St. Francis of Assisi, Wolfville, Nova Scotia

A Brief HISTORY of

ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH

WOLFVILLE, N.S.

(Published in the "DIALOGUE", April 7, 1968)

In the year 1853, a Mr. Thompson, one of the New England Planters, donated to the Roman Catholic Church a piece of land on the Wolfville Ridge, overlooking the Gaspereau Valley. Here the first Catholic Church on record in this area was erected and the land is the site of the present Catholic cemetery. This church was destroyed by fire in 1875. The story goes that "one Chas Benjamin, of questionable mentality, in revenge for the spurning of his romantic endeavours, decided to burn down the church while the lady who discouraged his cupidic pursuit was within praying. The church was burned but the lady was not inside." For the next eight years Mass was celebrated at the home of James Quinn.

In 1883, Canon Walsh, an independently wealthy native of Ireland and parish priest at Windsor, constructed the present church, St. Francis of Assisi, at his own expense. He himself dedicated it and donated the Crucifixion scene over the altar. An interesting footnote is the dis­covery recently of a notation on the back of the painting.  It reads, "Given to the Windsor church by Bishop Wm. Walsh, 1847."

The church was built by Messers Quigley & Sons of Kentville and was blessed by Archbishop Hannan of Halifax. Benches and chairs were used at first in the church, to be replaced by long pews. These, in turn, were replaced by the present pews which were salvaged from the Windsor Church at the time of the fire there and placed here by Fr. J.W. Brown. Also, from the church there came the first Stations of the Cross. One of the old organs was donated by the Wm. Regan family and for some years the church had a fine choir. Fr. Brown also had a vestment case made and the Sanctuary bell was donated by the Sunday school children about 1910.

While Wolfville was within the Parish of Windsor, the following priests administered to it: Canon Walsh, Fr. Carmody, Fr. Daley, Fr. Kenny, Fr. Carroll, Fr. J.W. Brown, Fr. Collins, and Fr. O'Sullivan. "Fr. O'Sullivan was probably the first priest serving Wolfville to have a car. However, it .would often balk or run into a mud hole, which de­layed the beginning of Mass for various lengths of time".

In 1915, when Dr. Donahue became the pastor of St. Joseph's in Kentville, St. Francis of Assisi became part of the Parish of Kentville in the Diocese of Halifax.

Under the lead of Kentville's parish priests, the mission of Wolfville underwent some important changes. Dr. Donahoe remained pastor until 1938, followed by Fr. J. M. Brown (1938-1943) and Fr. J. H. Durney until 1959 when Wolfville became a parish of its own.

For some time the status, quo was maintained at Wolfville with Mass being celebrated twice a month. In the late 40's St. Francis Girls Club and the Altar Boys Society were formed, but fell into disuse. A Book­case in the sacristy remains as a reminder of the Girls Club.

The first High Mass at Wolfville was celebrated at midnight Christmas Eve, 1948, by Fr. J. H. Durney and sung by the Kentville male choir. A predominately female choir was formed in Wolfville and our first organist was Mrs. Cecil Young. This was followed by a male choir in 1952 directed by Dr. A. D. Veroni which gained honors and wide ac­claim in the following years. In 1951, weekday Masses were started three days a week, but ceased temporarily in 1952 due to poor attendance. In March, 1951, it was announced that Mass would be held every Sunday, since an appointment of a resident Chaplin at Greenwood relieved St. Joseph's of that mission.

During the 1950's several changes were made in the Wolfville church. The present Stations of the Cross were erected and blessed by Fr. Durney in 1952. The same year a beautiful Ciborium was donated by several parishioners, a hand-embroidered Ciborium cover donated by Mr. and Mrs. Frank Bresnan and Fr. Thibeau blessed a new Crucifix for the altar, a gift of Mrs. Blanche Meek. In 1954, the mission house was moved and a parking lot made next to the church. Also during the 50's, the walls were paneled, and a new altar and confessional installed.

On August 31, 1953, a new diocese was created in Nova Scotia to include the counties of Kings, Annapolis, Digby, Yarmouth, and Shelburne. At its head was Albert Lemanager, D. D., the first Bishop of the Diocese of Yarmouth. Thus Wolfville changed dioceses from Halifax to Yarmouth.

On July 19, 1959, in St. Francis of Assisi Church, Very Rev. Fr. J. H. Durney read the official document of the Canonical Erection of the Parish of St. Francis of Assisi and installed Fr. D. P. Amirault as its first pastor. It had been a long history in an area, which saw the ter­rible strife of colonial life, the bitter rivalry of two nations and intolerance toward Roman Catholics. Wolfville had been part of the parishes of Windsor and Kentville, and had changed from the diocese of Halifax to that of Yarmouth. The new parish included the Canning area, and would see the erection of a mission church there which was blessed by Bishop Lemenager on May 23, 1965- To the parish, the Diocese sent a priest whose administrative qualities resulted in a vastly developed parish. The parishioners, harking back to pioneer days, pitched in and helped build a rectory. The rectory basement has been finished to provide a church hall for various parish activities. The presence of a resident priest has made it possible to conduct and administer services which formerly were distinguished by their rarity, such as separate days and separate levels for Catechism. The Altar Society has carried on, but two clubs, the Holy Name Society formed in I960 and the Cana Club formed in 1961 have fallen into disuse. In 1963 an electric organ was purchased for the church and in 1966 the Sanctuary was changed to con­form with the liturgical reform in the Church.

September, 1966, saw the transfer of Fr, D.P. Amirault to Digby Church and of Fr. J. E. Leo Maillet to Wolfville.

The first Annual Meeting of St. Francis of Assisi Parish was held in the church hall January 29, 1967 and a constitution was drawn up and a parish council elected. Since then council meetings have been held every month with a new council being elected in January 1968.

At the present time, Mass is celebrated three times on Sunday in our parish, twice in Wolfville and once in Canning. On weekdays there is Mass every day with the Thursday Mass in Canning. There are Catechism classes on three levels; Grade 1-V1, Grade VII & VIII, and the Senior Religion Classes. Discussion groups are held at Acadia University and Fr. Maillet has arranged to be at the Chaplain’s Office on Friday afternoons,

Looking back on our past history we can see many changes and we are looking forward to future progress.

Mrs.  Bernard Kenny

(Researched by David Young)