The Church of Immaculate Conception in Cork

The first Church of  Immaculate Conception was built in Cork, York County, New Brunswick in around 1861.  The structure was destroyed by the Saxby Gale in 1869 and a second structure was built immediately afterwards.  By 1901, the congregation had outgrown the church leading to a third and larger church being built between 1901 and 1903 next to the existing church. The second church was then used as the Parish Meeting Hall.

This third church was struck by lightning and burned to the ground on July 9, 1943. The fire also destroyed the Parish Meeting Hall.  The following spring, building a fourth Church was initiated and finally completed in the winter of 1947.  The congregation was able to use the church as it was being built.  

The photo below shows the third church which was struck by lightning as well as the second church next to it which was used as a parish hall.


Bill Randall’s “From the Scrapbook”, Histories

By Dr. Bill Randall
May 4, 1990

July 9, 1943, was a hot, humid day with huge thunder clouds building in the sky. It seemed impracticable to cut anymore hay down, so it was a good night to go to the dance at Halford’s Hall. By
intermission time, 11:00 pm, everyone was anxious to step outside and get a breath of fresh air. Though the thunder had been rumbling ominously all evening, it attracted little attention in the noisy dance hall. In fact no one had paid any particular attention to the lightning, so it was somewhat amazing to step out and see the eastern sky aglow. Obviously a fire, and obviously the most prominent building in view – the Cork Church – the Church of the Immaculate Conception.

Suddenly the dancers ran for their vehicles to become fire fighters. However, it was already a lost cause. A bolt of lightning had hit the spire of the Church (about 800 feet above sea level) and immediately descended to ignite the alter furnishings and engulf the whole church. The first three men to arrive on the scene were John McCann, Arthur McCann, and Everett Crowley. John dove into the chapel and rescued the beautiful statue of St. Patrick. Assisting him in the rescue was Lome Morrow who almost lost a finger in the salvage attempt but instead, it was St. Patrick who lost his finger. Arthur McCann tried to rescue the statue of the Sacred Heart but was thrown back by the heat of the inferno. T. Kay Craig arrived, towing a 300 gallon tank of water and a Wayjax pump, but nothing could be done to save the building so the fire- men’s attention turned to the:, nearby woods to keep the fire from spreading.

This was the third Catholic Church erected on this four acre plot of land. The first church had been built in 1861, the fulfillment of a dream of the early Irish settlers who had immigrated in the early 1840’s from Kilamey, Ireland and took up a large track of land east of the Harvey settlement and, generally between Gardiner’ s Creek and the Lyons Stream. They named their community Cork and began to make plans for a Chapel.

The Cork area had received an occasional ministry as an outreach of the Fredericton Church and when Father NkDevitt supported them in their desire to build a church he purchased two acres of land from John Russel and Mr. Russel then donated an additional two acres. The Church was completed in 1861 but I have not yet found a description of the interior decorations or statues.

Unfortunately for the sacrificing and humble supporters of this Church, it only lasted for eight years, when it became a casualty of the Saxby Gale of October 4-5, 1869. The fury of this phenomenon of nature superseded any stop i in our Western Hemisphere either before or since. It swept with maximum fury along the most north witcrl..,, of the Maine Coast, and along the shores of Charlotte County and into the southerly part of York County. Accompanying the tremendous winds of hurricane force, a heavy rain began falling in the early evening.

It was a night of horror on and sea. For example, in the Machais, Eastport and Calais areas twenty-one vessels were driven ashore. In one alone, eleven lives were lost At St. George, the roof of the
Volunteer Armories was blown clear and carried over 100 yards. The Anglican Church at St. Stephen had its large tower blown away and deposited intact two blocks away. At Milltown, a railway bridge, was blown into the falls below. On Campobello Island, eighty buildings were swept from their foundations and piled in ruins. In York County, acres of full grown trees were uprooted and flung aside almost completely exposing a hardwood ridge in South Tweedside: Little wonder then that the Catholic Church at Cork, so exposed to the winds, was demolished.

The day following the storm, attention was somewhat diverted to all able-bodied men to help clear the “new” railway line by cutting and removing the trees that had fallen across it during the gale. Since the railroad passing through Cork gave promise of being a boon to the local economy, the cooperation was mutually productive.

But worship must go on and it became concentrated again, as in earlier days, in the homes. The Cork homes were distinctly Catholic with Holy Pictures, pictures of Irish Patriots and always conspicuous, the rosary beads hanging on a peg. The third Sunday of the month was Cork Sunday and the priest, often riding horseback, the 26 miles from Fredericton, came to offer Mass. It was the home however that instilled religious devotion. The rosary was recited in common, with each member of the family leading in a decade according to priority of age.

“These little Irish Mothers
Passing from us one by one
Will write the noble story of the good that they have done.
All their children may be scat- tered
And their fortune windward hurled
But devotion to the Rosary will bless them round the world.”
….Author Unknown

This stopgap measure of home services was alright for a time but it was determined that another church had to be built. It was planned to be larger and more modern than the first one without spire but with gothic windows and framed by massive hemlock timbers which they believed no wind could blow away. There was a small vestry on each side of the sanctuary in one of which the priest would hear confessions, the suppliant kneeling on the floor with his head on the priest’s knee. The church could accommodate upwards of 300 people.

Time eroded even this stalwart building and during the pastorate of Rev. Donat LeBlanc, it was decided to build another church beside the old which was then to be used as a hall.

