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A Brief History of St. Luke's Catholic Church
In 1825, as part of the Peter Robinson Emigration, 142 Irish families were settled in the northern part of Emily Township from Concession 7 through Concession 23. Approximately 20 families were not of the Roman Catholic faith and were given land in East Emily. The remainder of the families constituted the community that became the parish of St. Luke the Evangelist.
The first common property required by these settlers was a place to be used as a burial ground. This land was located on the SW corner of Lot 5. Concession 10, approximately ½ mile west of Downie’s Cross (the original name of the hamlet of Downeyville). Death among the early settlers was numerous. In the Peter Robinson papers it is reported that 31 of the Irish settlers died in 1826 and it is presumed that the ‘Pioneer Cemetery’ came into use at that time. The first recorded burial was that of William Flynn in October, 1826. However, the land itself was not officially purchased by the Kingston Diocese until 1856. In 1840, Father Hugh Fitzpatrick, pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Lindsay, spearheaded the construction of a mission log church within the cemetery dedicated to St. Luke which served the faithful for sixteen years.
In 1851 St. Like’s separated from St. Mary’s and became a parish with its own mission, Ennismore. Father John Bourke was our first pastor and he lived in a local hotel for two years before a rectory could be built. The Diocese purchased five acres of land from William Lehane on the N ½ Lot 9, Concession 9 and a frame house was erected the following year. This building served as the rectory for 27 years.
Ny 1856, the hamlet of Downeyville had been established around a general story, a hotel, a school and the nearby log church and cemetery. Father Burke met with strong opposition when he attempted to erect a new and larger church east of the hamlet on the same site as the rectory. Most parishioners thought it best to locate the new church right in the hamlet.
After much debate, the diocese purchased the present site from Bartholomew Downey and a frame construction with lap board siding was built on this site in 1857-58. Father Bourke died during this construction and is buried beneath the church. Father Bernard Coyle became pastor and the church was blessed and opened in 1858. In 1886 the chancel, vestry and bell tower were added to the original construction and this completed the cruciform edifice of the current church. The building was covered with white brick at this time also.
The current rectory was built in 1880 immediately south of the church and the old parish house was abandoned and the land sold back to William Lehane. The current rectory has been home to 19 resident priests, including our newest pastor, Fr. Israel Orebi, MSP.
There is an unconfirmed story that the rectory was built to include accommodations for a group of nuns en route from Ireland who were to serve the Catholic faithful of the parish, perhaps as teachers or nurses. Unfortunately, their ship sank during the crossing and no other nuns were sent to replace those lost at sea.
To complete this brief history, it should be mentioned that the original school built in 1844 on the site of the current church parking lot ceased operations in 1963 when the new school was built across the road. The ‘Pioneer Cemetery’ was closed in 1907 and the new ‘St. Luke’s Cemetery’, east of the village, was opened that same year. The Parish Hall was built in 1919 to provide a place from social gatherings and ‘private and public’ meetings. For many years it was also used to provide instruction for grades 7 through 10.
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