Newfoundland, a British colony of North America (area 42,734 square miles), bounded on the north by the Strait of Belle Isle, which separates it from its dependency Labrador (area 120,000 square miles), on the east and south by the Atlantic Ocean, and on the west by the Gulf of St. Lawrence, lies between 46° 35′ and 51° 40′ lat. N., and 52° 35′ and 59° 25′ long. W. It was the first portion of North America discovered by European voyagers. The Cabots sailed from Bristol in 1497, and on June 24 of that year, the festival of St. John the Baptist, they landed in the harbor to which they gave the name of St. John’s, which it bears to the present day. The Cabots, like all the early navigators, had in view not only the discovery of new lands, and the increase of the power and wealth and territory of the mother country, but also the spread of the Gospel and the eonversion of the heathens to the Christian Faith. Hence they brought with them priests and missionaries. Those who accompanied Cabot were Augustinians or “Black Friars”. We may be sure that Mass was celebrated on these shores in 1497.
In the year 1500 the Portuguese under Gaspar de Cortereal took possession of the country and founded the settlement and Church of Placentia. In 1534 the French voyager, Jacques Cartier, visited the country, and explored the Gulf of St. Lawrence. He also had chaplains with him who celebrated Mass at Catalina in Newfoundland, and Brest, or Old Fort, on Labrador. In 1622 Lord Baltimore founded his colony of Ferryland. He brought out three Jesuit Fathers with him, and had Mass celebrated regularly, “and all other ceremonies of the Church of Rome were used in ample manner as ’tis used in Spain.” Such was the complaint made against him to the Board of Trade by the Protestant clergyman, Mr. Stourton. In 1650 the French founded a church at Placentia on the site of the one abandoned by the Portuguese. But none of those attempts succeeded. The real foundation of the Catholic Church in Newfoundland is due to priests from Ireland, who came out towards the close of the eighteenth century.
The population of the country by the last census, taken in 1901, was 217,037. Of these the Catholics number 75,657, members of the Church of England 71,470, Methodists 60,700. The remainder belong to different denominations, viz. Presbyterians, Congregationalists, etc.
All denominations are equally recognized by the law, and there is no Established Church. In the early history of the country the Catholics were looked on as a proscribed class by the governors of the time, who were generally commanders of British warships. Priests were hunted and persecuted, people who harbored them, or permitted Mass to be celebrated in their houses were fined, imprisoned, and flogged, and their houses either burned or pulled down. In one unique case a house where Mass had been celebrated was towed into the sea and sunk. These acts were undoubtedly illegal, as there was no law in the statutes of the country penalizing the exercise of the Catholic Religion, but the penal laws of Ireland were supposed to be applicable to Newfoundland. However, the principle would not work both ways, and when Catholic Emancipation was granted to Ireland these same interpreters of the law held that the privileges of Emancipation did not apply to Newfoundland. During the whole course of his episcopate Bishop Fleming fought against these injustices and finally succeeded in obtaining full freedom for the Catholics.
In educational matters Catholics also enjoy every freedom. The denominational system is established by law. A sum is granted by Government amounting to about $1.13 per caput of the population, or $5.25 per pupil actually attending school. It is true this amount is small as compared with some of the Canadian Provinces, or States of the Union, but a large amount is paid by private individuals to Catholic colleges and convents which is not included in the above figures. The results compare most favorably with those of other countries. About thirty years ago a branch of the Irish Christian Brothers was introduced, an immediate impulse was given to education throughout the island, and it is now at a very high standard. The Brothers have charge of two very large schools in St. John’s—St. Patrick’s and Holy Cross schools. There are ten classrooms, containing about a thousand boys. The Brothers also have charge of the college in which some three hundred boys are educated, sixty being boarders. Here are trained the pupil-teachers who will have charge of the public schools throughout the island. The college is affiliated to the Oxford Examining Board and the London University Board. A local council of higher education (non-denominational) looks after the local Examinations.
The Rhodes bequest gives three places for Newfoundland in perpetuity. They are all filled this year for the first time, and of the three occupants two are pupils of the College of St. Bonaventure. There are thirteen convents of Sisters of the Presentation Order in the country (9 in St. John’s Diocese, 3 in Harbor Grace, and 1 in St. George’s), and eight convents of the Sisters of Mercy (5 in St. John’s, 2 in Harbor Grace, and 1 in St. George’s). The Presentation Sisters have free schools, the nuns being paid out of the Government grant. The Sisters of Mercy have, besides free schools, a paying school and a boarding academy. The total number of children attending school is over 13,000. There are also two orphan asylums, or industrial schools, one under the Sisters of Mercy for girls, and one under the Christian Brothers for boys. These contain about 200 orphans, or one for every 375 of the Catholic population, which, considering that this is a maritime and fishing colony, and the losses at sea are abnormal, is not an excessive number.
The Catholic religion is not only holding its own, but advancing rapidly in Newfoundland. The most harmonious relations exist between the different denominations, which are only interrupted on occasions of public excitement, when persons aspiring to political position and honors do not scruple to stir up feelings of religious bigotry and theological hatred among the more simpleminded of the people. A great future is opening up for the country. Large industries are being started in the interior, the scene of the new developments being principally in the Dioceses of Harbor Grace and St. George’s.
M. F. HOWLEY