The news of the opening and dedication of the recently completed stone church, now named St. Thomas, was announced in a letter to the Editor of the Hamilton Spectator, dated October 27, 1852.
“The ceremony, which was very imposing, was performed by the Rev. Gordon of Hamilton, assisted by two other clergymen. The choir from St. Mary’s Church, Hamilton was in attendance and High Mass was celebrated in presence of some hundreds of devotees from Hamilton and the surrounding country.”
Even though there was now a church to serve the growing Catholic population in the village and surrounding area, there was still no permanent priest. From the 1850s until 1877, St. Thomas was part of the diocese and under the care of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Hamilton and every two weeks missionary priests from this church came to offer the Liturgy and attend to the needs of residents.
In 1877, the village of Freelton was chosen to have a resident priest because it had a greater concentration of Catholic families, especially along the 11th Concession in East Flamborough Township that had earned it the name of “Little Ireland” or the “Irish Settlement” and Waterdown was transferred to be under Freelton’s control with a status of a mission church and remained so until 1950, when it finally achieved parish status.
The first priest to serve the Freelton-Waterdown parish was Rev. William Lillis (1877-1882), who commenced his duties on August 27, 1877.
A report dated August 3, 1880 concerning the activities of the parish during the calendar year 1879 and signed by Rev. Lillis contains items of interest:
“There are three churches in the district, Freelton, Waterdown and Morriston …sixty families are attached to the church at Freelton, about twenty-eight in Waterdown and three or four to Morriston.”
The report also notes two centres or ‘stations’ at Campbellville and Nelson which are “visited once a year at Eastertime.”
There was also mention of cemeteries in the area; “the cemetery attached to Freelton Church is a comparatively new one. There is no debt on the Freelton cemetery or that of Waterdown. The receipts are very sparse.”
The report concluded with a reference to a small separate school, with an enrollment of 20 pupils, located at the corner of the 11th Concession and Centre Road under the charge of Miss Freel.
Sylvia Wray is the former archivist with the Flamborough Archives. She can be reached through the Archives at email@example.com.
This article was originally published in the Flamborough Review, 15 December 2011.