St. Michael's Parish, Ridgetown is an offspring of a little mission church of St. Joseph, which was located on the seventh concession of Howard Township in the County of Kent. It was in the care of the Jesuit Fathers, St. Joseph's Parish, Chatham, Ontario.
As for the history of the early mission church, Rev. Fr. Gocklin, S.J. wrote as follows: "St. Joseph's Church, Howard Township was commenced by the Rev. Fr. Jaffray, S.J. on the 17th of March 1858. The first log building was 32 feet by 10 ft. high to the roof. By the zealous co-operation of the faithful the building was under roof in one week, although, owing to lack of funds, its completion was deferred to autumn, when Mass was celebrated in it for the first time. To meet these expenses, Fr. Jaffray devised the expedient of a dinner which was well patronized. A second dinner was resorted to, which realized the sum of twenty-seven dollars." The building committee was comprised of John Moore, John Cosgrave and James O'Connor, these gentlemen were afterwards appointed to be trustees of the church. John Moore, resigning, Rev. Fr. Petit S.J. appointed Patrick Weldon in his place in 1860. The grounds for the church were generously donated by John Cosgrave and comprised two full acres, lying on the north east corner of lot no. 3, concession 8, in the Township of Howard.
The pews were built and paid for by the heads of families and were held one year without rent. In June 1862, Fr. Gocklin wrote "At a meeting of the trustees presided over by Rev. Fr. McQuaid, S.J., it was agreed whereas the log church was too small for the congregation, the trustees should call on the faithful for subscriptions to enlarge the church and to flat-board the log portion of the building. There was one subscription for twenty-five dollars and other were in amounts of one, two, three and four dollars. One poor German paid fifty cents.
The mission was in the charge of the Jesuits who came by horse and buggy from Chatham once a month to celebrate Mass and to attend the spiritual needs of Parishioners. The Rectory was a little log house in one corner of the church yard, which was used by the priests while they were at the mission. The priests who attended during the fifteen years it was under their charge 1858-1873, were Fathers Wm. Gocklin, P. McQuaid, J. Reynolds, A. Baudin and F. Michel.
As for the parishioners in those days some of them came from the tenth concession of Harwich. They were the McGrath's, Foran's, and Curtis'. Today on the corner of this road and the Mull Sideroad can be found the Mission Church of St. Isidore, which was opened in July 1943. On the church road which was the seventh concession of Howard Township lived the Moore's, Sinnett's and many others. Wm. Mooney lived on the lake shore which would be twelve miles from church. George Eberle came from Morpeth, a distance of nine miles. Some came from Kilmarnak, which is Duart today and is a distance of twelve miles. Other parishioners were as follows: Weldon, Pricour, Cosgrave, McClusky, O'Connor, Clancy, Reed, Mattimore, Downing, Feehaly, Simmons, Donovon, Brosnaham, McDonald, Quigley, Slevin, Lamb, Dilliott, and Limberger. There was a Peter Moore, known as Sailor Pete, another of the same name known as Long Pete, and still another as Fat Pete. Some of the early settlers migrated from Wexford, Wicklow, Rosecommon and County Clair, Ireland. Two came from Berlin, Germany.
The first Baptism on July 9, 1862, was that of Theresa Dilliott, daughter of Sebastian Dilliott and Anna Schindler, the first marriage was that of Peter Hoye and Elizabeth Doyle. One of the parties of the third marriage performed in the little mission church seventy-four years ago is alive to-day and very active in the parish. She is Mrs. Mary DeShaw, living at Muirkirk.
Parish entertainments were held in those days to help defray the church debt. They had a Parish dinner on October 1, 1864. Lamb and beef were served. They bought knives and forks for $15.00 and after the meal they sold them for $15 and 50 cents. The receipts for the dinner were $193.44. Many of us today would say they did well. Mention is made of school being conducted in the church building. The teacher, Miss Regan of Glamworth, who afterwards became Sister Evangelist of St. Joseph's Communion, London. Monies for the upkeep of the church came from rent of the pews and offertory collections. Offertory collections amounted to 65¢ and $1.01 on the Sundays.
In 1873, the Jesuits relinquished the care of the mission. The same year Bishop Walsh appointed Rev. P. Fitzpatrick to take care of Howard and the adjoining missions, living in Bothwell, he was a man of small stature, kindly and amiable and devoted to the people of his mission. Fr. Fitzpatrick left in July 1874 and was succeeded by Fr. M. Kelly, who was a striking figure--tall, rugged and athletic. His days as a pastor ended in May 1878.
