From: Moncton Catholic Roots - An Illustrated History of St. Bernard’s Church

By: Rev. Leo J. Hynes

Written in 1982 to “mark the centenary of St. Bernard’s Catholic community becoming a parish in 1882.”

For The 100th Anniversary Celebration of CASTLE MANOR ESTATE (formerly MARY’S HOME)


Friday, September 1st, 2006


To tell the story of Mary’s Home, it probably would be better to use the old adage “if the walls could talk” to tell the proper story of the Sisters of Charity of the Immaculate Conception who resided at the Home for over sixty-six years. The school days of the Catholic children that attended over a twenty-six year period when it was first built and the last seventy-two years when the Norman Gothic styled castle has served as a “home” for the aged and those needing special attention as it was originally designed and built to serve.


These notes will not tell those stories but will focus on the history of the acquisition of the land, the building of Mary’s Home and some of the happenings in the parish during its years as part of the parish.


The history will have to commence with St. Bernard’s Catholic Church and two of its most noted pastors who were there when the thought of a home was being considered and then having it built.



Saint Bernard’s Church


In 1855 Moncton was incorporated as a town for the first time as the shipbuilding on the Petitcodiac River was doing well.  The census of 1861 showed Moncton was in a decline as the day of sailing ships were numbered with the advent of steam powered ships.  The census showed that Rev. Joseph Murray as the Roman Catholic priest serving a small Catholic population of one hundred and sixty.  Moncton lost its charter the following year and reverted to a village.


During the sixties steps were being taken  to found a new country called Canada and after the initial meetings in Charlottetown in 1864 and further meetings in Quebec City, the new country was founded on July 1, 1867.  One of the terms of confederation was the building of a railway uniting Nova Scotia, New Brunswick with Upper and Lower Canada. The first major undertaking of the new Government was to build the Intercolonial Railway.  Moncton was selected as the headquarters for the ICR in 1872 and a large influx of workers with their families helped to grow Moncton’s population.


Father Murray an energetic young priest attached to St. Thomas de Memramcook with the approval of Father Camille Lefebvre, pastor of St. Thomas parish, who was commissioned to establish St. Joseph’s College nearby and Monsignor John Sweeney, Bishop of Saint John Diocese established a committee to build the first church to be known as St. Bernard’s.  He obtained land on the north east corner of Queen Street and Botsford Street adjacent to John Cummins home which was on the corner.  The small chapel was completed in the fall of 1872.  Shortly after Rev. Edouard L’Abbe was assigned the Irish mission although he was a curate at St. Thomas.  He is the first to enter the names in the sacramental records of St. Bernard’s. Father L’Abbe was then assigned to Dorchester to establish a church there.  Father Francois Xavier Cormier arrived in 1877 and he was given the St. Ansleme parish with responsibility of the Moncton and Irishtown missions.  He started construction of a much larger church. Before being completed he accepted a promotion to Richibucto.


Bishop Sweeney then assigned Father William Foley to be St. Bernard’s first resident priest.  The new church was completed at a cost of $7,800 and opened for worship on April 20, 1879. Father Murray’s chapel was attached as its vestry.  Father Foley also purchased the John Cummins home which became the first Catholic rectory.


In 1882 Bishop Sweeney made St. Bernard’s a separate parish.  In naming the first pastor he selected Father Henry Alexis Meahan who was a member of his staff in Saint John.  He had been ordained four years earlier and he came to Moncton on December 1, 1882 at the age of 29 years.  He was born in Bathurst and was fluently bilingual.  With Moncton reincorporating as a town in 1875 and with the new industries and stores opening because of the railway headquarters in Moncton the number of parishioners was increasing with a larger number of Acadiens moving in from the rural areas. The wooden church was getting crowded and he announced to the parishioners in 1885 that he would be building a large stone church.


Father Meahan had a concern for the need of religious education of the children.  He was familiar with the work of the Sisters of Charity of the Immaculate Conception as their mother house was located in Saint John.  In response to his request three nuns were sent to Moncton on August 4, 1886.  Another nun joined them two years later. He purchased the Goodere home that was behind the church on Wesley Street. It became the convent known as “The Mother of Jesus”.  Father Meahan later switched residences having the Sisters take the former Cummins home that served as the rectory and he taking the Goodere home and changed the entrance to face Botsford Street.


The first parochial school the Sisters used was the original church of Father Murray which had been used as a vestry to the wooden church that was being worshipped in at the time.  Its first classes were received on September 6, 1887.


The exterior of the new church was made of stone from the quarry of Edward McSweeney located in Notre Dame.  On August 19, 1888 the cornerstone was laid by Bishop Sweeney.  Moncton’s population at the time was 8,000 with 1,975 parishioners of St. Bernard’s.  The opening mass was not until three years later on November 1, 1891.  The church was built at a cost of $40,000 with a debt remaining of $5,000.  The exterior length of the place of worship is 140 feet and 65 feet wide.  On the south corner of the structure on Botsford Street there is a massive tower, twenty feet square to accommodate a sphere which was never finished. The stained glass windows were installed at the turn of the century.  They were designed and fabricated by Mayer and Company of Munich, Germany and New York, USA.  They were donated by parishioners and societies.  The church bell was made by the Minelli Company of Troy, New York at a cost of $1,305 and was dedicated on April 8, 1900.


