Bishop Narcisse Lorrain and the diocese’s clergy mark the establishment of the Pembroke diocese in 1898. Photo courtesy Diocese of Pembroke

Pembroke diocese celebrates its 125th anniversary

  • May 6, 2023

The Diocese of Pembroke, spanning two provinces, with 60,000 Catholics within its borders, marked the 125th year since its establishment.

Bishop Guy Desrochers was to celebrate a special Mass of Thanksgiving at St. Columbkille Cathedral May 4, with special guests, including two of the diocese’s former bishops.

One of the few dioceses in Canada that spans two provinces, Pembroke covers parts of Ontario and Quebec and has a rich history, with a multicultural heritage and some unique institutions.

May 4 is 125 years to the day since Pope Leo XIII signed a decree creating the new diocese with Bishop Narcisse Lorrain as its first bishop.

“It is a cause of great joy to celebrate 125 years as a diocese,” said Desrochers in a release. “Bishop Lorrain planted the seeds of the Gospel, and this celebration gives us the opportunity to give thanks and realize that the missionary work of the Church continues.”

“Our Lord spoke of the kingdom as a mustard seed and that’s exactly how I think of the movements of the Holy Spirit in Pembroke diocese,” said Fr. Ryan Holly, chancellor of the diocese. “Much of our history is composed of small communities yielding great faith. We are blessed with communities such as Madonna House and the Cormac Pilgrimage to St. Ann’s Shrine. These apostolates serve many beyond the borders of our diocese and remind us that the Church is always young.”

The Diocese of Pembroke has a wide territorial span that covers both sides of the Ottawa River. Its patron saint is St. Columbkille (Columba), and the Cathedral is named after him.

Mass is offered in English and French at several churches.

One of the churches, St. Mary’s in the hamlet of Wilno — built by Polish and Kashub settlers — offers Mass in Polish. The people of Madawaska Valley in particular seek to maintain their Kashub heritage. (Kashubs are a West Slavic ethnic group that speaks a language closely related to Polish.)

Set on top of Shrine Hill, the original church burnt down in 1936 but was rebuilt. The church contains two religious icons, a replica statue of Our Lady of Sianowo, Queen of Kashubia, and a picture of Our Lady of Czestochowa, Queen of Poland.

The diocese is also home to the Madonna House Apostolate in Combermere, Ont. Founded by Catherine Doherty as a community of men, women and priests, Madonna House attracts people from around the world.

Raised by deeply religious Russian parents, Doherty had a strong sense of responsibility to the poor and was painfully aware of the injustice of the economic and social conditions oppressing many of them. She moved to Combermere in 1947, and soon established Madonna House.From Combermere, members of the community are assigned to field houses around the world, linking the training centre in Combermere to the universal Church.

The Shrine of St. Ann in Cormac, Ont., has also been a place of pilgrimage and intercession to Good St. Ann. For over 83 years, pilgrims from Ontario, western Quebec and northern New York have been journeying to Cormac to seek the intercession of St. Ann, mother of Mary and grandmother of Jesus. The feast of St. Ann is celebrated annually on the last Sunday of July. In recent years, groups of the faithful have developed a walking pilgrimage as a spiritual preparation for Pilgrimage Sunday. 

This year’s pilgrimage to St. Ann’s Shrine will take place on July 30.

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.