Pjila’si Bienvenue Failte Welcome!
We are the Roman Catholic Diocese of Antigonish.
The Diocese of Antigonish supports and connects those growing in their relationship with Jesus Christ, our Roman Catholic faith, and hope for the future.
We, the people of God within the Diocese of Antigonish, commit to the continued building and renewal of community, service, worship and teaching within our parishes and Diocese by being:
open, honest and inclusive in our relationships
transparent in our material and spiritual practices
courageous, trustworthy, and full of hope for living out the Gospels in our daily lives
Included in our diocese are 99 parishes and mission churches in seven deaneries of Northeastern Nova Scotia, Canada.
See our Parish Directory for churches and Mass schedules.
Dean: Rev. Peter MacDonald
Dean: Rev. John Barry
Dean: Rev. Allan MacMillan
Dean: Rev. Antolin Asor
Dean: Rev. Douglas MacDonald
Glace Bay/New Waterford
Dean: Rev. Daniel Boudreau
Dean: Rev. Douglas Murphy
The tree symbolizes humanity’s eternal calling to be close to God. Rooted in the earth of faith and traditions, its branches reach toward heaven. Its leaves die each autumn, but are reborn in the spring, reminding us of victory of life over death. The tree also reminds us of Christ’s sacrifice for us. In our logo, the branches form a cross. There is also the image of a candle, an eternal light that never dies.
(excerpted from text by Dr. Peter Ludlow)
Our history can be traced back to May 1611, when two Jesuit missionaries to Acadia, Fr Pierre Biard and Fr Ennemond Massé, en route to Port Royal, disembarked briefly at Canso and offered Mass, thus strengthening the beleaguered pioneers “with that bread which never fails to nourish and console.”
Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Catholics residing in Nova Scotia were subject to the ecclesiastical authority of the Diocese of Quebec. In 1659, Bishop François de Laval, the first Vicar Apostolic of New France, dispatched a few French-speaking missionaries to labour among the Mi’kmaq and Acadians that resided in the colony. In those early years, there were Capuchins at St. Peter’s and Jesuits at Guysborough. At Fortress Louisbourg, clergymen like Fr Jean de Capistran Chevreau ministered to soldiers and settlers, while the famous Fr Pierre Maillard worked among the Mi’kmaq.
By 1800 Irish and Scottish émigrés were settling in the region in large numbers (the first Scottish parish was organized at Arisaig on the coast of the Northumberland Strait in 1791) and the Catholic population increased. In the summers of 1812 and 1815, Bishop Joseph-Octave Plessis of Quebec visited the fledgling settlements from Cheticamp to Pictou and noted the promising (if rudimentary) state of the churches. Due to the increasing population of the colony, and the need for more Gaelic-speaking clergy, in 1817 Rome created the Vicariate Apostolic of Nova Scotia (Cape Breton Island remained a part of the Diocese of Quebec until 1829) under the care of Bishop Edmund Burke of Halifax.
In February 1842, the Vicariate of Nova Scotia was changed to a diocese. Rome appointed Fraser as the first Bishop of Halifax, and also proclaimed Bishop William Walsh of Dublin as his coadjutor. Yet, the arrival of Bishop Walsh (and Fraser’s refusal to leave the village of Antigonish for Halifax) furthered the persistent tensions that existed between the Scots of eastern Nova Scotia and the Irish of Halifax. Due to this “restless spirit,” on 15 July 1844 the Diocese of Halifax was partitioned; Halifax for the Irish and Arichat for the Scots.
As its title indicates, the ecclesiastical seat of the new diocese was located at the small (but important) fishing community of Arichat. Administering the See from Our Lady of Assumption Cathedral, which was erected in 1837. Although Arichat remained the seat of the diocese until 1886, by 1874 it was clear that a move to the mainland town of Antigonish was imminent. Due partly to a fear that the Diocese of Halifax sought to annex the mainland counties, St. F.X. had been relocated to Antigonish town in 1855 and in 1874 construction on the imposing St. Ninian’s Cathedral was complete. In 1886, Bishop John Cameron (1827-1910) moved the seat of the diocese to the new Romanesque sanctuary, and the diocese’s name was officially changed from Arichat to Antigonish.
Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the progress of the Antigonish was aided by dedicated congregations of women religious. In 1883 the CND opened Mount St. Bernard, an important convent school, and by 1894 the institution was affiliated with St. F.X. and in 1897 the first female graduates of the diocesan college received their diplomas. Also in 1883, Bishop Cameron recruited the Halifax-based Sisters of Charity to staff convent schools at Pictou and North Sydney (others schools soon followed), and by the early nineteenth-century the Filles de Jesus were teaching in Arichat and Cheticamp. In 1900 the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Martha was organized to provide domestic labour at St. F.X, yet by the Great War the congregation was ministering in hospitals and orphanages, and had branched out to Toronto and Prince Edward Island (and later Alberta).
Each parish has a unique story, and through organizations like the Knights of Columbus, the Catholic Mutual Benefit Society, the League of the Cross and the Catholic Women’s League (to name a few), each congregation worked diligently to strengthen the community. As the people comprised the Church, the fortunes of the diocese were closely linked to the local economy. Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, most Catholics in eastern Nova Scotia laboured in agriculture or the fishery, but by the 1890s Sydney, Cape Breton, had been transformed into one of Canada’s most important industrial centers. By 1909, thousands of Catholics moved into colliery towns like Glace Bay to work in the coal mines and steel mills alongside their brethren from Newfoundland, Britain, Italy, and Eastern Europe. Within a short time, new parishes like St. Mary’s (Polish) and St. Nicholas (Italian) in Whitney Pier further embodied the multi-cultural composition of Antigonish’s Catholic body.
Throughout the twentieth-century, the diocese was concerned about the decline of agriculture in the countryside, the challenges of the fishery, the rampant outmigration, and the grim realities for miners in the colliery towns. Through the vision of priests like Fr “Little Doc” Hugh MacPherson, Fr James J. Tompkins and Fr John Hugh MacDonald, by 1920 the diocese began focusing on Catholic social action. In 1922 a “People’s School” was begun at St. F.X. (another soon followed at Glace Bay) and by 1929 the college had organized an Extension Department to educate and organize Catholics in the region. In 1943 the diocese and St. F.X. organized a radio station, CJFX, to broadcast its Extension message throughout the Maritime Provinces. Through the work of individuals with “fire and vision” like Msgr. Moses M. Coady, Fr Michael Gillis, A.B. MacDonald, and Sisters Marie Michael MacKinnon and Irene Doyle, the “Antigonish Movement” became one of the most important social programs in Canada and a proponent of “a Middle Way.”
Although a relatively small diocese, Antigonish has made important contributions to the Canadian Church. Per one leading historian, the diocese helped to construct a “pan-Canadian network” within the Church in Anglophone Canada, which served as a conduit for future waves of Catholic emigrants, ideas, and leadership.” By the 1950s, ten Antigonish clergymen had been called to serve as bishops in other Canadian dioceses, young women were labouring in numerous Canadian congregations, and young men were ministering in China and South America as missionaries. In 1959 the Coady International Institute was organized at St. F.X. to carry the principles of Antigonish Movement around the world and transfer the experience of the “Antigonish Movement” to foreign scholars.
Today the Catholics of Antigonish continue to build upon their history through a restitution of trust and hope. Since Vatican II, the diocese has responded to the Church’s call for a renewal of religious life among the clergy, women religious and the laity. As the people of Antigonish move forward, we remain proud of our fascinating history and the many peoples that make up our community.