The former wooden church was moved to the rear of the new stone church and it was enlarged and renovated to provide classroom space for the ever increasing student population.



Mary’s Home


Father Meahan in 1895 led a group from St Bernard’s parish to work with other citizens in the community to establish a hospital. The committee initially provided financial aid to the sick to be received at the Alms House at Leger Corner (Dieppe). The committee was incorporated and they purchased land from Michael Spurr Harris on King Street for $2,000. The Moncton Hospital opened on November 11, 1903.


Father Meahan next concern was the need for a home for the aged and needy.  To tell that story a little history has to be told of Peter McSweeney’s family.  The family arrived in Saint John from Ireland.  Upon their arrival they met John Wallace a merchant from Hillsborough and in conversation he offered Peter a job as school teacher in Hillsborough.  The family settled there and the family grew to fourteen children and in 1855 they moved to Moncton.  Peter (Sr.) built a wood structured dry goods and furniture store at the corner of Duke and Main Streets.  He also assembled a large tract of land on the outskirts of Moncton where he built his homestead.  It was in the vicinity of the Hotel Dieu Hospital (Dr Georges Dumont Hospital).  The land included up to the present Mountain Road.  His son Peter (Jr.) built Moncton’s first department store in 1901 prior to Eaton’s coming to Moncton.  The building still stands at the foot of Botsford Street at Main Street.  He also was appointed to the Senate.  Son George bought the King Hotel at Main and Highfield Streets in 1884. It’s now known as the Crown Plaza.  Edward another son was active in politics, was Mayor of Moncton 1879 and 1880.


The family as Irish Catholics was very active in the church and had great influence in the community. Father Meahan received the McSweeney’s homestead from the widow of Edward for $5,000. The property was 22 acres and that was where Rev. Meahan started to build Mary’s Home. The stone for the Home also came from the McSweeney quarry.


Rev. Meahan who hadn’t been feeling well for the previous month passed away at the rectory on June 21, 1905 at the age of 52. He had planned to go to the closing ceremonies at St. Joseph’s College that afternoon by train.  His will made on October 25, 1904 and probated on July 18, 1905 included three tracts of land in the north-western section of the city, formerly the McSweeney, Theophilus LeBlanc and Frank G. Robinson properties which he personally acquired to situate Mary’s Home and operate a farm for its maintenance, were bequeathed to the Bishop of Saint John “for the benefit of the Roman Catholic Church in the Diocese of Saint John.”


Father Edward Savage became the second pastor at St. Bernard’s.  He was born in Melrose, NB on January 25, 1859 and was the last of thirteen children, one sister and eleven brothers.  His appointment by Bishop Thomas Casey was made August 1, 1905.  When he arrived in Moncton he called the inherited project of Mary’s Home a “pile of rubble” on Mary’s Hill. The Home was completed in two years at a cost of $35,000.  The cornerstone was laid on Sunday, July 15, 1906 in front of 2000 – 3000 people.  Senator Peter McSweeney, one of the many speakers said the building would accommodate 700 – 800 pupils with magnificent grounds and is ideal for school programs.


In the fall of 1907 on October 6 Sister Loretto Quirk led her little group of nuns from the Mother of Jesus Convent on Botsford Street to the castle like residence called Mary’s Home.  The twelve classrooms accommodated English and French speaking students with four classrooms utilized for instruction in the French language.  Although it was planned as a home for the aged, it remained a school until 1932 when the Mountain Road School was built at the corner of Mountain Road and Archibald Street (now Universite Ave.).  This was also part of the Mary’s Home property.  Mountain Road School was demolished in 1990 to make way for a parking lot for the CBAF TV & Radio network and the Dr. Georges Dumont Hospital staff.


Father Savage was approached by a committee early in 1908 to convey their concerns that they wanted the Acadian community to have their own diocese. In January, 1914 Bishop Edward LeBlanc in a letter to Father Savage announced the dates of separation and the conditions attached. Separation was to be February 10, 1914 and one of the conditions related to Mary’s Home.  It being that the present debt of the Home shall be assumed by both congregations. The English parishioners met on February 8 and were of the opinion that the building and lands must “remain intact and be used as an orphanage, home or like charitable purposes to be conducted under the supervision of the Sisters of Charity of the Diocese of Saint John, as is well known was the original intention.”  The resolution was sent to Pastor Savage with the request that he act on behalf of the parishioners and make an effort to “procure a modification of the existing decrees” from Bishop LeBlanc.


