We are fortunate to have three historic churches and a cemetery in our community.
St. James Church, Colgan
In the 1820's, many settlers from Ireland began to pioneer in the Colgan area where a church was soon built. To meet the pastoral needs of the increasing number of Catholics, Bishop Alexander MacDonell of Kingston in 1830 raised the Church at Colgan to parish status in union with St. Patrick's Church in Wildfield, which served at the principal residence of the founding Pastor, Father Edward John Gordon. During the 1830's, the Catholic population around Colgan continued to grow so that after mid-1935 it was assigned a resident priest and became a parish in it's own right.
St. James, Colgan is the fourth parish to have been established in the Toronto Arch-diocese and is the mother church of all the parishes established in South Simcoe County and far beyond to King City in the south east and to Owen Sound in the North West. Along with the neighbouring area in Adjala and Tecumseth Townships, Colgan became one of the larger concentrations of Irish Catholics in the rural parts of the Archdiocese and a great source of priestly and religious vocations of the years. Twenty eight priests, three brothers and thirty-nine sisters have come from this area.
Notable vocations include: Most Rev. John Thomas Kidd, D.D.(1868-1950), Bishop of Calgary and later, Bishop of London; Rt. Rev. Monsignor James P. Treacy, D.D.(1869-1946); Rt. Rev. Monsignor John Edward Ronan P.A. (1894-1962), founder of St. Michael's Choir School in Toronto; Mother John Frances (d. 1989), born Frances Walsh, Mother Superior of the Ursuline Order for many years; and Rev. Father John Keogh, Counsellor General of the Redemporist Fathers. Religious nurses, missionaries, and teachers have taken the spirit and flavour of this community through Canada and indeed the world.
St. Francis Xavier Church, Tottenham
During the 1880's, the population of Tottenham greatly increased to handle the additional business generated by the new railroad. To meet the pastoral needs of the growing village, Father Francis McSpirrit, Pastor of St. James Colgan, decided that another church should be built in the parish. In the summer of 1885 land was purchased and construction started.
His Grace, the Most Rev. John Joseph Lynch C.M.D.D. , Archbishop of Toronto, laid the cornerstone and dedicated the church on September 3, 1885. Vicar-General Msgr. Francis Patrick Rooney blessed the completed brick church on February 18, 1886. The church was supplied with electricity for lighting as early as 1910. Early in the 1920's a collection was taken up and a bell was purchased for the church. The sacristy was added onto the west end of the church in 1965.
St. Francis Xavier Church typifies the standard small Roman Catholic church of the late 19th century rural Irish Ontario.
St. Mary's Church, Achill
On March 18th, 1875, John Cox sold approximately one acre of land for the nominal sum of $1.00 to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto. Later that year at the initiative of Father William Harris, who was pastor at St. James, and continued by his successor, Father Francis McSpriritt, a small frame church was built. It was established as a mission church of St. James Colgan, some 8 km away. The church was named St. Mary's and provided the rural faithful with a more convenient location to attend Mass.
On January 12, 1892, St. Mary's burned to the ground. The pastor, Father James Kilcullen immediately set about rebuilding the church and a new brick church was competed later that year.
Until 1920, St. Mary's was administered from St. James. In 1918, with the arrival of Father John R. Kehoe at Alliston, the possibility arose of re-establishing Immaculate Conception Church in North Adjala as an independent parish. To make the new parish more viable, St. Mary's was made a mission of Immaculate Conception in 1920. The association lasted until 1980. Then until 1986, St. Mary's was a mission of St. Paul The Apostle in Alliston.
In August 1986, in consultation with Father Christopher Bennett of St. Paul the Apostle and Father Francis Hannan of St. James, Bishop M. Pearse Lacey recommended to Cardinal G. Emmett Carter the re-alignment of St. Mary's to St. James Colgan. This officially took place on January 1, 1987. In March 1987, Father Edward T. Ronan C.S.B. was appointed associate pastor to Father Hannan with the particular responsibility for St. Mary's.
On May 19th, 1991, the congregation of St. Mary's began a year of festivities to mark the centennial of the rebuilt church.
St. James Cemetery
The cemetery at St. James Church is a special and holy place. It has served as the burial ground for the Catholics in this area for many generations. It is a large cemetery located behind the church and is comprised of four sections, named in honour of certain pastors.
The Father Edward Gordon Section contains the graves of the earliest settlers. The first interments are reputed to have taken place in 1829. Father Edward Gordon wrote of one early tragedy that took place, "June 24, (1832) was buried in the Catholic cemetery of Adjala, Hugh Kelly, who lost his life in consequence of the mortification of his leg which was broken by the fall of a tree about a week previous to his death." (11) A tour of this section quickly reveals the Irish origins of so many of the first settlers. The cemetery also contains the graves of some early pastors.
The newer parts of the cemetery are called the Father F.X. O'Reilly Section, the Father Francis Hannan Section and the Father Louis Woods Section.