The new church was commenced and in 1902, a 40 foot by 60 foot structure with vestry and spire, beautifully furnished interior walls tinted in blue and white, and in due course, was completed. Three statues decorated the alter, the Sacred Heart, the Immaculate Conception and St Patrick. Later, a bell was purchased for the church and the Bishop consecrated it and naming it “Mary Timothy” under which was inscribed:

“Magnificat Anima Mea”.
“Nor could it fail to meet the eye
And reverent thoughts inspire;
As there above the township high
And pointing always to the sky
It stood upon a bill.”
Author Unknown

Then, came the fire of July 1943 and once again the parishioners worshipped in the home; Mr. John Tracy’s in Acton and also in the Cork School now the residence of Ron Gillett. All the while these patient and faithful parishioners were planning to again rebuild.

Here are the Minutes of the Parish of Cork meeting of August 5„1943, held in the Cork School house. Members of the Parish attending the meeting were: Arthur McCann, John McCann, Mike Gorman, James Daley, Willie O’Brien, Frank Kennedy, Everett Crowley, Neil Crowley, James Crowley, Edward Crowley, Joe Connors, David Boucher, John Tracy, Edward Tracy, James MacDonald, Gerald Holland and John Holland.

After bringing the meeting to order the matter of the rebuilding of the Cork Church was taken up and is as follows: 1. REGARDING THE PLACING OF THE NEW CHURCH. Different members of the meeting voiced their opinion regarding the placing of the church and the unanimous consent of all was that the church should be rebuilt on the foundation of the old church that was destroyed, in other words, that the position of the church should not be changed. After taking everything into consideration regarding the different sections of the Mission as served by this church each section decided that the present position was the only logical place to rebuild the new church. A vote was taken on the matter and the result was unanimous.

2. CONCERNING THE SIZE OF THE NEW CHURCH. Under this heading there were differences of opinion as to whether the church should be the size of the old one or due to the loss of so
many of the old parishioners should 1,e cut down and made smaller, but after careful consideration it was decided unanimously that it would be better to build it at least as large as the old church, the size being 54 x 32 with a vestry 14 x 20 and a front vestibule. The matter of the front vestibule, or the front door, was taken up and it Was consiciacd ;iiihri,:able that if at all possible the entrance to the vestibule should be made on the south side rather than (tiredly in front, as the entrance from the front gives full vent to the prevailing wind on Cork Hill. 1 his matter was to be brought to the mind of the architect to see if this change could be made without defacing in any way the architecture of the front of the church.

3. REGARDING THE TIME OF REBUILDING. This matter was gone into thoroughly and it was decided that due to the fact that much of the lumber could be brought out by the parishioners during the winter logging operations and taken to the mill for sawing in the spring, thus saving a considerable output of money, it would be a better time to wait until the spring to build the new church, but it was hoped that if it were deemed advisable by the architect to have the foundation dug and poured this fall, The meeting decided to take the decision of the architect in this regard.

4. THE MEANS OF RAISING THE NECESSARY FUNDS. Each fanner of the Parish was asked to pledge what he felt he could give towards the building fund of the new church. A report
was made about the amount of money already on hand and this was made up as follows: – $3000 insurance, $500 from the stack fund, donations received – total amount being in the vicinity of $4000. It was also decided that the names of former residents of Cork Mission would be sent to the Parish Priest and letters sent to them asking for donations for the building of the new church. It was also decided to hold a social evening in the Harvey Memorial Hall on Tuesday, August 31st and the committee appointed to look after this event was the following: James MacDonald, Mrs. John McCann, Edward Tracy and Mary Tracy. It was also planned that during the winter a lottery should be held to raise money for this purpose.

5. BUILDING COMMITTEE. The following-building committee was then named by the Chairman and moved and passed by the meeting as the committee to represent the parish in the building of the new church: John Tracy, Edward Crowley, James D. Chessie and Arthur McCann.

Arrangements were then made for the fixing iv of the school house to be used as a temporary chapel
until the new church was in use. It was then decided that for the winter months that Mass would be in Cork for the people of Cork and in Acton the following day for the people there. At 9:30 the meeting adjourned.

In the spring of 1944, the men of the Parish and Community came with teams of horses, stone drags and earth scoops, and cleaned away the debris left by the fire. The wall of the old church was made of cut stones and these were set aside and eventually used to load the drag for the ‘horse pull’ at the Harvey Fair Grounds (possibly held in October, 1945).

In the spring of 1945, the men worked digging the basement and the carpenters started the foundation on May 11,1945 but were delayed by, a twelve inch snowfall! Carpenters working on the church were Roland Chedon of Magaguadavic, Jack Breen of Petersville, Tim Crowley of Cork, and Tim Daley of Cork. Mike Donahue provided some of the ironwork for he was a blacksmith.

This work completed the new church seen now as it stands in 1990. As in the writing of any of these “Scrapbook” articles, I am much indebted to others. This time particularly, to Bernie McCann and his sister Mary Boucher.

I hope to be able to record and preserve many of the stories and genealogies of these Cork settlers, but I find it very difficult as so many descendants have moved away from the area. If you, dear
readers, can help me in anyway either by sharing your scrap books, family records or pictures, these will be copied, returned to you very quickly and will become a part of the Archives we hope to establish for the Harvey area.

Source: From The Scrapbook By Rev. Bill Randall

The newest version of the church was recently demolished via a controlled fire in 2021, as seen below.

Photo of church fire provided by Jack Goode.

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