No spirit like Wolfe Island's

By  Fr. Raby
  • November 3, 2006

It's a 15-minute boat ride from Kingston to Wolfe Island. Commuters working in the city or high school students go back and forth every day on the hourly trips. A lot of people who are not islanders just go for the free boat ride.

I didn't go for the boat ride on the second last Wednesday of October to enjoy the breeze. It was cold and windy and you either sat in your car with the heater on or in the enclosed waiting rooms.

Along with several priests, I was going to a monthly day of recollection given by Fr. Paul Cormier, an Opus Dei priest from Ottawa. We usually meet in the chapel at Kingston Mills parish, but Fr. Ray de Souza, recently appointed pastor of Wolfe Islands' Sacred Heart of Mary's parish, invited us to the Island.

Fr. de Souza is also chaplain for Catholic students and the football team at Queen's University and Newman House, a chaplaincy for students. Father also lectures at the university. He is better known for his column in the National Post.

A recognized spokesman on Catholic values means trips away from the parish. But home is the island and the people his family.

Each parish has its own history but Wolfe Island, like every island, is unique, and to its proud residents is "The Island." As the host of our October meeting, Fr. de Souza could boast that he is the only priest in the archdiocese who had no disputes about parish boundaries. He could also boast of a cathedral-like church in size and beauty built of island limestone.

Wolfe Island parish, as recorded in Built on a Rock, Louis J. Flynn's history of the diocese, goes back to the early 1800s when it was part of La Salle's seigneurie during the French regime. Then after the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759, it became the property of a British colonel for his services in the British Army. By 1836 there were 14 settlers on the Island, of whom two were Catholics.

Now close to 2,000 families call The Island their home, with a notable increase every summer with cottagers. The majority are parishioners of Sacred Heart.

As the congregation grew so did the need for a larger church. There were two older churches, one in 1854 then 1872 before the present one, built in 1916. The cathedral-size church also has a cathedral-size rectory of four storeys with 11 bedrooms. In those days before the car, priests and visitors stayed overnight. Eventually, the church became too much when heating went from wood to coal to gas and electricity. The large rectory was almost a football-field distance from the house, the reason being, according to local folklore, the pastor kept bees and he didn't want the parishioners to interfere with the bees or vice versa.

There is a good corroboration among its citizens, evidenced by a stained glass in the United Church honouring the late Fr. E.T. O'Reilly, for his spirit of ecumenism while pastor of Sacred Heart from 1999-2003. Father, a Basilian priest and native son of the Island, came to Kingston following retirement from teaching in Basilian colleges and served as pastor of the parish of Wolfe Island.

As a native son, he showed the spirit of the island on which he was raised. And that is the spirit that always makes "The Island" the proud home of its sons and daughters wherever they may go.

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