Parish of Isle Madame 1852-1862

Pictured is the Bishop’s Palace and Notre Dame de l’Assomption Church in Arichat with its orginal single-steeple design.

Arichat is the oldest parish in the Diocese of Antigonish. This is the fifth installment recounting its history.

When Bishop MacKinnon was consecrated in February of 1852, Father Etienne Chartier was in service responsible for both Arichat and D’Escousse. Fr. Chartier was scheduled to leave Arichat in the spring of 1852. In March of that year, he wrote to Bishop MacKinnon offering to retain the pastorate.

It was no secret that Chartier considered Arichat a very lucrative posting. Whether this figured into the decision of the bishop to decline the offer is not known. Fr. Chartier was paid until June 1.

The next rector at Arichat was Father William B. MacLeod. A native of Arisaig, he was sent to Lower Canada as a young lad of 15 for high school, college, and seminary studies. This was a 10-year term and not once during that time did he return home. A year later, in 1853, MacLeod was joined by Father Hubert Girroir as assistant priest. It was in the summer of this year that the combined college/seminary school opened at Arichat in the former Hubert estate.

In 1854, Father MacLeod was transferred to his home parish of Arisaig, and Father Girroir became rector at Arichat.

The cathedral parish encompassed the village of Little Arichat (now West Arichat). In 1854, Bishop MacKinnon proposed the building of a school in that community. A committee was struck and subscriptions were collected to the tune of 100 pounds 12 shillings 6 pence. The new school was to be 35 feet long, 25 feet wide and ready for occupancy in September of that year.

Although Bishop MacKinnon was in Arichat only five years, his tenure had a profound effect on the parish. It was he who changed the name of the parish to Notre Dame de l’Assomption, and it was he who brought to Arichat the magnificent oil painting by Appollonio that graces the wall behind the altar. He also imported from Philadelphia in 1858 the imposing and somewhat iconic Bergen pipe organ. Both the painting and the organ continue to play important roles in church ritual and act as reminders of the church’s more illustrious past.

Bishop MacKinnon was a stout supporter of bringing educational opportunities. Although it was Fr. Girroir who worked untiringly to bring the teaching order, Les Freres des Ecoles Chretiennes, to the parish in 1860, Bishop MacKinnon’s support was instrumental in securing the brothers.

In addition, during the bishop’s watch, the college, which was to later become St. Francis Xavier University, came into being. In 1856, Bishop MacKinnon welcomed the sisters of le Congregation de Notre Dame to Arichat to provide for a general education for the girls of the region.

In the decade of the 1850s, D’Escousse was served, spiritually by Father Joseph Goudot from 1853 to 1859 and replaced by Father William B. MacLeod.

In the 1850s, the pastor at L’Ardoise, as already documented, was Father Julien Courteau who was responsible also for River Bourgeois and Potlotek First Nation.

It is noteworthy in the religious history of Potlotek, which was firmly Catholic by 1749, that in 1849 a group of Protestants in Halifax formed the “Micmac Missionary Society” whose purpose it was to bring their flavour of religious philosophy to Potlotek. Achieving no success, the group became defunct some time after 1865.