Summer in the country was a time for swimming in the Tay River, hanging out with friends at the millstone at Cavanagh’s general store, and regular bike rides up and down the Third Line. There were farm tractors, hay-wagons, mothers outside hanging their washing on clotheslines, and daisies and black-eyed-Susans waving in the ditches, as I flew by on my old red bike.
I always passed by the familiar farms and houses along the way – Mitchell’s, Conboy’s, pedaled like lightning past Heney’s so their dogs couldn’t catch me. I continued past Radford’s, Siebel’s, Mitchell’s, Kerr’s, Closs’, heading up the Third Line toward Kyle’s, Perkins’ and Doyle’s when one day, something unusual caught my eye.
A stylish wedding party was entering St. Vincent de Paul Church; a bride in a flowing white gown, three bridesmaids dressed in pastel pink, carrying matching nosegays. Several cars were parked outside, decorated with pink and white tissue flowers. I pulled over to the side of the road to watch the procession. The old Catholic church had been around for as long as I could remember, and appeared as proud and majestic as ever on that hot summer day so long ago.
The early settlers in Bathurst Township were keen to have their own church, instead of driving to St. John’s Church in Perth, or St. Bridget’s Church in Stanleyville. Roads were treacherous at times in the winter, with deep snow, sometimes freezing rain, or both.
Long before St. Vincent de Paul Church was built, Roman Catholic services were held for 69 years, in the home of Mrs. Ed. Lee on the Third Line.
John DeWitt, son of a pioneer settler, and his wife Mary Neil knew there was a need for a Roman Catholic Church to serve the growing community. Hoping to improve the situation, they made a promise to donate the land to build a church.
The paperwork was completed, and the land on lot 11, between the 2nd and 3rd concessions of Bathurst Township was donated by John and Mary DeWitt on July 26, 1889. To ensure that the transaction was legal, the land was sold for the token sum of one dollar to the Kingston Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church.
The construction progressed quickly, and the first mass was held on November 23, 1889. The church was packed that day, and this stately building has served generations of families around DeWitt’s Corners and the area for over 125 years and counting.
I recall that Father J.C. Le Sage was the Priest of the parish from 1952 through to 1976. Fr. Le Sage was well-liked, and a good friend to many of the local parishioners. He was known to be extremely intelligent, and it was widely believed that he had come from a very capable family. He had a reputation for being an excellent business manager, and ensured that the Church was in good repair.
During his time serving at DeWitt’s Corners he hired an exceptionally talented Dutch painter who cleaned and restored the wood ceiling of St. Vincent’s, and painted the interior of the building. He was also instrumental in building a parish hall in Stanleyville (the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish Hall) to serve both parishes (St. Vincent de Paul in Dewitt’s Corners and St. Bridget’s in Stanleyville). Because of his excellent fiscal management, the total costs for the new hall were paid off quickly. Along with Fr. Le Sage’s sound business sense, an active Catholic Women’s League helped to raise money for the church, and assist with local charities.
St. Vincent de Paul, the pretty red brick church at DeWitt’s Corners, has served the community for well over a century. Both residents and seasonal visitors from nearby cottages have found comfort and a sense of belonging inside these stately walls.
Many weddings, christenings, and funerals have taken place over the past hundred years, and to those of us who grew up in this neighbourhood, St. Vincent de Paul will always remain a memorable place in our hearts.
photo of St. Vincent de Paul church c. 1970s, courtesy of JoAnne Cavanagh Butler
(story is an excerpt from ‘Lanark County Classics: A Treasury of Tales from Another Time”)