Perth Courier, December 19, 1968
St. Patrick’s Church, One of the Oldest Mission Churches in Ontario
St. Patrick’s Church, one of the oldest mission churches in Ontario, stands on the summit of a hill overlooking the Mississippi River in Ferguson’s Falls. If this small edifice could speak, it would tell of the changes that have taken place in the district for the past 112 years. In 1820 the first settlers came to Ferguson’s Falls. At that time they had to walk through the woods to Perth to worship. It was usually a two day trip, going in one day and returning the next day. When any member of the community died, their remains were carried into Perth and buried in the old cemetery on the banks of the Tay River.
There was no church at that time and the first evidence of a priest coming was in 1820 when Father LaMothe came from Quebec. He came at certain times during the year to those scattered throughout the county and held Mass in private homes. He continued these visits until 1823 when he was replaced by Father Sweeney who did the missionary work in the territory. Towards the end of 1823 Rev. Father McDonald came as the first resident pastor and for 15 years the priest labored. He erected a frame church in Perth and in the outlying districts “stations” were erected and services were held at suitable times throughout the year. The next priest to be sent to Perth was Rev. Hugh McDonagh in 1836(?). During his pastorate the present church at Ferguson’s Falls was erected on account of the twenty miles or territory included in the parish at that time and the ever increasing congregation, it was decided that provision would have to be made to take care of the spiritual wants of the people who lived in the outlying portions of the parish and who had been required to make such long and tedious journeys to Perth to attend Mass. Accordingly, in 1836, a church was built at Ferguson’s Falls. Logs used to make the church were cut on the farm owned by a Mr. Scantlan.
Two years after it was built it was moved to the present site. After it was placed on its permanent foundation the present vestry was added. It was named St. Patrick’s Church in honor of the patron saint of Ireland.
On account of the slow mode of transport usually on horseback or by ox cart, as well as the extensive territory over which he presided, it was not until 1856 that the Archbishop of Kingston was able to make his first official visit to Ferguson’s Falls to take part in the dedication of the new church.
It was a mission church being part of the parish of Perth with Father McDonagh as its first pastor. It was filled to capacity on Sundays and in fact, for a large percentage of the congregation, there was standing room only. People came to attend mass from McDonald’s Corners and above the “float bridge” in Lanark Township.
John Quinn was the first person buried in the cemetery adjoining the church. The people who had died previously to that had been taken to Perth for burial because there was no cemetery in Ferguson’s Falls. Since the opening of the church, several bodies have been brought back from Perth and re-buried. Father McDonagh passed away in September of 18??(illegible). His successor was Rev. Dr. Chisholm who was pastor for twelve lyears before he suddenly passed away from a heart attack on May 1, 1878(?)
Priests were sent from Kingston for the next twelve months to take charge of the congregation. On the 1st of June, 1879, Rev. John O’Connor was installed. He was later raised to the dignitary of Dean. During his pastorate the new church at Carleton Place was formally opened. Ferguson’s Falls then severed its long connection with the parish of Carleton Place thus becoming a mission of that parish. Father Michael O’Donoghue was the first pastor. In 1869 he was transferred to Perth and Father M. O’Rourke installed as pastor in Carleton Place and its mission church at Ferguson’s Falls. He was later transferred to Westport where he remained until his death.
In October, 1907, Father Kearney was appointed for the first resident priest of Lanark parish and Ferguson’s Falls was transferred once more from Carleton Place to Lanark. In 1912, the present steel roof was put on the church.
Father Carey was the next pastor. During his pastorate, which ended in 1925, the fence was removed from around the church proper and a new one was erected. In 1925 Father Sullivan was installed as pastor and he remained there until the summer of 1928 when he was succeeded by Rev. Father Whelan. Father Whelan had the interior of the church redecorated, the statues renovated and a grotto built at the rear of the statue of St. Theresa.
The next pastor was Father Clancy who remained until 1941 when he was transferred to Carleton Place. He was succeeded by Rev. Father Healy.
In 1944 the cemetery grounds were improved and tombstones reset in proper formation. This work was done in the form of bees by the parishioners. A cobblestone cross designed by Father Healy was erected in the cemetery. In 1945 the exterior of the church was painted by Mr. Watt of Lanark who also painted the surrounding fence.
You can read Arlene Stafford Wilson’s blog on the church here.
Thank you for posting this article. My ancestor Thomas McCaffrey was also a founding member of St. Patrick. Our family still attends summer service and all our family is buried here.
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Thanks Stacy for reading.. through commenting we can all share our history together.. HUGGG