Church-building in the Forest

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER VI (10) start of chapter

In 1833 Father Gordon determined to commence the work of church building in the forest, and his first effort was successfully made on the confines of Adjala and Tecumseth, where he resolved on erecting a log church. Assembling the people, he asked them to assist him in the good undertaking. They were delighted with his proposal, and willingly placed themselves at his command.

'There is one thing, boys, you must also promise me,' said the priest.

'Why, then, whatever it is, your reverence, we'll promise it, sure enough.'

'Well, boys,' continued Father Gordon, 'whiskey is like the devil—it is the father of mischief, and you know it is one of the greatest enemies of our race and country. It makes the best friends fall out, and it is the cause of violence and murder.'

A chorus of voices—'True for your reverence—'tis the blessed truth.'

'Well, then,' continued the good pastor, 'I want you to join me in performing one of the most acceptable works which man can perform for his Creator; that is, to raise a temple to His honour and glory, in which you and your children can worship the Great Being who has watched over you, and protected you and yours in the midst of this forest. I ask you to consecrate this great work by an act of self-denial which will be pleasing in His sight. I want you to promise me that you will not drink a drop of anything this day but water from that beautiful spring, fresh and sparkling from the hand of God, while you are engaged in erecting the temple to His honour. Promise me this, and you will have a blessing on your work, and you will bring gladness to the heart of your priest.'

The promise so solemnly solicited was given with one impulse, and it was religiously kept. Animated by the right spirit, the brave fellows addressed themselves to their labour of love; and so earnestly did they work that they cleared an ample space, as if by magic, and before the night set in they had erected a log church, 50 feet by 30, on the same spot on which now stands one of the finest ecclesiastical buildings in Canada. While the work was proceeding the poor priest was attacked with ague, and he was compelled to lie at the foot of a great tree on a couch constructed of the coats of the hardy church-builders. When the crisis, passed he was again in their midst, assisting them by advice or cheering them by a kindly word; but during that clay he was frequently driven beneath the pile of clothing by a new paroxysm of his disorder. In a similar manner the same indefatigable priest erected six other churches in the course of three years: and so careful was he in selecting the best sites, as to position, convenience, and conspicuousness, that in every case these primitive structures have been replaced by good churches, solidly built, with comfortable dwellings for the priests attached. These churches, erected in the midst of the forest, are now every Sunday surrounded by forty or fifty 'waggons,' many of them with a pair of good horses, the property of the substantial yeomanry, nay the gentry of the country, who, little more than a quarter of a century since, were penniless emigrants, with no friend save Providence, and no capital other than their strength, their industry and their intelligence. Let us take one of these pioneers of civilisation as an instance of what in those days they had to endure.

The Irish in America, first published in 1868, provides an invaluable account of the extreme difficulties that 19th Century Irish immigrants faced in their new homeland and the progress which they had nonetheless made in the years since arriving on a foreign shore. A new edition, including additional notes and an index, has been published by Books Ulster/LibraryIreland:

Paperback: 700+ pages The Irish in America

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