At this time the Franciscan Fathers had charge of St. Joseph's Church, Chatham and also of the little mission church. Among the Fathers who attended the mission were Fathers Michel, Hoffman, Bernadin, Stanislaus and William. The Franciscan Fathers made plans for the erection of the new Catholic Church in Ridgetown to be known as St. Michael's. In 1880 the corner stone was laid for the Church which is located in the South West of town on George and Maple Streets. On Sunday, July 3, 1881, the church was dedicated. Bishop Walsh was present and was assisted by his secretary, Father Mahoney, Fr. Lot and two Franciscan Fathers, William and Stanislaus.
After the new St. Michael's Church was completed, the little old church was to be torn down and moved to Ridgetown by William Fitzgibbon and Timothy Hardy. It was then rebuilt into a house on Victoria Avenue.
With the year of 1882, the parish was again under the care of the Diocesan priests. At this time, it was attached to the parish of St. Patrick's Raleigh, and attended once a month. Rev. T.T. West took charge in the early part of 1882 and left in July 1884. He is remembered by the people as a man of childlike faith, the holy man of God, having at heart at all times the good and welfare of the community. He was a true priest of God who served his Master for nearly fifty-nine years.
Succeeding pastors of Raleigh having charge of Ridgetown were the Rev. E. Hodghinson from July 1, 1884 - October 14, 1887; Fr. M. Cummins from October 1887 - December 1888; (his is the first record of a communion class) twenty-three receiving on November 4, 1888). The parish picnic held on June 20, 1888 netted $238.80
Fr. Thomas Quiglay followed in January 1889, and remained until the fall of 1892. Another successful picnic was held on September 5, 1889, which netted $150.00. These picnics were held in Scane's bush which was located on the corner of the seventh concession and Scane Sideroad, where Neil Campbell's house now stands.
The jovial Fr. McCabe came in the fall of 1892, remaining until the end of 1896.
On October 19, 1893, Bishop O'Connor made his first visit to the parish and confirmed seventeen children. These five pastors made the trip once a month from Raleigh by train, and at times by horse and buggy. The weekends were spent in the parish teaching catechism on Saturday, and attending to the spiritual needs of the people on Sundays. As there was no parish house, they stayed with a Catholic family living on Main Street or the Ridge Road as it was called those days.
Beginning February 1, 1897, the parish had its first resident pastor in the person of Rev. D. McMenamin. On his arrival he rented a house from D. Watterworth, paying six dollars rent per month. A contractor from the parish had charge of the erection of a new parochial residence which Fr. McMenamin occupied in 1898. He left the parish in August 1899.
September 8, 1899 saw Fr. O'Donohue of the Basilians in charge. On June 25, 1900, Fr. O'Donohue announced that the church debt had been paid.
In July 1900, Rev. B. Boubat was appointed pastor by Bishop McEvay. He was noted for his neat appearance on the street in dress coat, plug hat and cane in hand. He possessed a very musical voice. Fr. Boubat paid the debt off the house during his years as pastor. In May 1905 he left the parish and Fr. T. Hussey, pastor of West Lorne, became administrator.
The quiet and gentle Fr. Mugan came as pastor on January 2, 1907. He made many repairs to the church and placed therein the first stained glass windows, five in number. On two occasions he invited Fr. Sinnett, a former boy of the parish and later a Chaplain in the South African War, to address the people in the town opera house. Fr. Sinnett gave a description of his travels and his work in the war. The concerts netted the parish $193.60 which was used to install a furnace in the church. Each Sunday in his records, Fr. Mugan noted the weather conditions. His last days were spent in St. Joseph's Hospital and House of Providence, London.
Fr. T.J. McCarthy was administrator of the parish from June 1914 to January 1915. Fr. McCarthy then became a chaplain in the first World War.
Ft. Daniel Forster succeeded as pastor the same month. He had the walls of the church painted for the first time, had the house wired for electricity, and installed a hot water system in the house and church.
Major, the Rev. E.G. Doe came in November 1918 after being Chaplain in the first World War. He built a cobble-stone verandah on the house. In August 1919, St. Mary's Church, Blenheim was attached to the Ridgetown Parish and remained until the Capuchin Fathers came in 1927.
Fr. Joseph Fallon arrived in July 1924 to take charge of St. Michael's Parish. He excavated under the church and built the parish hall.
Rev. Wm. Moran came as pastor in September 1926. The church was decorated in 1929 for the occasion of Rev. Aaron Gignac's first Mass. Several years later four beautiful stained glass windows were placed in position. In the spring of 1941, the church and house were painted on the outside for the day which no doubt, was the greatest of his days spent in Ridgetown, his Silver Jubilee. The memory of that day will not soon be forgotten by the Bishop and priests in attendance on that occasion. Fr. Moran was a big, jovial, kind-hearted, Irish man, beloved by all, regardless of the their creed.
