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Museum of Canada

Need for a Cathedral

Between 1750 and 1830 Newfoundland received large numbers of Irish immigrants. Many settled permanently, while many engaged in an annual seasonal migration between Ireland and Newfoundland due to fisheries and trade. As a result, the Newfoundland Irish remained in constant contact with news, politics, and cultural movements back in Ireland. Indeed, as cultural geographer John Mannion has pointed out, Irish migrations to Newfoundland are unique: never before in human history had such a large group of people migrated from such a local area in the Old World (within 60 miles of Waterford) to such a local area in the New World (within 100 miles of St. John's) over such a long period of time.

By the mid-1830's, there were over 10,000 Catholics in St. John's, but the old wooden chapel was only capable of seating several hundred. Bishop Fleming described it as "a wretched building little better than an extensive stable, badly built and badly ventilated and now tottering in danger of falling". To replace it, Fleming wished to build "a temple superior to any other in the island, at once beautiful and spacious, suitable to the worship of the Most High God". On a political level, an outstanding Cathedral intended to solidify a place for Irish Catholics within the community.