Bishop Alexander MacDONELL
and St. Raphael's Ruins

Excerpt from The Catholic Encyclopedia
(Thanks to Hugh Niven for his posting to the SD&G List)
First Bishop of Kingston, Ontario, Canada, b. 17 July 1760, at Inchlaggan in 
Glengarry, Scotland; d. 14 January, 1840, at Dumfries, Scotland. His early education 
was received at Bourblach on Loch Morar. He attended the Scots Colleges at Paris, 
and at Valladolid, Spain, and was ordained priest at the latter place 16 February 1787. 
Returning to his native land he exercised the ministry for five years in the Braes of 
Lochaber. In 1792 his people were evicted from their homes, and their lands were 
converted into sheepwalks. Despite the bitter feelings against Catholics, lately 
intensified by the Gordon Riots, and disregarding the fact that, being a Catholic 
priest he was ipso facto an outlaw, undaunted, he led his clansmen to the city of 
Glasgow, where he secured employment for them, acting as their devoted pastor and 
faithful guardian, a sharer in their fortunes, as indeed he continued to be for fifty 
years. Within two years after the Highlanders' arrival in Glasgow, the Revolution on the 
Continent ruined the export trade of Glasgow and deprived them of their livelihood. The 
only avenue open to the unemployed was service in the militia, but even this was closed 
to the Glengarrymen, who, being Catholics, could not declare themselves Protestants, as 
required for enlistment. 

The genius for organization possessed by Father Macdonell, which was destined to make a 
great name for him on two continents, and render valuable service to Church and State, 
quickly showed itself. He boldly offered to organize his clansmen into a Catholic regiment. 
The pressing need of strengthening the forces made the offer acceptable, and in 1794 the 
"Glengarry Fencible Regiment" was raised, and Father Macdonell, though it was contrary to 
the existing law, was appointed chaplain, thus becoming the first Catholic chaplain in the 
British Army since the Reformation. The regiment was despatched to the Isle of Guernsey 
in 1795, then threatened by the French, and on the breaking out of the Rebellion, they 
were sent to Ireland in 1798. Bernard Kelly in the "Fate of Glengarry", writing of their 
sojourn in the latter country says: "They everywhere won golden opinions by their humane 
behaviour towards the vanquished, which was in striking contrast with the floggings, 
burnings, and hangings which formed the daily occupation of the rest of the military. 
Father Macdonell, who accompanied the regiment in all their enterprises, was instrumental 
in fostering this spirit of conciliation, and his efforts contributed not a little to the 
extinction of the Rebellion. The Catholic chapels in many places had been turned into 
stables by the yeomanry, and these he caused to be restored to their proper use. He often 
said Mass himself in these humble places of devotion, and invited the inhabitants to leave 
their hiding places and resume once more their wonted occupations, assuring them of the 
king's protection, if they behaved quietly and peaceably. Such timely exhortations had almost 
magical effect, though the terror-stricken population could scarcely believe their eyes when 
they beheld a regiment of Roman Catholics, speaking their language, and among them a soggarth, 
a priest, assuring them of immunity from a government immemorially associated with every 
species of wrong and oppression." An American bishop, lately deceased, has given this 
testimony to the chaplain's services and to the Irish people's gratitude: "The memory 
of Father Macdonell is as green in those regions as the fields they cultivate. That holy, 
chivalrous priest saved the lives of many innocent Irishmen and restored the chapels to 
their original purpose." At the close of the Rebellion, Father Macdonell was called to 
London in the interest of the regiment, and was at the same time commissioned by the Bishops 
of Ireland to make known to the British government their sentiments in regard to the proposed 
legislative union of Great Britain and Ireland. The Fencibles were disbanded in Glasgow in 1802. 

The next two years found Father Macdonell in negotiation with the government for the 
immigration of his people to Canada. Powerful forces were arrayed against him, both at 
home and in the government, in but he eventually triumphed, and brought out in 1803 and 
1804 large numbers of Catholic Highlanders to Glengarry in Upper Canada, where many of his 
faith and race were already exiled on account of persecution in their native land. Father 
Macdonell arrived at York, now Toronto, 1 November, 1804, and proceeded to settle the people 
on the lands granted by the British government. The whole of the present Dominion was then 
the vast Diocese of Quebec. Father Macdonell with authority of vicar-general was assigned to 
the mission of St.-Raphael's in Glengarry, "the Cradle of the Church in Ontario", which he 
made his headquarters for twenty-five years, though his home was everywhere in the province. 
On his arrival he found three priests in the province, the Rev. Roderick Macdonell (Leek) 
at St. Andrew's and St. Regis, the Rev. Francis Fitzimmons in Glengarry, and the Rev. Father 
Richard at Sandwich. 