"In his duty promt at every call
He watched and wept, and prayed and felt for all."
Fr. Moran died on February 23, 1942.
Fr. Fergus Laverty became administrator upon Fr. Moran's death and remained in the parish until June 1942.
In June 1942, Rev. L.H. Power was appointed pastor by Bishop Kidd. Fr. Power is a deeply religious, dignified priest who has endeared himself to all. Many improvements have been made by Fr. Power -- two additional stained glass windows having been placed in the church, and the church tower replaced by a new one. In June 1946, he celebrated his Silver Jubilee.
A number of young men and women of the parish embraced the religious life. One of the young men was Rev. John Sinnett, born August 7, 1855, in a log house on the seventh concession of Howard. He was a member of the Jesuit Order. Soon after he was ordained he went to the West where he remained for forty years. A town in Saskatchewan is named after him. During the Boer War, he was Chaplain in South Africa. He died March 1928.
Rev. Aaron Gignac joined the China Mission College and was ordained in May 1929. He died in China on October 30, 1940, following an appendicitis operation.
Among the young women who joined the St. Joseph Community in London were: Hannah Brosnahan - Sister M. Hildegarde, now deceased; Stella McDonald - Sister M. Madeline; Annie DeShaw - Sister M. Frederick; and Louise Goodal - Sister M. Emerita.
To the Ursulines in Chatham went three members of the O'Neill family. Dorothy, Alice and Minnie - Sister Anita, Sister M. Joseph, and Sister St. Patrick. There were also two members of the Goldhawk family - Edith and Vera - Sister Mary Bertha and Sister Mary Fabian. Esther Thompkins became Sister M. Francis Xavier.
St. Michael's parish extends from Lake Erie on the south to the fifth concession of Howard Township on the north, a distance of ten miles, and from Elgin and Kent County Road on the east to the Mull Side-road on the west, a distance of sixteen miles. There are sixty-five English speaking families and forty foreign families composed of Belgians, Czechs, Slovakians, and Poles. The parish is considerably enlarged during the summer months by tourists from Government Park.
Fifteen young men from the parish went overseas during the World War II. Three were injured in the invasion of Normandy. Two paid the supreme sacrifice, Pilot Officer William Casey being the first casualty from the Ridgetown district and Sergeant Joseph Downey of the Algonquin Regiment was killed during the invasion of Germany.
(This information was taken from the records of St. Michael's Church, Ridgetown, February, 1947; prepared by Muriel Dilliott.)
In March 1949, Father Power entered St. Joseph's Hospital, London for an operation, his condition was found to be very serious and he died in the Hospital in August.
In March 1949, Bishop Kidd sent to St. Michael's as assistant Priest Rev. Fr. C.A. Pettit - a saintly, kindly young Priest, filled with zeal for the work of God and his Church. Following Father Power's death, Father Pettit was named Administrator of the Parish. He immediately began an Improvement Campaign on a mammoth scale, and in 1949 over six thousand dollars was raised for the work. The first Garden Party was held on the lawn of St. Michael's in August which realized the sum of twelve hundred dollars. Our American visitors showed their interest in our Parish by sponsoring several projects which added several hundred dollars to our fund.
The Church Rectory and garage were re-roofed with moss green asphalt shingles. Complete new heating system was installed. A hot water system in the Rectory and steam heating in the Church and hall. Father Pettit then began work in the Rectory. The kitchen was remodelled and modernized, a new bathroom installed, a new cement for laid in the basement and the remaining rooms in the Rectory decorated.
In June 1950, to the great joy of the Parishioners, Father Pettit was appointed Pastor of St. Michael's Parish by Bishop Cody. In August a second Garden Party was held which realized the magnificent sum of seventeen hundred dollars. In September the old plaster was removed from the sacristy and replaced by tentest and a new attractive asphalt floor laid.
Then began the task of getting the Church ready for decorating, the first item being the repairing of the plaster. At the present time, April 1951, the great work still goes on with the hope in our hearts that in the near future we may see St. Michael's Church newly decorated.
In October Father Pettit re-organized the Catholic Women's League, and they have undertaken many parish projects.
Rev. H. Van Vyneht came in June 1961, but ill health overtook him and Rev. G.H. Dill came in July 1963.
Transcribed from the records of Mrs. Geo. S. Brien, Rural Ridgetown Women's Institute.