SWING to the unfortunate destruction by fire of the first Roman Catholic Church in Port Hope, all the records which could throw any light on the early history of this congregation have been lost. It has therefore only been possible to secure from some of the older residents of the Town a few facts concerning the first church erected by the Roman Catholics. Though the exact date of the erection of this Church is unknown, it was very probably built about the same period as the Presbyterian and Methodist Churches. It was a narrow and lofty frame structure standing on the same site as the present Church and possessing a steeple of medium height. During all the years of its existence it was not supplied with a resident priest but the priest at Cobourg, the Rev. Father Timlin, attended to both parishes.
This early edifice was not destined to stand for long. It was fired by incendiaries one evening in August 1851 and completely destroyed. The Town Council offered a reward of for the apprehension of the perpetrators of the outrage, but the guilty parties were never brought to justice.
On the destruction of their Church, the Catholic community secured the use of McDermot & Walsh’s store-house, situated near the present site of the Brewery, but, before they had held a single service in it, incendiaries had again burned it about their ears. Services were thereafter held in Porter’s building to the rear of Curtis’ Grocery, in the Town Hall and in a hall where Mr. Skitch now keeps his grocery store, until the present Church was erected in 1854. Meantime a resident priest had been sent to Port Hope to in some way compensate for the loss of the old Church. This was the Rev. Father O’Keefe who resided in Port Hope until June 1858 and who was instrumental in building the present edifice.
The Church of St. Mary, Star of the Sea, was dedicated by his Lordship Bishop Phelan of Kingston on October 7th, 1855. It comprised the present Church, minus the steeple, though the interior has since been greatly altered also. The cost of the building was about $10,000 and in addition a further expense of $3,000 was incurred in securing the organ from Boston. This instrument is of exquisite tone and workmanship and adds greatly to the effect of the choral service.
In 1858 the Rev. Father Madden became parish priest in succession to Father O’Keefe and for eight years he remained in charge of the parish. Then came Father O’Keane in December of 1866 and after living here but a very short time, the Very Rev. Father Brown succeeded to the parish on July 1st, 1869. Father Brown during his twenty-one years’ stay in Port Hope won for himself the deepest respect among all classes of the community and his departure in 1890 was much regretted by all who knew him. He possessed artistic capabilities which were early devoted to rendering the interior of the church more beautiful and appropriate. He left the building practically as it is today.
On entering the Church the words of the angels’ anthem,
GLORIA IN EXCELSIS DEO ET IN TERRA PAX HOMINIBUS BONE
VOLUNTATIS, high up above the chancel immediately attract the eye. There are three stained-glass windowsone large one above the altar and two smaller ones at the sides of the chancel. The two latter were presented by Miss Foran and have since become memorials by reason of her untimely death. The three represent the chalice, grapes and wheat. Over the tabernacle are three statuesSt. Joseph, the Sacred Heart and the Blessed Virgin, while paintings in relief of angels and saints surround the altar. Between the windows of the Church are fourteen colored pictures representing various steps in the crucifixion of Christ and high on the walls are small paintings bearing Latin inscriptions. An organ loft stretches across the building over the entrance. In addition to these internal improvements, Father Brown was also instrumental in having the steeple added. The building was re-opened by his Grace Archbishop Clery of Kingston.
In May, 1890, the present priest, Father Lynch, succeeded to the parish. His residence here has been marked by the improvements which have been made to the grounds surrounding the Church.
St. Mary’s Church was at first in the Diocese of Toronto but was subsequently changed to that of Peterboro’ when that Diocese was formed. The Bishop of Peterboro’ at present is Bishop O’Connor. It is also in the Archbishopric of Kingston,.having been formerly in that of Toronto.
In concluding this necessarily brief sketch, it may be noted that the steeple has been twice struck by lightning and the cross at the top has been twice blown down, all four accidents entailing considerable expense in restoration.