The first settlement of Baie-Sainte-Marie and the beginnings of religious life for its inhabitants occurred in Saint-Bernard parish; Île-à-Piau, Pointe-à-Major and L’Anse-des-LeBlancs are all located within this parish. It is in this parish that the first child (Joseph Dugas) was born (1768) and baptized at Baie-Sainte-Marie and where the first marriages were blessed after the return from exile. The first burials were at Île-à Piau (1755-1756) and later at Pointe-à-Major.
However, a church was not built at Saint-Bernard until 1855; until that date, the parishioners were served by Paroisse Sainte-Marie in Church Point (Pointe-de-l’Église). Monseigneur William Walsh, Archbishop of Halifax, blessed the new church at Saint-Bernard on June 20, 1855. This church was located on the ch. Petit Paradis Road, with the parish cemetery adjacent to the church. At that time, and until 1905, this church also served the Catholic missions of St-Joseph (Weymouth) and Saint-Jean-Baptiste (Corberrie). More
Of note is the tenure of Père Edouard LeBlanc. A native of Saint-Bernard parish and born in Ohio (Digby County), he had been the pastor of St-Vincent-de-Paul at Salmon River (Rivière-aux-Saumons). In 1907. he was appointed pastor of St. Bernard and it was he who undertook the construction of the current magnificent granite church. In 1912, Père leBlanc was named Bishop of Saint-John, New Brunswick, becoming the first Acadian to be elevated to Episcopal rank.
The Saint-Bernard church was built of Shelburne (Nova Scotia) granite, which was brought in by rail car to Little Brook Station and then by ox cart to the construction site. The parish was determined to not incur debt so the church took thirty-two years to build. Father Élie LeBlanc, who became pastor in 1937, was tasked with overseeing the completion of the new church and witnessing its blessing in 1942. The new church was blessed by His Excellency Archbishop McNally on September 1942 and the first mass was celebrated in French.
In this same year (1943) the old Saint-Bernard church was torn down and a commemorative monument was erected on the site, which now has the old Saint-Bernard cemetery.
My good friend Jeanne Doucet-Currie wrote a song about the building of the Saint-Bernard church – this is one of the verses , a testament to the strength of a people.
Dans un p’tit village
À la Baie-Sainte-Marie
Une église bien bâtie
Et un people acadien
Fort comme le granit,
Un people acadien,
Fort comme le granit!
St Bernard Parish is where our dear friend Jeanne was born and received all the sacrements. She expressed her love for family, friends and her Baie-Sainte-Marie Acadian heritage in her writings, her songs and every breath she took. I’ve attached a link to a tribute to our friend Jeanne written by another dear friend, Clara Dugas, member of Storytellers of Canada, much more eloquent that I but she expresses what is in our hearts:
Bibliography and Further Reading:
www.dioceseyarmouth.org Catholic Churches in Digby County Nova Scotia Diocese of Yarmouth, 2009
Note: it appears this website has been taken down by the diocese since the Diocese of Yarmouth no longer exists; it is now the Diocese of Halifax-Yarmouth.
Doucet-Currie, Jeanne. Grandir à la baie: souvenirs d’une Acadienne de la baie-Sainte-Marie.
*details to follow*