Throughout the 1860’s and 1870’s, Catholics from Ireland continued to flock to the Head-of-the-Lake in search of employment. It was Gordon who first invited the Sisters of Saint Joseph to Hamilton, who, whence they arrived, opened a convent and an orphanage. Gordon also established separate schools in Hamilton, in an attempt to educate the growing Catholic population. Gordon would exert significant influence upon the growth of the Catholic Church in Hamilton and surrounding area. Priests from St. Patrick’s Church, built in 1876 also tended to those afflicted with disease at St. Joseph’s and Hamilton General hospitals. The 1890’s gave rise to two more Catholic parishes in Hamilton: St. Lawrence, founded in 1890 and serving the area nearest the Bay Front, and St. Joseph’s in 1894 to serve the region under the mountain. It is during this approximate time frame that a Catholic Church was erected in Freelton.
Catholic families had been dwelling in Freelton since 1850, but a resident pastor did not arrive until 1877. Prior to the arrival of the resident priest, Reverend William Lillis, Freelton had been attended by priests from Guelph, Dundas, Berlin (now Kitchener) and Oakville. In 1882, a small church was erected, but it fell prey to fire and was destroyed. A subsequent church was built and completed in 1890. Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Catholic Church still stands today, now one hundred and twelve years old.
Some of the early missionaries passed through the village of Morriston (in the south of Puslinch Township in the County of Wellington), from Dundas while on route to Guelph. Father John Louis Wiriath and Father Peter Schneider likely spent some time in Morriston as well. In 1857, a new church was dedicated in Morriston. The people of the community pooled their resources and purchased a church bell for their new place of worship. The Church in Morriston eventually closed, and following its closure, residents were forced to attend services in Freelton. The bell, forged from/wrought with the toil and dedication of the community was transferred to Waterdown, much to the chagrin of the Morriston community.
Donald Stewart settled on Concession 7 in East Flamborough in the 1840s. As a practising Catholic with no local place of worship, he was said to have walked to Oakville every Sunday to attend mass. By 1846 however, a sufficient number of Catholic immigrants had settled in Waterdown to justify the construction of a small wooden church. Prior to 1846, the religious needs of Waterdown Catholics were satisfied by itinerant preachers from Dundas and Oakville. The frame church was replaced by a stone structure in 1850, and in 1915 by the St. Thomas Roman Catholic Church, at the corner of Barton and Flamboro’ Streets, which exists today. Although Waterdown and surrounding area now had a place in which to worship, there was still no one to lead the services. From 1856-1877, St Thomas was attended by the priests from St. Mary’s in Hamilton. Due to the great concentration of adherents of the Catholic faith in Freelton, Reverend William Lillis was assigned as resident pastor to the Freelton Church in 1877. Consequently, St. Thomas in Waterdown was transferred under the control of Freelton and became a mission church. This arrangement lasted until 1950, when Waterdown was granted parish status. This granting of parish status was precipitated by a period of steady growth in Waterdown. The first resident pastor, Reverend Joseph P. Cremmen organized the formation of a separate school board, and saw to the establishment of a school in the village, which opened on August 26, 1951.
To the Catholic Church, education was of paramount importance, hence the establishment of small schools in the Mountsberg area in East Flamborough, and Hayesland in West Flamborough. Such schools had permanent teachers, and were supported by the congregation who viewed the establishment of schools as one of the cornerstones of their religious convictions. The Catholic Church provided schools, hospitals and orphanages at the Head-of-the-Lake which were, at times, established prior to municipally owned and operated schools. The prosperity of the Catholic religion at the Head-of-the-Lake, Flamborough in particular, hinged upon the influx of Irish and European Catholics, who desired a place of worship in their own community.
© The Waterdown-East Flamborough Heritage Society 2002, 2023.