Between 1865 and 1870, a small stone church was erected on the property purchased from Patrick Freel and adjacent to a burying ground in the village that had probably been established a decade earlier, as several monuments date from the 1850s.
During the early years, there were no resident clergy in the village and the small congregation was served by priests from Guelph, Dundas, Berlin, Paris and Oakville.
The first resident clergy, Rev. William Lillis, was appointed 27 August 1877.
With the installation of a pastor, the older parish of St. Thomas in the village of Waterdown was attached to Freelton as a mission since it had a smaller congregation of about 28 families and a building described as “a poor church.”
In 1889, during the pastorate of the next incumbent, Father John O’Leary, the church was destroyed by a fire, believed to have been caused by an overheated furnace pipe. Rebuilt almost immediately by stonemason, James Davidson, the Gothic-style church with its magnificent tower and spire can be seen for miles.
On May 15, 1892, Rev. Thomas Dowling, who at one time had ministered to the small congregation when he was stationed in Paris, returned to the village as the recently appointed Bishop of the Hamilton Diocese, to dedicate the new Freelton church. According to the following day’s report in The Hamilton Times, “His Lordship, accompanied by Rev. McEvay was met about five miles from Freelton by a concourse of parishioners in carriages who had come to bid them a hearty welcome.”
Mass was celebrated every Sunday morning in Freelton before the priest departed for Waterdown. After conducting that service, he would visit the home of a parishioner each week and have dinner with the family before returning by horse and buggy to Freelton.
During the tenure of Father William Becker (1909- 1924), he reputedly picked up the Baptist Minister in Freelton and took him to his church at Flamborough Centre, as he also ministered to two congregations.
Sylvia Wray is the former archivist with the Flamborough Archives. She can be reached through the Archives at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was originally published in the Flamborough Review, 7 November 2008.