St. Dunstan’s Catholic Church

St. Dunstan's Catholic Church

St. Dunstan’s Catholic Church

Here’s an alternative version of the history of St. Dunstan’s Catholic Church:

As far back as 1611, the region of Fredericton was frequented by Recollect and Jesuit missionaries who focused on evangelizing the local Indian population and providing religious services to French settlers.

In 1674, Quebec was established as an Episcopal See, and priests were dispatched from this Diocese to serve the newly converted Indians, Acadians, and recent Catholic settlers from the British Isles. However, by 1758, the French inhabitants had vacated the area now known as Fredericton. The absence of a Catholic church in Fredericton for approximately 70 years compelled Catholic families to journey to French Village, roughly 11 miles distant, for Sunday mass.

St. Dunstan's Catholic Church

St. Dunstan's Catholic Church

During this interval, a French-speaking priest would visit Fredericton monthly to hold mass for the primarily Irish, English-speaking residents. These masses were held in a house owned by the Donnelly family, located at the intersection of Northumberland and King Streets. Since the parish was under the jurisdiction of the Quebec Diocese, Bishop Plessis made a visit prior to 1825. The parish later fell under the care of the English-speaking Diocese of Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. In homage to the Cathedral Church there, the new Fredericton parish chose St. Dunstan as its patron saint for the local Catholic church.

St. Dunstan's Catholic Church

St. Dunstan's Catholic Church

St. Dunstan's Catholic Church

 

St. Dunstan's Catholic Church

During this interval, a French-speaking priest would visit Fredericton monthly to hold mass for the primarily Irish, English-speaking residents. These masses were held in a house owned by the Donnelly family, located at the intersection of Northumberland and King Streets. Since the parish was under the jurisdiction of the Quebec Diocese, Bishop Plessis made a visit prior to 1825. The parish later fell under the care of the English-speaking Diocese of Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. In homage to the Cathedral Church there, the new Fredericton parish chose St. Dunstan as its patron saint for the local Catholic church.

St. Dunstan's Church

The original St. Dunstan’s Catholic church was renowned for its beauty. Its ornate ceiling was adorned with a blue canopy speckled with golden stars, symbolizing the celestial firmament. Among the array of stained glass windows, one notable arched window depicted the church’s namesake patron saint, who served as the Archbishop of Canterbury.

On June 11th, 1843, Bishop Turgeon of Quebec consecrated Father William Dollard as the new bishop. He was presented with an oil painting of the Crucifixion, which was installed above the main altar. This cherished piece of art remains on display in the modern-day church.

St. Dunstan's Church

France generously donated a pair of silver candlesticks and a silver crucifix to the church. These sacred artifacts were unfortunately stolen and remained lost for months until a young boy, playing on the College Hill, discovered them. The items were subsequently returned to the church’s pastor at the time, Father McDevitt. During this period, the church didn’t host regular evening services, hence the lack of lighting. For the Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, parishioners would bring their own candles, maintaining them alight throughout the service.

St. Dunstan's Catholic Church

Bishop Dollard’s tenure saw a surge in congregation size as Irish immigrant families, fleeing the disastrous Potato Famine of 1848, arrived. Upon completion, St. Dunstan’s church faced financial hardship. In response, Catholics from Saint John proposed to pay off the church’s debt on the condition that the See be relocated to their city. This agreement was actualized, although Bishop Dollard continued to visit Fredericton frequently, and during one such visit, he passed away on the evening of August 29th, 1851. His remains were initially entombed beneath the High Altar. In 1846, the number of firewards, as they were known then, increased to ten in the Parish of Fredericton.

On May 22, 1849, a devastating fire erupted, ravaging twenty buildings on lower Queen Street. A more catastrophic fire on November 11th, 1850, driven by a brisk northwest wind, consumed nearly 18 acres of the city. Only the Roman Catholic Cathedral Church and the bishop’s residence withstood the inferno in the area between Carleton and St. John Streets, from Queen to Brunswick Streets. It is believed that St. Dunstan’s Church was saved by its devoted parishioners, who shielded the roof with their own bodies. This disaster resulted in the destruction of over 300 buildings.

St. Dunstan's Catholic Church

Father McDevitt, who served from 1851 until his death in 1897, initiated several expansions of the property and buildings. He was instrumental in the construction of the priest’s house, the convent, and St. Dunstan’s hall. He also acquired the building used by the Knights of Columbus and the Hermitage, which ultimately fell into ruin and was demolished. His substantial library formed the foundation for the St. Dunstan’s Parish and Public Library after his death. His successor, Reverend Timothy Casey, installed a heating system and new pews during his tenure. He was later elevated to Bishop of Saint John before being transferred to Vancouver as Archbishop in 1912. Father Carney, who would later become Monsignor Carney, followed him.

St. Dunstan's Church interior
“St. Dunstan’s Roman Catholic Church, interior, viewed from the back of the church, looking towards the front. Organ and choir in the balcony at the back (south end). Note heating system of four stoves linked by overhead pipes. Ca. 1890s” PANB P5-305a

The Right Reverend Dr. Charles Boyd served as the parish priest for 24 years, during which the modern St. Dunstan’s Church was built. The new church was consecrated on August 15th, 1965, and the old one was torn down. The modern church can seat nearly 1000 people, with a spire extending 92 feet, six inches from the ground to the base of the 18-foot-high cross. The sanctuary boasts a white marble altar, and there are two side altars and two shrines. The baptistery is located at the front of the church, visible on the right side.

St. Dunstan's Church Hall

Click on a thumbnail to see more pictures of St. Dunstans Church. 

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3 thoughts on “St. Dunstan’s Catholic Church

  1. St.Dunstan is a beautiful church. Someday I hope to be able to see it. My father Karel Versteeg, (Charles Versteeg Studios) made the beautiful stained glass windows.

    1. Did he also make the stained glass windows for Saint Eugene’s Church in Hamilton ontario., after which st Dunstan’s was modeled. St Eugene’s opened in 1962.

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