Antigonish (Micmac, nalagitkooneech, “where the branches are torn off”), is the shiretown of the county of the same name in Nova Scotia. On the 23d of August, 1886, it was made the see of one of the dioceses constituting the ecclesiastical province of Halifax. The first see was Arichat. The diocese takes in the three easternmost counties of Nova Scotia proper, with the whole island of Cape Breton. Up to 1817, Nova Scotia formed a part of the Diocese of Quebec; in that year it was erected into a vicariate, and the Right Rev. Edmund Burke appointed vicar Apostolic. He was succeeded, in 1827, by the Right Rev. William Fraser. On the 21st of September, 1844, the vicariate was divided, and two dioceses were formed, the sees being Halifax and Arichat. Bishop Fraser was appointed to the latter see. An alumnus of the Scottish College at Valladolid, he was a strong man, physically and mentally fitted to play the part of pioneer missionary bishop. He died October 4, 1851, and was succeeded, February 27, 1852, by the Right Rev. Colin Francis MacKinnon, D.D., a graduate of Propaganda. He was a man of apostolic zeal, and of singularly amiable character. Failing health led him to resign, January 19, 1877, when his coadjutor, the Right Rev. John Cameron, D.D., also a graduate of Propaganda, and consecrated at Rome, May 22, 1870, became administrator of the diocese. On his resigning this charge, Bishop MacKinnon was made titular Archbishop of Amida. He died two years later, September 26, 1879.
Within the Diocese of Antigonish is the historic town of Louisbourg. As far back as 1604 French priests were in Nova Scotia, then known as Acadie, or Acadia. Between that date and the taking of Louisbourg by the English in 1758, the indefatigable missionaries of France busied themselves with the evangelization of the native Micmacs. The fact that the whole tribe still hold fast the faith preached to them, despite the efforts made from time to time to rob them of it and the paucity of priestly laborers in the fifty years that followed the fall of Louisbourg attests the thoroughness with which the early Recollet and Jesuit Fathers did their work. Till the closing years of the eighteenth century, some hundreds of the aborigines, together with a remnant of the first French settlers, known as Acadians, and a few Irish families, made up the Catholic population of what is now the Diocese of Antigonish. In 1791, the first party of Catholic immigrants from the Scottish Highlands reached Pictou in two ships. Driven from their native braes and glens by the rapacity of the landlords, who turned their ancestral holdings into sheepwalks, they found new homes and free holdings in the wild woods of Nova Scotia. From this time forward the tide of Scottish immigration gathered strength, until it reached its highest point in 1817. In July, 1802, about 1,500 Highland Scottish Catholics were settled along the shores of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. For the greater part of the time they were without a priest, save for the occasional visits of the Rev. Angus Bernard Mac-Eachern afterwards Bishop of Charlottetown, P. E. I., who braved the perils of the sea in an open boat to bring them the consolations of religion. In the same year two priests came out from Scotland, and these in time were followed by others. They shared with their people the hardships incident to pioneer life in “the forest primeval.” Among the priests who labored during the first two decades of the nineteenth century in the territory now comprised in the Diocese of Antigonish were Abbe Le-j amtel, among the Acadians; the Reverends Alexander MacDonnel, William Chisholm, and Colin Grant, in the Scottish settlements on the mainland; the Reverend James Grant, an Irish priest, in Antigonish; the Reverend Alexander MacDonnell in the Scottish settlements in Cape Breton, and Father Vincent, founder of the Trappist Monastery at Tracadie, among the Micmacs and Acadians. The last-named, known in the Gaelic-speaking communities as A Sagart Ban, or White Priest, from the flowing white robe of his Order, which he wore also on his missionary journeys, was a man of singularly holy life. The first session of the court, appointed in 1905 to inquire into his title to sainthood, was held in June, 1906.
St. Francis Xavier’s College, established at Antigonish in 1855, and endowed with university powers in 1866, is the chief seat of learning. Mt. St. Bernard, an academy for young ladies, conducted by the Sisters of Notre Dame, is affiliated to St. Francis Xavier’s. The Sisters of Notre Dame have eight other convents within the diocese; the Sisters of Charity, six; the Daughters of Jesus, lately come from France, four; the Sisters of St. Martha, one. The Trappists, at Petit Clairvaux, Tracadie, are the only religious order of men. In 1871, the Catholic population was 62,853; in 1891, it was 73,500, of whom about 42,000 were Highland Scotch, 19,000 French, 11,000 Irish, and 1,500 Micmacs. The present population is in the neighborhood of 80,000. There are 101 priests, including 11 Trappists, 67 churches with resident pastors, and 34 missions with churches.