St. John The Baptist Parish - 1802 - 1992

By the Historical Committee
Compiled and edited by
Eleanor Gignac and
Laura Bondy
June ,1992
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Short history timeline slideshow
St. John The Baptist Church

Brief History St. John The Baptist Church

Note: This page is reproduced from the photo album booklet which was put together for the 150th anniversary of St John The Baptist Church in 1997.

Amherstburg was in its infancy when the first Catholic chapel was built on Bathurst Street. On May 1, 1800 Bishop Pierre Denaut wrote to Father Jean Baptiste Marchand (a Sulpician priest, pastor of Assumption parish at Sandwich) instructing him to "give as patron saint the name of St. John the Baptist." By 1802 permanent records were being kept separately for the Amherstburg chapel.

As the community grew, so did the Catholic population. By 1830 it was evident that a much larger structure was needed. Crown land on Brock Street was obtained in 1834 by the Episcopal Corporation, but it wasn't until June 24, 1844 that the cornerstone was blessed and the Gothic edifice began to take form.

During the first half century of St. John's existence the parish survived some very lean and unpredictable years. The War of 1812-15 hostilities caused great consternation, as did the Rebellion of 1837-38. There was also some difficulty in engaging adequately trained clergy. At that time many Catholic churches were being built in both Lower and Upper Canada. Priests were being ordained at a rapid rate but not quickly enough to supply the demand. The boundaries of the parish were extensive, requiring the priests to travel many exhausting miles to reach the Catholic population.

Jean Baptiste Marchand, pastor of Assumption, was in charge of the Amherstburg and River Thames missions. Between 1801 and 1825 he was assisted first by Fr. Felix Gatien and later by Fr. Joseph Crevier. Upon Marchand's death in 1825 Crevier became pastor of Assumption which included the outlying areas from the River Thames to Pelee Island and Amherstburg. In September that year he was joined by the newly-ordained Louis J. Fluet, who remained until 1831 when he left the priesthood due to political and religious controversy in the parish. Crevier also left in 1831 for the same reasons. He was followed by Frs. Angus MacDonell and Augustin Vervais. For about four months in 1843 the parish was administered by the Jesuits. Father Louis Boué arrived in Amherstburg in January, 1844 and immediately began the task of building the new church. He traveled the boundaries of the parish from Amherstburg to River Canard and McGregor, across the lower half of Essex County to Point Pelee, meeting parishioners and settlers, some of whom hadn't seen a priest in years. On those visits he not only conferred the sacraments but informed the people of the progress of their new parish church. Folks throughout the district, Catholic and Protestant, donated and pledged to the building fund. Some gave gifts of money while others donated labour and materials. The Wyandottes donated stone from their quarry in Anderdon Township. Stone from that same quarry was used in 1994 in the building of a new (church sign cairn.) Ancestors of many of today's parishioners performed the manual labour. William Burnell, the contractor, had agreed to build the church for $9,200 but the final price after some additional work was $9,728. Major financial donors were two wealthy Amherstburg widows, Archange (Baby) Cannon and Madeleine (Peltier) Askin. both of whom were later buried beneath the sanctuary, as specified in their Wills.

In 1844 Amherstburg had almost 900 inhabitants and the bordering townships were quickly being settled. Three rifle companies were stationed at Fort Malden. Anecdotal history relates that in order to accommodate the soldiers, Father Boué gave orders to build side galleries in the new church, which were removed in 1894. A few pews at the front of the church were set aside for the Wyandotte families who were promised that they would never be obliged to pay pew rent or pastoral dues in exchange for donating the stone. 

In the autumn of 1845 upon returning from a trip into the country, Father Boué met with an accident and died a few days later from his injuries. On October 14th his remains were interred beneath the sanctuary. Some years later a plaque to honour his memory was placed on the north side of the church interior where it remains today.

Following Boué's death the Jesuits again took charge of St. John the Baptist Parish from 1845 until 1850 when Jean Daudet was appointed as pastor. He was succeeded by Pierre Dominic Laurent, Augustin Wassereau and James Ryan until the Basilians assumed responsibility for the parish in 1878.

Work on the church continued after Fr. Boué's death but many years passed before it was completed. The bell tower was built in the late 1860s under the direction of Father Pierre Dominic Laurent. The ‘Lake Chapel' in southeast Malden was also built before 1869 during Fr. Laurent's tenure. It remained in use there until 1906 when St. Anthony's Church was established in Harrow.

In 1878 the first Basilian priests, Frs. Jean Pierre Grand and Patrick Joseph Ryan, arrived in Amherstburg to take charge of St. John the Baptist Parish. Father Ryan continued work on the interior of the church in preparation for the celebration of the Golden Jubilee in 1894. Father Grand in the meantime was responsible for establishing St. Clement's Church in McGregor, the first chapel being built there in 1880.

In 1883 two stained-glass windows, imported from Belgium, were installed, one on the north and one on the south wall. Eight more were added in 1894 and others in the early 1900s. Through the building's one hundred and fifty-three years of existence there have been some major repairs and minor alterations but the exterior of St. John the Baptist Church is much the same as it was when the Golden Jubilee was celebrated over one hundred years ago.

In 1978 the Town of Amherstburg, through its Local Architectural Conservation Advisory Committee, passed a bylaw which designated St. John the Baptist Church on Brock Street and its adjacent properties as "being of historical and architectural value to the heritage of the town of Amherstburg." There are presently 2276 families registered in the parish.

St. Theresa's Chapel

During Father Vincent Thompson's pastorship (1974-79), Msgr. F.J. Laverty, then Chancellor of the London Diocese, gave permission for the celebration of a Christmas Eve Mass to be offered in the gymnasium of St. Theresa's School, Malden. The candlelight service was attended by over 500 people. For three years afterwards a Mass was held there each Sunday. In 1978 the vacant Malden United Church on Highway 18 was purchased by the diocese and renamed St. Theresa of the Little Flower Chapel. The first Mass was celebrated there by Father Thompson on February 18, 1979.

In the spring of 1995 the London diocese announced that due to a shortage of priests St. Theresa's Chapel would hold its final service on June 25, 1995. Religious articles were removed to St. John the Baptist Church in Amherstburg. The large circular stained-glass window,"Christ in Gethsemane" , created by Sergio de Paoli of Windsor and placed in the building during the 1950s, was removed. Through the cooperation of Parish Council and the historical committee of St. John the Baptist Church, the window was installed in 1996 in the nave of the main entrance to St. John's.

Historical Committee Page