History of the Catholic Church on Southest Vancouver Island

    It was June 28th, 1846 when the Diocese of Victoria was established, comprising Vancouver Island and all the adjacent islands. The first Bishop was Rt. Rev. Modeste Demers, who was consecrated on November 30th, 1847. He served as Bishop until his death in 1871, spending a good deal of time in the Saanich and Cowichan areas.

    The first missionary to visit Cowichan Bay was Reverend Father Lemprit, as early as April, 1850. But there was no resident priest appointed in Cowichan until the arrival of Father Peter Rondeault, in early 1859.

It is Father Rondeault who is recognized by the Cowichan Indian people as being the first "Blackrobe" or "leplit" [priest" at Kw'emika7en. When he arrived, the Indians were already speaking the Chinook Jargon [Hudson's Bay Trading Language], and since Rondeault spoke Chinook as well, there were few problems in communicating. The prayers were said in Chinook Jargon, for the most part, in those early days. Rondeault's "Sign of the Cross" was not completely foreign to the Cowichans, who also believed in doing things in "the four ways". The fasting at Lent was not unlike the fasting endured by new spirit-dancers during their initiations. The rituals and blessings in the Catholic Mass were things which the Cowichan people understood, just as they related their ideas of "Creators" to that of the Holy Trinity. The priests at this time, and until well into the 20th Century were Diocesan or "secular", which meant that they were under the control of the Bishop [Demers in Rondeault's time]. But the Cowichan people never mentioned their traditional religion [such as the name of Xaals] in the Church, and they still don't. There has always been a belief by Cowichan people that traditional culture has no place in the Catholic Church, but there is a feeling this might change one day.

 

It was Father Rondeault who organized the construction of the first St. Ann’s church. It was hewn from cedar logs on the site known to the Indians as Tl’axewten [later named Kw'emika7en]. This log church served until the building of the Stone Church, a short distance away, in 1870. The stone for this church was taken from one of the most sacred sites of the Cowichans, Tzouhalem Mountain. This mountain is the source for the name “Cowichan”; It is called Shkewetsen “basking on it’s side of the sun”. After the great food which covered the Cowichan valley a frog was seen on the mountain, warming himself in the sun. The site where this took place is called P’ip’oom “little swelled up one” or Frog Rock [sometimes Rising Rock ]. The Indians took their name from the frog, and applied it to the whole river valley and its people. The stone if for the Stone Church comes from a place just below P’ip’oom, and some people say this place is called

Shp’ap’tl’ [where the white cross now stands on Cowichan Mountain].

    

    The Shale was carried by oxed and sleds all the way down Cowichan Mountain and up Kw'emika7en Hill. Everyone had a certain job to do in building the Stone Church. The Indians sold butter to pay for the mortar to set the stones, and this is why the Church is sometimes called the Butter Church. But nobody received money to build the church. It was a gift from all the people,given by the congregation at the time. The Stone Church was apparently used on a regular basis until the Indian Agent decided that there should not be any churches on Indian reserves, around 1880. The windows from the Stone Church were eventually taken to a church at Fulford Harbour, Saltspring Island (according to some people) and the Baptismal Fountain was to be used in the new St. Ann’s church.

 

    The new St. Ann’s was built several miles away form Kw'emika7en Hill, at the foot of James Quapiel [Gabriel] whose Indian name was Kwe7alshen. This land was cleared and a new St. Ann’s was built in the early 1800’s, with the same spirit of generosity and togetherness shown in the building of the stone. Louis Gabori was the head carpenter, and Joe Duncan (Able Joe’s father) also assisted on the building of this ill-fated church. It seems that on the evening before the church was to open [presumably a Saturday night] , the varnish used to protect the wood caught on fire, and it burned to the ground before anybody even prayed in it. But shortly after this, a new St. Ann’s was built on the same design, and it still stands today. The Stone Church fell into disuse but was used occasionally. The bell from the first St. Ann’s is the “Holy Water Fountain” in the church which stands today.

 

    The following is a list of the priests at St. Ann’s, compiled from the records on births, deaths, confirmations, etc. at St. Ann’s. We will give the priest’s name, followed by the first date where his name was mentioned in the records. Where possible, the final dates of service are given.

 

  The following is a list of the priests at St. Ann’s, compiled from the records on births, deaths, confirmations, etc. at St. Ann’s. We will give the priest’s name, followed by the first date where his name was mentioned in the records. Where possible, the final dates of service are given.

Fr. Peter Rondeault                Feb.  1859-April 1900 [buried at St. Ann's]

Bishop Demers [Timas]        April  1861-July 1871 [frequent visitor]

Fr. Decarrie                            June  1875

Fr. Gustav Donckele              Nov.    1878

Fr. J. A. VanNevel                  1890

Fr. Geo. VanGoethem             1892-1893

Fr. E. Sabry                             Sept. 1895

Bishop J. N. Lemmens           1888-1896   [frequent visitor]

Fr. Verbeke                             June 1899

Fr. Marmonget                        1903

Fr.Wm. Lemmens                   Oct.  1903-1912, 1939

Fr. Scheelen                            1903-1922

Fr. Deward                              1905

Fr. F. Boshouwers                   1910

Fr. Flet                                     1920

Fr, Geurts                                1924-1931

Fr. Bericot                                1924-1931

Fr. Henry Lemmens                1927

Fr. Neway                                Apr. 1931-1035

Fr. J. Latour                             1935

Fr. LeClair                                1935

Fr. Lauzon                                1935-1939

 

The Church was built, dedicated or cornerstone laid: 06/06/1870

Street Address:
Comiaken Hill
Tzouhalem Road
Duncan, BC Canada
V9L 5L6

 

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