Ingonish’s Catholic Church marks anniversary

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INGONISH — There was a sense of joy in celebrating the centennial year of a church built on the principles of devotion and hard work.

Young women from Ingonish attend a religious retreat at the Villa Madonna in Little Bras d'Or in 1957.

On Sept. 8, the congregation of St. Peter's Catholic Church in Ingonish, celebrated its 100th anniversary at a time when many churches are closing.

Ingonish native and local historian Ken Donovan says the first permanent Catholic Church was built at Ingonish in 1857. It was later replaced by a wooden structure that was razed by fire in 1911.

As a result of this tragedy, the community banded together to build a cement church in 1913 — a magnificent and airy structure with emerald accents.

"It was a giant effort for a small community," said Donovan. "As in many small communities, you go around and you look at the churches and you say, 'Wow, somebody actually built these things.'"

Donovan said beginning in the 1520s, the Basque and French started fishing off the coast of Cape Breton and coming ashore at Ingonish. However, the modern settlement of the community did not begin for another 300 years.

Irish Catholics first came to Ingonish during the 1820s and by the 1850s they had settled in what became known as the Whitty and MacKinnon “intervales” of South Ingonish and the Clyburn Valley of Ingonish Centre.

Hailing from the southeast coast of Ireland, Donovan said these immigrants brought with them their Roman Catholic faith and their cultural traditions.

Eventually the Irish would be joined by some Catholic Highland Scots as well as a few Acadians from Little Bras d’Or.

"They would have brought in the cement, but all the gravel and all the labour and all of the wood is all local," said Donovan of the church structure. "The Catholic Church talks about that, they say 'Well the (churches) are really the people.' But I think with buildings, buildings mean a lot, especially the churches because you have baptisms, weddings and funerals and they carry a special meaning."

Donovan said at the time St. Peter's was constructed, everyone in the church community contributed in their own way.

The gravel for the concrete was hauled from the Clyburn River. Meanwhile local residents Paddy Doyle and his son Tom, together with Tom Barron and his grandson Jim, hauled up to 10 loads of gravel per day from morning to evening and the concrete was mixed by hand at the church.

Meanwhile, the main wooden beam of the church was cut and hauled from up behind Warren Lake.

And wood came by way of Johnny Barron, who along with his brothers Tommy and Godfrey, donated much of the lumber for the church from their mill at Ingonish Harbour.

On Aug. 15, 1915, Fr. Ronald Rankin, who had witnessed the burning of the church, blessed the bell which is still in the church today.

At the time it was built, Donovan says religion was a vital element in the lives of the people in terms of education, health care and social welfare.

Devout parishioners would often make a 14-mile, round-trip trek to church for mass.

Now a part of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park, the St. Peter's Church is often an attraction for tourists and golfers at nearby Cape Breton Highlands Links golf course.

"You see people stopping by and talking pictures all the time of the church, it's quite striking and it's in beautiful condition, so it's a bit of an icon for the bottom of the hill there," said Donovan.

Donovan said the recent celebration included Bishop Brian Dunn of the Diocese of Antigonish and many former Ingonish parish priests. Also in attendance were numerous sisters and members of St. Martha's and the Sisters of Charity.

"It was a good news story and the church was filled to capacity," said Donovan. "People were so happy because they were reconnecting with people and I don't think I've ever seen people so happy. I just mean that, sheer joy."

Organizations: Breton Education Centre Interact Club

Geographic location: Fox Run, New Waterford, 18th Street Cape Breton

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Recent comments

  • For Shame
    September 15, 2013 - 14:39

    Not a single mention of a certain priest who helped rally the community of Ingonish together to repair the church in the late 90s? It was a dump before it was lovingly restored by him and the community.

  • Times Have Changed
    September 14, 2013 - 11:17

    Did you notice how modestly dressed the young women are. Today they would be half naked or forced into tight jeans with bulges of fat around their hips. All the girls in this picture are not only pretty but very slender. Compare this with a similar number of young women today in any Canadian community. The majority would be over weight or Obese while dressed like Hollywood Tramps. So much for progress!

    • None of your Business
      September 14, 2013 - 15:38

      So much for progress that a woman cannot choose to dress how she pleases without people like you commenting on her modesty as if it is something that matters. The times haven't changed at all it seems.