Saint Francis of Assisi Roman Catholic Church

St. Francis of Assisi History

Although St. Francis of Assisi Church was officially opened and blessed in October of 1980, the founding members of the congregation in Cornwall will tell you that the church existed long before an actual structure was built. Before the Catholic community in Cornwall began forming as a congregation, the closest Catholic Church available to them was St. Dunstan’s Basilica in Charlottetown. Therefore prior to the influx of Catholic families during the 1960’s, the Catholic residents of the Cornwall area would make the trek to Charlottetown for Mass each Sunday.1

A trek it was! In an interview with Island Historian Dutch Thompson, life-long Cornwall resident Louis MacDonald recounted his experiences traveling across the North River from Cornwall (formerly York Point) to Brighton to attend Mass at St. Dunstan’s Basilica, in the early to mid 1900’s. (To learn more about Louis MacDonald, please click here)

Mass was celebrated at several different locations in the area prior to the construction of the St. Francis of Assisi Church. A tent-like structure was erected at Holiday Haven one summer for the Catholic community to celebrate Mass. Places like Eliot River School and even the Cornwall Lions Club generously welcomed the Catholic community to use their facilities for their weekly services. But perhaps the most generous contribution came from the congregation of the Cornwall United Church when they allowed the Catholic community to celebrate Mass in their church. This generosity was not just a short term contribution, the Cornwall United Church shared their facilities from 1970-76. Mass was celebrated each Saturday night at the Cornwall United Church.2

Finally by the mid 1970’s the Diocese of Charlottetown was seriously considering the idea of forming a new parish. By June of 1977, the steering committee under the chairmanship of Eric MacDonald had submitted a proposal for a new parish with proposed boundaries. It was not long after, in September of that same year that the Building/Site Committee, under leadership of Leonard Murphy, negotiated the acquisition of land on which the church currently sits from George Lowther.

By this time the ball really started rolling. In 1978, Fr. Clare MacDonald was appointed by Bishop Spence to form the new parish. The Steering Committee was replaced by the Parish Council which consisted of an executive and two members-at-large which were selected each year by parishioners. Six committees were also derived from the Parish Council; Liturgy, Religious Education, Property and Finance, Family Life, Ecumenical and Communication. The Catholic Women’s League (CWL) had already been organized and was active in the church. They organized many events such as fashion shows, bazaars, and coffee parties and contributed to the spiritual well-being of the community by holding receptions for bereaved families, and providing spiritual gifts to First Communion and Confirmation classes. The CWL has been a strong advocate for Christian causes including Right to Life, Living Rosary, and World Day of Prayer.3

By the end of the year, Miller Associates was hired to draw up designs for the new church building and residence. The architect under Miller Associates was George Guimond. Mr. Guimond was very much aware of fact that the church is a family and community and created an open design to reflect the open-ness of the parishioners. It was a very unorthodox design for a church, but was intended to be very energy efficient. A new innovative design was created involving a solar heating system which was one of the first in North America. Parishioners were enthusiastic about the design, as was the Diocese; they had given final authorization on June 15, 1979. Monies were arranged by loans from the Diocese as well as St. Paul’s Parish in Summerside and a call went out to name the new Church. The Parish Council had suggested the name St. Francis of Assisi to Bishop Spence.4

Ground Breaking     Ground Breaking Group

Ground Breaking - Photo's Courtesy of Ginny Grant

Ground was broken for construction in October of 1979. One year later the church was completed and opened to the public. Kenneth Coles was awarded the construction contract, but many volunteers from the parish helped out with various tasks such as cleaning, painting, varnishing and landscaping. All the while fundraising was another major task taken on by a committee. They held activities such as dances and potluck suppers to bring in money to help pay for the church. Donations from other parishes as well as private donations also came in.5

Construction different view       Construction

Construction of St. Francis of Assisi - Photo's Courtesy of Ginny Grant

Finally, on October 4, 1980, St. Francis of Assisi church was officially opened and blessed. The Catholic community of Cornwall at last had their own church building. The parishioners were anxious and excited to get to know one another. Coffee and conversation socials were held frequently after the Saturday evening and Sunday 11a.m Masses. Parishioners were eager to become involved with the various parish ministries. Although the building itself had been completed, the church still lacked pews. A pew fund was established in June, even before the opening of the church and it had been decided that pews would be installed as money became available. The last of the pews were installed in 1990.6

Since the erection of St. Francis of Assisi Church, several significant milestones have also been achieved.7

  • The creation of a Secular Franciscan Fraternity was established in 1987 by Doug and Marion Clorey under the encouragement of Fr. Clare MacDonald and Bishop Spence. This lay order is diocesan wide, but makes St. Francis of Assisi its home base. Six of the original twelve members were/are parishioners of St. Francis of Assisi.
  • In 1992, a small group of men from the parish established a branch of the Knights of Columbus. The Knights have been involved in food drives, financial support for church activities, setting up roadside nativity scenes, and frequent pancake breakfasts.
  • A statue of St. Francis of Assisi was created by Island artist Henry Purdy which was erected at the entry way of the church and blessed in 1993
  • Chimes were also installed in the church parking lot in 1993
  • A shared cemetery with St. Martin of Tours was established in Cumberland in 1997. The cemetery was dedicated in 1998
  • In 2010 St. Francis of Assisi parish joins St. Ann’s and St. Martin’s to form the Good Shepherd Pastoral Unit

* To Learn more about St. Martin of Tours please click here

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