Old Christmas day – first mass at the Basilica


January 6, 1850

R.C. Cathedral, St. John’s, 1841

Though unfinished, the Roman Catholic Cathedral (now Basilica) was opened for worship on 6 January 1850. (The Feast of the Epiphany – Old Christmas Day). Ill and exhausted by his labours, Bishop Michael Anthony Fleming who had conceived of the idea of building the massive Cathedral celebrated mass.

 “It was the last time the dying Bishop was to assume the vestments, and the first and last time he would offer mass in his new Cathedral. He was so weak a chair had to be placed at the Altar, and several times he had to stop and rest.”

His death later that year was widely attributed to his exertions on seeing that the Cathedral (now Basilica) was built.  The Patriot & Terra Nova Herald the local newspaper stated, “The Cathedral . . . has been that building upon which he seems to have staked all.”   The mass was Bishop Fleming’s last public appearance.

In the spring of 1850 an ailing Fleming, in semi-retirement, moved from the Episcopal Residence on Henry Street  to Belvedere, the Franciscan house. (near what was to become known as Belvedere Orphanage building, now the MCP  building 57 Margaret’s Place (off Newtown Road) in St. John’s.)There he died a few months later on July 14, 1850.  Thousands turned out to pay their last respects as his body was interred in the cathedral he had struggled so hard to build.

Rome had appointed a coadjutor bishop, John Thomas Mullock, who had been a friend and adviser to Bishop Fleming as his successor. Bishop Mullock completed the cathedral and it was officially consecrated in September 1855.

Recommended Archival Collection:  Bishop Michael Anthony Fleming Collection, Archives of the R.C. Archdiocese ofSt. John’s.

Recommended Reading: Fire Upon the Earth: The Life and Times of Bishop Michael Anthony Fleming , O.S.F.  by Brother J.B. Darcy, C.F.C.  Creative Publishers,St. John ’s, 2003.

Recommended Website: From Cornerstone to Cathedral: http://www.virtualmuseum.ca/Exhibitions/Basilica/en/index.html