The Rev. Roderick Macdonell died in 1806 and Father Fitzimmons removed shortly afterwards to 
New Brunswick; this left Father Macdonell in charge of the whole province for the next ten 
years without any assistance, Father Richard being unable to speak English. He was obliged 
to travel over the country from the province line of Lower Canada to Lake Superior, carrying 
the requisites for Mass, and the administration of the sacraments, sometimes on horseback, 
sometimes in Indian birch canoes, and sometimes on foot, living among the savages with such 
fare as they afforded, crossing the great lakes and rivers, and even descending the rapids 
of the St. Lawrence in their dangerous craft. Equal hardships and privation he endured among 
the new settlers. Thus he spent those years in travelling about, offering the Holy Sacrifice 
in rude huts, teaching the children, administering the sacraments and preaching to the widely 
separated settlers throughout the great province, now Ontario. During the War of 1812 his 
powerful influence was successfully used in rousing the martial spirit of his countrymen, 
and indeed of the other inhabitants, in defence of their adopted land. With the reorganized 
"Glengarry Fencibles" he was present in several engagements against the American forces. His 
civil and military services were recognized by the British Government in 1816 by an addition 
to his own government allowance, and by an annual grant of £100 each, to three clergymen and 
four school-masters. 

In 1817 Upper Canada was set apart from the See of Quebec as a vicariate Apostolic, and two 
years later Father Macdonell was appointed vicar Apostolic, his consecration as Bishop of 
Rhosina taking place in the Ursuline chapel, Quebec, on 31 December, 1820. A significant 
incident was the gift to Bishop Macdonell of a magnificent episcopal ring by King-George IV. 
Six years later, 14 February, 1826, the vicariate was raised to a bishopric by Leo XII, and 
Bishop Macdonell then became the first Bishop of Upper Canada with his see at Kingston. 
Advancing age caused him to apply for a coadjutor. Father Weld of Lulworth Castle, England, 
was appointed and consecrated Bishop of Amycla, and coadjutor of Upper Canada, 1 August, 1826 
but his health becoming impaired he never assumed office. Bishop Macdonell's thorough knowledge 
of the country and its people and his great administrative ability made his counsel desirable 
to the government, and on 12 October, 1831, he was called to the Legislative Council, and 
thereafter was accorded the title "Honourable". In a letter to a friend he writes of his 
appointment as follows: "The only consideration that would induce me to think of accepting 
such a situation, would be the hope of being able to promote the interests of our holy religion 
more effectually, and carrying my measures through the Provincial Legislature with more facility 
and expedition than I could otherwise do." 

Five voyages to Europe, an average travel of two thousand miles per year through Ontario, the 
personal selection of church sites, in nearly all the places now marked by cities and towns in 
the province of Ontario, untiring and successful efforts to obtain a fair share of government 
grants in money and land for church and school purposes (the first grant of public money for a 
Catholic school in Ontario was obtained for St. Andrew's, Stormont County, in 1832), are all 
evidences of an unusually active life. His zeal for the formation of a native priesthood is 
abundantly shown in the establishment of the Seminary of Iona at St. Raphael's, in 1826, and 
of Regiopolis College at Kingston, in 1838, not to speak of the many priests educated at his 
own expense. There is a statement left among his papers showing that he expended £13,000 of 
his private funds for the furthering of religion and education. 

His voluminous letters reveal the master mind of the organizer and ruler, and the singleness 
of purpose of the great churchman. His life was a striking example of the truth that in the 
Catholic Church piety and patriotism go hand in hand. In the year 1840 he died in his native 
Scotland, whither he had gone with the hope of interesting Irish and Scotch bishops in a scheme 
of emigration. In 1861 his remains were brought to Kingston by Bishop Horan and were interred 
beneath the cathedral. Bishop Macdonell in 1804 found three priests and three churches in Upper 
Canada. By his energy and perseverance he induced a considerable immigration to the province, 
and left at his death forty-eight churches attended by thirty priests. The memory that survives 
him is that of a great missionary, prelate and patriot — the Apostle of Ontario. 

"Letters of Bishop Macdonell"; MACDONELL, "Reminicences of the Hon. And Rt. Rev. Alexander 
Macdonell"; KELLY, "The Fate of Glengarry"; MORGAN, "Biographies of Celebrated Canadians"; 
HOPKINS, "Progress of Canada". 

Transcribed by John Looby 
Dedicated to Sister Mary Coderre, RHSJ of Hôtel Dieu Hospital 

The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume IX
Copyright © 1910 by Robert Appleton Company
Online Edition Copyright © 1999 by Kevin Knight
Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, Censor
Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York

July 9, 2004: Note: The Ottawa Citizen dated July 8, 2004 contains an article regarding Bishop Macdonell and the current project to restore St. Raphael's Church in Glengarry County. The church was burned in the 1970's. An accompanying photo of the ruins reveal a medieval-looking structure. It is huge - built to accommodate 1000 worshippers. It contains no interior columns. Amazing. (Note to me: The article is filed in the book "Planted by Flowing Waters") July 11, 2004: Visit the web site of St. Raphael's Ruins

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