulte had earned both a Ph.D. and a D.D. and was fluent in five languages: German, Italian, English, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. MacKinnon requested that Schulte be ordained and sent to his diocese. And so it was that a 27-year-old priest-professor became the first rector, spiritual director, and professor of theology, philosophy and Italian of what was to become St. Francis Xavier University.

Rounding out the founding staff were Rev. Herbert Girroir, Roderick MacDonald, and John Fuller. Girroir was from Tracadie, the first native Acadian priest of the diocese. Only 29 years old, he was already at Arichat having served as assistant priest and rector of the cathedral. He taught Christian doctrine and French.

MacDonald was young also. The 27-year-old hailed from Margaree and was responsible for mathematics, Latin, and Greek. He went on to a distinguished career at the university. John Fuller was an Arichat native who taught elementary English. This first staff certainly had an international flavour: a Prussian, an Acadian, a Scot, and an Anglo.

But by the end of the first year of the Arichat school only John Fuller remained of the initial staff. Schulte and MacDonald moved to Pictou and Antigonish. Enter Rev. Dr. John Cameron of South River. He was only 27 years old and had spent the last 10 years studying in Rome earning doctoral degrees in philosophy and divinity. He was joined by Charles Martell teaching the art of singing, Dr. Alexander MacIntyre mathematics and navigation, D. Villeroy taught French, and John Fuller was the instructor of English.

By December of that first year, 1853, there were 12 would-be seminarians in the “old Hubert big house.” Their daily life, though quite confined, was not unduly arduous. Classes began at 10 o’clock in the morning, there was a free hour-and-a-half after lunch, and further free time from six o’clock until supper.

Year one graduated four students to further theological studies at the Grand Seminary in Quebec: Kenneth MacDonald, Thomas Sears, William Chisholm, and Martin Gillis. Unfortunately, three of these four youngsters fell victim to poor health and one of these, Martin Gillis, died within three months. Sears and Chisholm eventually recovered and went on to the priesthood.