Charlottetown, Diocese of (CAROLINAPOLITANA), includes all Prince Edward Island (formerly called St. John’s Island), the smallest province of the Dominion of Canada. It is situated in the southern waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and, together with the Magdalen Islands lying about sixty miles to the northeast of it, constitutes a diocese which takes its name from Charlottetown, the chief town of Prince Edward Island. The history of Catholicity in the territory now comprised in the Diocese of Charlottetown goes back to the year 1719, when all the islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence were granted by the King of France to Count Saint-Pierre, a nobleman of his court. Up to that time the population of Prince Edward Island consisted of a few Indians, but on its concession to Count Saint-Pierre immigration set in, and soon a number of settlements were formed, the chief one being at Port La Joie, where the count had established his headquarters. The first priest to labor in the new colony was Rene-Charles De Breslay, a Sulpician who came from France in April, 1721, and who was joined a few months later by Marie-Anselme de Metivier, a priest of the same community. These two priests remained only about two years, and on their return to France their place was taken by Franciscans, who for thirty years ministered to the spiritual wants of the colony. Meanwhile, by the influx of settlers from France and Acadia, the population had so increased that a system of parochial organization became necessary, and parishes were gradually formed, to preside over which four priests came from France by request of the Bishop of Quebec, whose diocese then comprised the whole of Canada. Thus, in 1753, five priests labored in Prince Edward Island, viz., Father Girard at Point Prim, Father Cassiet at Scotchfort, Father Biscaret at St. Peter’s, Father Dosquet at Malpeque, and Father Aubre, a Franciscan, at Port La Joie. Unfortunately, these prosperous conditions did not long endure. They gave way before the English invasion of 1758, when most of the people were driven out, the churches razed to the ground, and the clergy forced to leave the country. For these reasons Prince Edward Island was without a resident priest from 1758 till 1772, when there arrived an immigration of Scottish Catholics, accompanied by a priest, the Rev. James Macdonald, who continued in charge of the whole colony till his death in 1785. Five years later a second band of Scottish Catholics came to swell the population, bringing with them the Rev. Angus Bernard MacEachern, the most striking figure in the early history of Catholicity in the Diocese of Charlottetown.
At this time Father Le Roux labored in the Magdalen Islands, having been sent thither by the Bishop of Quebec to minister to the Acadians who had settled in that locality. He built a small church at the foot of Demoiselle Mountain on Amherst Island, where he remained till 1793, when he was succeeded by Father Alain. In 1798 two priests, Father De Calonne and Father Pichard, came to Prince Edward Island and took up their residence, the former in Charlottetown, the latter at Rustico. The first bishop to visit Prince Edward Island was the Rt. Rev. Pierre Denaut, Bishop of Quebec, who went there in the summer of 1803. In 1812 his successor, the Rt. Rev. Joseph-Octave Plessis, visited the Maritime Provinces, bringing with him a priest, the Rev. Jean-Louis Beaubien, whom he stationed at Rustico, and to whom he entrusted the spiritual care of all the Acadian missions in Prince Edward Island and the Magdalen Islands. In the year 1819 Father MacEachern was named titular Bishop of Rosea, and received episcopal consecration in Quebec June 17, 1821. The following year witnessed the ordination at Quebec of the first native priest, Father Bernard Donald Macdonald, who returned home in the early autumn to take charge of the Acadian missions. The Bishop of Rosea at first was merely vicar-general to the Bishop of Quebec, and, though performing episcopal duties throughout the greater part of the Maritime Provinces, he did so without independent jurisdiction. But in August, 1829, Charlottetown was raised to the dignity of an episcopal see, and the Rt. Rev. Angus Bernard MacEachern became its first bishop. Besides Prince Edward Island and the Magdalen Islands, the new diocese comprised the whole of New Brunswick.
On taking possession of his see, one of the first duties to devolve on Bishop MacEachern was to establish an institution for the education of students destined for the priesthood, and accordingly St. Andrew’s College was founded at St. Andrews, Prince Edward Island, in November, 1831. On April 22, 1835, the first Bishop of Charlottetown died and was succeeded by the Rev. Bernard Donald Macdonald, consecrated bishop at Quebec, October 15, 1837. Five years later the diocese was dismembered, New Brunswick being made a separate diocese, with the see at, St. John. Bishop Macdonald closed the college at St. Andrews in 1844, and in the beginning of the year 1855 the present College of St. Dunstan opened its doors to its first students. On the 28th of September, 1857, four sisters of the Congregation of Notre-Dame opened a convent in Charlottetown, where they began to give instruction to about sixteen pupils. Bishop Macdonald was called to his reward December 30, 1859, and in the following year his successor, the Rt. Rev. Peter MacIntyre, received episcopal consecration in the cathedral of Charlottetown, August 15, 1860. The episcopate of Bishop MacIntyre covered a period of over thirty years, during which many churches and schools were erected throughout the diocese. He died April 30, 1891, and was succeeded by the Rt. Rev. James Charles Macdonald, who had been named coadjutor with right of succession in the preceding year.
Catholicity is flourishing in the Diocese of Charlottetown. A population of fifty thousand, under the guidance of forty-five priests, worship in fifty-one churches, of which many are neat and elegant structures. Eight convents, wherein fifty nuns of the Congregation of Notre-Dame give instruction to over one thousand pupils, and St. Dunstan’s College, with a roster of one hundred and thirty students, tell what is being done for Catholic education, whilst a fully-equipped hospital, under the care of the Sisters of Charity of Quebec, furnishes relief to the sick and suffering.
J. C. MACMILLAN