Pembroke – Roman Catholics from across the Diocese of Pembroke, which covers both sides of the Ottawa River from Arnprior to Mattawa, celebrated the 125th anniversary of the founding of the diocese at a mass of Thanksgiving in St. Columkille’s Cathedral last Thursday.

His Excellency. Guy Desrochers, the ninth Bishop of the Diocese, celebrated the mass, which was attended by about 40 priests, deacons, bishops and archbishops.

“There is no greater way for us to mark this significant anniversary than for us to be able to proclaim: Christ is risen! All that we give thanks for today over 125 years is all because Jesus Christ has died and is risen, and we have heard from our Lord in today’s gospel, “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples”, Bishop Desrochers said in his homily.

He said significant anniversaries are very much like a time of harvest; an opportunity to give thanks and bask in the beauty of what God has done.

“And so today we have taken the opportunity to step out of our daily routines and celebrate the fact that part of God’s harvest has been growing in this corner of the Lord’s vineyard,” he said.

He went on to say that when the first missionary bishop, Narcisse Lorrain was sent up the Ottawa River to minister, first as the Vicariate of Pontiac and then in the subsequent establishment of the Diocese of Pembroke, he did not bring the Catholic faith because the vine was already in growth.

His Excellency, Guy Desrochers, Bishop of Pembroke, addresses several hundred people attending last Thursday’s 125th anniversary mass at the Cathedral in Pembroke

“The waters of the Ottawa River that flow through our diocese were blessed by the presence of Recollect Fathers and Jesuit Missionaries – the Canadian Martyrs among them – who paddled these waterways years before and celebrated the sacraments enroute,” he said. “Priests from Kingston, Ottawa and Oblate Missionaries already ministered small communities of faith and Bishop Lorrain arrived to find that the Sisters of Charity of Ottawa were already generously serving in education and health care.”

He went on to say Bishop Lorrain realized he was sent here not to plant the vine, but nurture the growth of faith, adding he did so through extensive missionary travels by every means possible, and sought to build up the faith and the tangible presence of the church into what became established as Pembroke Diocese with Christ as the sure foundation.

“Our thanksgiving to God today is not just for a canonical entity called a diocese, but for generations of faithful souls who have laboured in this vineyard,” he remarked. “Each of us in some way has been formed by this collective fidelity: through the generosity of families who laboured hard for their families and sacrificed generously for the building up of our parishes; through priests and deacons and for women and men of the heroic religious communities who often went to small parish communities – often with very little resources — to teach, care for the sick, cultivate faith and culture in ways that were often hidden and unrecognized.

Bishop Desrochers said the work of the Holy Spirit could be seen in what was formed and fashioned in the Pembroke Diocese and in a sense then also shared with the wider church: the establishment of the Grey Sisters of the Immaculate Conception and the Sisters of St Joseph of Pembroke, religious communities whose establishment is intrinsically grafted into the patrimony of Pembroke Diocese.

“Together these Sisters tended the soil of faith in parishes on both sides of the Ottawa River, but also carried their charism and service far beyond the boundaries of the diocese to places such as Peru, Dominican Republic, Bahamas, Northern Canada, Saskatchewan, and even other missionaries territories such as the Archdiocese of Toronto and Ottawa.”

He also touched on the cultivation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in Lay Movements in the church also found nurturing in the diocese through the formation of the Madonna House Lay Apostolate at Combermere, a family of faith that was established at a time when the church was rather foreign to lay ecclesial movements.

“Imagine how the Lord has been able to use the combined passion of Catherine Doherty and the strength of Bishop William Joseph Smith to allow for lay movements in the church to emerge from our small diocese, in a time that preceded the Second Vatican Council,” he said.

He also spoke about the sacrifice and leadership of the Bishops of Pembroke, and the priests and deacons of the past who have laboured and whose quiet examples of fidelity has fostered the vocations of many of the priests who concelebrate anniversary Mass. 

“Tomorrow, we step back into our routines and the missionary activity of this Diocese continues,” he said. “The times and circumstances of our experience of the church differs today, but how much more we have at our disposal for the service of the Gospel.

“Our lives are more mobile and technological, but they must be missionary as ever. We must never let the changes of the age steer us away from the One who is our solid foundation: the Risen Lord who calls us to always abide in Him as he continues to bring about the growth of his church in our small corner of the vineyard.”

A combined Diocesan choir under the direction of Leo Rochon filled the church with beautiful music.

The anniversary mass was  held on the same day that the Diocese of Pembroke was established 125 years ago, May 4, 1898.

Bishop Narcisse Zephirin Lorrain was the first bishop, serving from 1882 to 1915 followed by Thomas Patrick Ryan who was bishop from 1916 to 1937. The third bishop was Charles Leo Nelligan who served from 1937 to 1945 followed by William Joseph Smith who served until 1971. Joseph Raymponmd Windle was named the fifth bishop serving until 1993 followed by Brendan Michael O’Brien who served until 2000 when he was named Archbishop o fSaint John’s, Newfoundland. Richard William Smith was the shoretest serving bishop, heading the diocese from 2002 until 2007 when he was appointed Archbishop of Edmonton. Michael Mulhall, the eighth bishop, served from 2007 to 2019 when he was appointed Archbishop of Kingston. Guy Desrochers appointed bishop in 2020.

A reception followed afterwards.