Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 20, 2002
PEI priest tells tale of travelling priests
Province exported nearly 250 clergy to rest of Canada
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Oh, the good old days! Before the Second Vatican Council Prince Edward Island had so many men wanting to become priests that the island's bishops didn't know what to do with them.
"We don't need any more priests, we have enough," they would say, recommending the eager candidates to either go West or join religious congregations.
Almost 250 left the island to fill out pastoral positions in Western Canada and the United States, thus making P.E.I. famous as a priest-exporting island.
The majority of these priests served in missionary areas where clergy were scarce and the flock scattered and growing.
To the Edmonton Archdiocese alone 23 of those young men came, with two of them becoming bishops and one a cardinal. Calgary got 12 P.E.I.-born clergy and Winnipeg about the same number. A few also went to British Columbia.
Priests Away, a 251-page book by Father Art O'Shea, archivist/historian for the Diocese of Charlottetown, profiles the lives of each of these priests, 40 of them still living, who have brought honour to P.E.I. and have influenced the lives of many people across North America.
"This is a story I thought should be told because it's quite a story," O'Shea said May 13. He worked at it for five or six years, mostly in his spare time. "I just wanted to tell the story in a simple way and give them credit for it and let the people know. It's part of our history here on the island, part of our diocesan history."
Priests Away follows O'Shea's 1997 publication of Priests Who Have Served in the Diocese of Charlottetown 1829-1996 and is intended as a sequel to Prince Edward Island Priests, a 1935 book by Father James Donahoe containing the stories of 103 Island-born priests who had served outside P.E.I.
While Donahoe included lengthy material on most of the priests, O'Shea chose to limit the biographical data to the basic facts. Brief and dry as they are, the profiles give some insight into the lives and character of these men.
For example, Cardinal James McGuigan, who served as chancellor of the Edmonton Archdiocese and rector of St. Joseph's Seminary from the early 1920s until the late 1930s, is portrayed as a true ecumenist, who did much to reduce the evil of religious intolerance while serving as archbishop of Toronto following the Second World War. McGuigan died in Toronto in 1974.
The reader also learns that Bishop Leo Nelligan, who served as curate at St. Joseph's Basilica in the mid-1920s and became vicar general of the archdiocese in 1930, was an accomplished preacher.
"At the Edmonton cathedral his sermons attracted a steadily-growing congregation and commanded public attention," writes O'Shea. "While prominent as a spokesperson for the Church, he remained active in the whole community where he maintained cordial relations with government officials and non-Catholics alike."
Nelligan was appointed bishop of Pembroke, Ont., in 1937 and died in Windsor in 1974.
Some P.E.I.-born priests spent their entire priestly careers in the Edmonton Archdiocese. Chief among them is Msgr. Edmond Donahoe, who studied for the priesthood at St. Joseph Seminary and eventually became professor of canon law at the seminary.
He also served as administrator at Leduc and in 1970 became chancellor of the archdiocese. He was appointed administrator of the archdiocese in 1973 upon the retirement of Archbishop Anthony Jordan. Donahoe died in Edmonton in 1988.
O'Shea estimates P.E.I. has produced well over 500 priests since the establishment of the Diocese of Charlottetown in 1829, an overproduction that allowed it to export half of them to others parts of North America.
A great accomplishment too, O'Shea points out, given the fact the island has never had its own diocesan seminary.
What is about P.E.I. that attracts so many vocations? O'Shea mentions a number of factors, including the rural character of the island-province, its location, its quiet lifestyle and the strong Catholic background among its first immigrants-the Irish, the Scottish and the French.
The exportation of priests slowed down in the late 1960s and early 1970s but vocations have never been short at home. "We have enough for our own diocese; there is no need for us to complain," O'Shea said. "We don't maybe have as many as we had but we have plenty of priests."
P.E.I. has about 45 active priests for just over 40 parishes. Currently there are six seminarians studying for the Diocese of Charlottetown in seminaries in Toronto, London, Ont. and Mission, B.C.
Priests Away, one of six books by O'Shea, sells for $10 and can be obtained through the Diocese of Charlottetown.