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The View From Fogo Island Father Longergan’s Obituary, Fogo, concluded

By Benson Hewitt Originally, when I began writing this column, and it’s been a few years ago now, I decided to place my email address at the end of each piece, expecting some feedback. There hasn’t been a lot via that particular means, but considerable, and mostly positive, through simple oral conversation, and now, is as good a time as any, to thank you all. However, from time to time, I have heard from people, even from the USA and other parts of Canada, wondering if I might have further information on certain people or events that I had written about. Sometimes I have been furnished with some extra information, again regarding a certain person or event that I was not aware of. Such was the case just this past week.

In a piece that I wrote on October 25, 2012, I wrote about a renegade Roman Catholic Priest, Father Longergan, (1752-1787), who is buried in the Catholic cemetery in Fogo after being excommunicated by Bishop O’Donel, but, who still continued to carry on as a Roman Catholic priest. I continued in my piece on Father Longergan by saying that the 4th Degree of the Knights of Columbus in 1969 placed a headstone over his heretofore unmarked grave. Recently, I had an email from a gentleman who has also done some research on Father Longergan, in which he included a letter written by Bishop O’Donel in 1786, a year before Father Longergan died in Fogo. I include it here simply because I think it makes his resting place here in Fogo an interesting spot, and still worth pointing out and visiting. There is no intention on my part here to heap any coals on his memory. I feel certain that by now his sins are forgiven, (the authority that I am in such matters!) and that he has drank from the River Lethe, thus forgetting about all his travails in Newfoundland.Perhaps, though, he still regales any in-coming Newfoundlanders, sinners as some of them surely are, about his escapades there in the 1700’s. Here is that letter, but I am not sure to whom it was addressed:

“St. John’s

November 30, 1786


Longergan is an utterly lost outlaw, abandoned by God and Man; at present he is on his way to Trinity Bay to spread his scandal there. He publicly revealed the people’s confessions, lived in a sinful relationship with the wife of a certain Dr. Dutton, a Protestant, who petitioned the Magistrate for his banishment. But the civil powers being so weak in this coastal area, he appealed to me. Consequently, I journeyed to the bays in the calm of winter, as far as Renews, a stretch of about 50 miles, and excommunicated him in every port, which had the desired effect, and he then took refuge in St. Mary’s, where he kept a shack this summer. I believe that the first official act that I will immediately perform will be to assist him to the gallows, because he will probably commit some homicide in Trinity Bay, which is quite a distance from me.

Your humble and obedient servant,

Brother James O’Donel.”

My correspondent gave as his source for this letter “Gentlemen-Bishops and Faction Fighters: the Letters of Bishops O’Donel, Lambert, and Other Irish Missionaries”, compiled by Cyril J. Byrne, and published by Jesperson Press.

The Lights Come on in Fogo, 1913

As I have mentioned several times before, I am spending the winter in Peterborough, Ontario. Meanwhile, I do keep in touch via various means to what is going on in Newfoundland, and of course, particularly on Fogo Island.

As I am writing this, the CBC is reporting that a severe winter storm is ‘barrelling’ down on the province. I am not sure what ‘barrelling’ actually means in this instance, but it surely sounds graphic; even ominous. I really want to warn my family.

I also noticed that today, as I am writing this particular piece, that certain, (perhaps all) churches are closed today. I have to ask the question: What in the name of heavens is God doing those days? There was a time, (Oh, for those good old days of yore!), when neither churches nor schools would be closed for a mere storm. Come to think of it: neither would a storm hinder us from walking the roads, especially on a Sunday night.

Meanwhile, in spite of my memory of kerosene lamps, I do have some sympathy for anyone, when, as the expression is today, ‘the lights go out,’ as they did recently on Fogo Island for an extended period. I wondered then, when it might have been ‘when the lights came on’ perhaps for the first time on Fogo Island. I did a little research, and would you believe it? It was a century ago, and almost to the month. The “Twillingate Sun” reported on Feb. 15, 1913, that Earle Sons & Company, in Fogo, had purchased an electric lighting plant for their premises, and were already in the process of installing it. The paper reported that the engine and dynamo had a 9-hp, 2-cycle kerosene motor, and was manufactured by Meitz & Weiss.  

That would have been quite the attraction, and, of course, would have attracted many customers, just for the opportunity, I’m allowing, of seeing an electric bulb. If  Cicero hadn’t said “O Tempora, O Mores” a few thousand years before, someone from Fogo would have said something similar in the vernacular; - “Oh my God, What’s the world coming to, at all, at all!”  I can also imagine some parents warning their children not to look directly at a ‘lit’ bulb because it might cause blindness.It is most likely that their competitor, the Newfoundland and Labrador Export Company, across the harbour, wasn’t long in getting one too. Perhaps they already had one installed.

Sometime in the mid 1920’s, St. Andrew’s Church in Fogo installed a similar power plant to light their church. One can imagine that the necessary fixtures  would have been quite sturdy and lasting at that time, and not made in China, say! Unfortunately, as is often the case, when something new comes on the scene, the old and reliable are replaced with something newer, often of inferior quality. This is probably what did happen with the initial fixtures placed in St. Andrew’s Church in Fogo in the 1920’s. The original fixtures after a while were taken down and placed in an old box and then relegated to the basement of the church. The ACW, a decade or so ago, decided it was time to get rid of them, and placed them for sale for 25 cents a fixture, at a yard sale in front of the church. Someone from Toronto at the time, came by and realizing the value of the fixtures, bought them all. Incidentally, he did pay more than what they were asking. Today, they are ‘pieces de resistance’ in a substantial home in Toronto.

And a closing thought: Tuesday, Feb. 12, was Pancake Day. The proper name is, of course, Strove Tuesday. Does anybody reading this remember when it was called ‘Soft Tuesday’?

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