The Founder Of St. Raphael's Parish

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Feb. 8. 1998, R. R.

The Glengarry News, February 20th, 1958, pg. 1, col. 1 & 2, pg. 8, col. 7.

Miss Dunlop Writes Of The Founder Of St. Raphael's Parish


[Miss Llewella Dunlop, of Williamstown, whose series of sketches of early Glengarry have been running in this paper in recent weeks, has provided us with another,concerning Rev. Alexander (Scotus) Macdonell,who built the first church at St. Raphaels. Miss Dunlop writes: "It is my intention to ask Dr. Stanley (Eastern Ontario member of the Historic Sites committee) to bear in mind,when he next gets permission to do so, erection of a plaque in St. Raphaels in honor of Rev. Alastair Macdonell. This history has been one that has touched me deeply and I have been anxious that he should be remembered, as I consider he deserves to be." - Editor's note]

Father Alastair, Scotus, of St. Raphaels

When it again becomes Glengarry's turn to have a man's history commemorated by a plaque, it is the hope that it will be to the memory of Rev. Father Alastair Macdonell, Scotus, who, in 1786, founded the parish of St.Raphaels, and built the church known as the Blue Chapel, so called because of the blue ceiling.

It seems as if proper recognition of Father Alastair's work is long overdue, and apparently little of it is well known. However, if one were to call at Iona Academy at St. Raphaels, while one would see in the reception room a striking portrait of Bishop Macdonell, he could also see hanging in the hall, a striking portrait of Father Alastair. For fifty years, people of Williamstown and vicinity attended service in The Blue Chapel at St. Raphaels, but records must have been lost, or been carried away because in spite of diligent searching not much is known of those early days.

Rev. Alastair Macdonell was succeeded by Bishop Macdonell, who also bore the name Alexander, and who was such an illustrious character that his prominence seems to have obscured the name and work, and indeed it sometimes seems,even the memory of Father Alastair. The two identities were, perhaps naturally enough, amalgamated into the one personality, that of the Bishop.

Father Alastair was born in Knoydart, Glengarry, Scotland, in 1750, and in 1786 he came to the new Glengarry and founded a church and parish at St. Raphaels, naming both in honor of the Saint to whom he and his company of 608 had prayed for safe conduct during their long and perilous voyage, Probably the journey up the St. Lawrence and over land to their haven at St. Raphaels was none the less hazardous.

It is known that all these folk did not arrive at St. Raphaels at the same time, as one family at least remained at Sutherland's Creek for two years, before completing their journey. This creek crosses Highway No. 2 a short distance west of the Quebec border. The land is low-lying and marshy and must indeed have presented a contrast to the ruggedness of the Highlands which were left behind. Farquhar McRae and his wife, Nancy McDonell, the great-great-grandparents of the late Mr. Duncan Angus McRae of St. Raphaels, remained at Sutherland's Creek for two years, and there was born the first girl among those 608 people who had come to the New World under the leadership of the young priest.

Father Macdonell belonged to an important Highland family. His uncle was Chief of Glengarry, and his mother was the daughter of the head of the McLeods, who were Protestants. However, in 1792, she was received by her son into the church of his faith. Besides his connections in the Old Country, he had influential friends in the new, and it is thought he would have received material assistance in the building of the first church, known as "The Blue Chapel"

The building stood east of the present church. There are records of Mass having been said in houses farther back in the country and a cemetery in Lochiel which was blessed by Father Alastair, has given the name St. Alexander to that parish.

Father Alastair was a scholar, the beauty of the Latin in which letters were written by him in Scotland being evidence of that to those qualified to judge. He was zealous of his people "to an extent not exceeded by any other priest".

But when Father Macdonell's health compelled him to seek medical advice and help in Montreal, he wrote a letter of instruction to his church wardens. This letter `s not typical of his style of composition and it is thought that he may have been too ill to write himself, so had someone so it for him, he appending his signature".

The letter read:

"Gentlemen -

"By virtue of the power invested in me by the Bishop as parish priest of the parish of St. Raphaels, in the county of Glengarry, I do hereby authorize you to act as formerly in every point in regard to church wardens during my absence, and that as if I was present and until my return back, if it be God's will, to take charge of said parish as formerly, and you are to act agreeable to late regulations laid down in this parish by the Bishop's authority which establishes your authority and mine. And as I always found you faithful, honest and trusty, with the greatest integrity as well toward the public as myself. I have the strongest assurance of confidence that you'll observe this request for the benefit of all parties concerned.

"Glengarry, 18h May,1803.
"Alexander Macdonell,

Father Macdonell was in such a state of failing health that he was stricken at Lachine and did not live to reach Montreal. Neither in life nor in death did he return to St. Raphaels.for it is believed he was buried across the river from Lachine in the Indian cemetery of Caughnawaga.

Somewhere in Glengarry, it is believed, of his material possessions there remains his walking-stick which was given as a gift to him by a grandson of Father Alastair's niece, Marsoli Scotus. And if there be those to wonder what possible interest can be found in a walking stick, there are others with the vision and imagination to tell.

end of article as we have it, awf nov.9.99


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