The Farmers' Bank of Rustico
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Acadians on PEI

 


Church

Drawing of the first Catholic church in Rustico 1792

The Church

The French settlers emigrating to Acadia in the 17th century were Catholics. The Roman Catholic religion was the state religion in France and the church held a great deal of political and social power. The church exercised a great deal of influence in shaping the lives of the Acadian Catholics.

The 1763 Treaty of Paris guaranteed to Acadians the right to practice the Catholic religion, but only within the context of the laws of Great Britain. Catholics were excluded from the House of Parliament, deprived of the right to vote and the right to purchase or inherit real estate. An Amendment to the law in 1786 on Prince Edward Island granted the Catholics the right to own land. In 1830, Catholics gained the right to vote and to sit in the Legislature.

When the Acadians returned to the Maritimes after the Deportation, they found themselves with literally nothing. In this deplorable situation, the Acadians turned to the only institution they had any hope of controlling, the Catholic Church. Acadians faced prolonged absences of priests during the period after expulsion. As such, on Sundays and Feast Days, one of the more educated and respected men in the parish would preside over the reading of the prayers. This was known as White Mass in which there was no consecration but prayers of the mass were read.

In 1772, Island Acadians welcomed Father James MacDonald, their first priest since the deportation. Father MacDonald loved the impoverished Acadians and, because he spoke French, he took every opportunity to visit them bringing with him comfort, encouragement and solicitude.

Although somewhat embryonic before the Deportation, the Catholic Church had at all times provided moral and spiritual support to the population. Furthermore, both before and after the Deportation, the Church offered social structures and guidelines for behaviour, and above all, took care of recording births, marriages and deaths. It therefore provided essential services. After 1850, the number of priests and nuns in the Maritimes increased.

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