Bishop LeBlanc wrote Father Savage saying “Owing to difficulty between the two parishes in Moncton, I have made changes affecting the Mary’s Home property and the vacant church lands in and around Moncton.  From this date I will take direct charge of these properties and you will kindly refrain from all supervision in connection thereto.  All revenues will be paid to me directly or to an agent which I will appoint; this is not intended against you personally.”  Mr. R.  A. Frechet an accountant in Moncton was appointed and acted until a final settlement was reached with the sale of Mary’s home to the Sisters of Charity on December 31, 1922.  Prior to the sale Father Savage forwarded the deed to the property after agreeing that the sale price would be $33,000.  La Paroisse L’Assomption would receive $28,000 and St. Bernard’s would share $5,000 with the understanding that they would pay the debt of $2,400 on Mary’s Home.


Mother M. Alphonsus (Carney) wrote from the Motherhouse in Saint John on January 1, 1923 to Father Savage thanking him as their benefactor in receiving the property and in a second note later indicating that if a second English speaking Catholic church was needed that the Sisters of Charity might be willing to provide a location for one at Mary’s Home. Bishop LeBlanc on January 5 forwarded his cheque for $5,000 in payment for St. Bernard’s share of the sale of Mary’s Home.


The Moncton school population continued to increase and even with the addition of Mary’s Home for schooling on a temporary basis and Wesley Street School was a wooden structure it was determined there was a need for two new schools.  A new school was built on St. Bernard’s Church property by demolishing the wooden structure to make way for St. Bernard’s Institute, later called St. Bernard’s School or Queen Street School as it was built closed to Queen Street with the main entrance on Queen Street.  The building housed seven classrooms, combination gymnasium/auditorium on the second floor and swimming pool and bowling alley on the first level.  The school opened in 1923 and was phased out in 1973. During the same period of time Father Henry Cormier built a large school at the corner of Victoria and Church Streets called Sacred Heart Academy.  It also contained classrooms, gymnasium/auditorium and bowling alley.  It opened the same year.  Both schools have been demolished.  St. Bernard’s became a parking lot and the Academy when vacated served for a period as a site for the L’Evangeline newspaper, campus for St. Joseph’s prior to the building of the Universite de Moncton in 1963.  Ironically, now it has a new home for seniors called Church Court.


The year 1923 saw permission being given by Rome to allow the French speaking sisters to leave the Sisters of Charity and establish the Sisters of Charity of the Sacred Heart with the motherhouse in Memramcook.  Fifty-three sisters went with the new group while some remained at Mary’s Home. The separation took place on February 17, 1924.


Two years after the classrooms were vacated by the pupils, Mary’s home reopened to serve as a home for the aged as it was initially intended.  A role it continues to play today.  The opening was a grand event on January 20, 1934 as reported by the media.  Over 1,500 persons attended including the Mayor and his Council.  Over 500 were served a chicken salad meal at 35 cents a plate in the new dining hall.   Accommodations in the home would be for fifty persons and Sister Mercedes would be the supervisor. Sister Mercedes was also a teacher and principal at the Queen Street School and served in that role until 1960, a period of thirty-seven years.  She was from Melrose with the maiden name Margaret Sweeney.


Monsignor Joseph Butler who was pastor of St. Bernard’s in 1949 bought a vacated building owned by a Pentecostal congregation that consisted of a roofed over basement to serve as a temporary church for the English speaking people in the north western part of the city.  This was located at the corner of High Street and Mountain Road.  A new large church was erected at the corner of Dominion Street and Mountain Road and it opened on September 30, 1956.  Monsignor Butler became its first pastor.


In 1962 the Sisters of Charity gave a portion of their land north of Mary’s Home facing Providence Street for the construction of a youth centre that would include a swimming pool. gymnasium and rooms for cultural and religious studies.  The building was opened by Archbishop Norbert Robichaud on January 11, 1964 and was named St. Patrick’s Family Centre.


Archbishop Donat Chaisson on June 18, 1973 gave official permission to close Mary’s Home. The Sisters of Charity whose numbers had been decreasing moved in September to a Bonaccord Street residence and given the name St. Bernard’s Convent.  They had been at Mary’s Home for over sixty-six years.


In the move, a copy of the Book of Kells went missing and has never been recovered.  It sat on one of the landings of the main staircase surrounded by potted plants.  The book had been willed by Father Savage who had obtained it in Ireland in 1933.


The Book of Kells said to originate in 800AD contains the Latin version of the Gospels in the New Testament.  Its 840 pages, with the exception of two pages have interwoven Celtic Art of the period of human figures, abstract designs and animals to help to form letters in the text.  It rested in Kells, thirty miles north west of Dublin and has been transferred to the huge library at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland.


The Home was purchased by Robert Alcorn and was renamed Alcorn Manor and continued to operate as a home for the elderly.  Since it has been in private hands, different owners have taken possession and the Home has been called Alcorn Centre 1986 Ltd., The Baron’s Senior Centre and Castle Manor since October 15. 1998.  The name was selected by resident Evan Powell.


Greg Murphy

August 28, 2006