“Archbishop, spinning in his grave”


September 23, 1950

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: A 23-129; Archbishop Edward Patrick Roche
Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: A 23-129; Archbishop Edward Patrick Roche

Edward Patrick Roche was born in Placentia  on February 14, 1874  son of Edward Roche and Mary Riely (O’Reiley) He was educated at St. Patrick’s Hall School  and St. Bonaventure’s College, both in St. John’s, and studied for the Roman Catholic priesthood at All Hallows College, Dublin, Ireland, being ordained there June 24, 1897.

In 1907 he was transferred to St. John’s where he became Chancellor and Vicar-General of the Archdiocese under Archbishop Michael F. Howley.

On February 26, 1915 Pope Pius X appointed him Archbishop of St. John’s. He was consecrated as Archbishop at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, St. John’s, on June 29, 1915.

It was as a supporter of the return of Newfoundland to responsible government and as a determined opponent of Confederation with Canada he gained much notoriety in the late 1940s. The campaign for confederation found in him one of its fiercest opponents.

He was convinced that no good could come to Newfoundland from Confederation.  The archbishop argued through the pages of The Monitor, the monthly Roman Catholic newspaper that before confederation could be thought of,  responsible government— as promised by Britain — was the way to go.  He was actively involved in the 1948 referenda campaigns, encouraging all Newfoundlanders, but particularly Roman Catholics, to vote for the return of responsible government.

Roche died on September 23, 1950, a little less than a year and a half after Confederation, after having served as Archbishop for over 35 years.

He was buried in the crypt under the main altar of the Basilica Cathedral.

Even in death, some Roman Catholics argue, Archbishop Roche was not reconciled to Confederation.  When Archbishop Roche’s great foe the Confederate Premier Joseph R. Smallwood died in December 1991 the provincial government approached the Roman Catholic Basilica Cathedral to host a state funeral for him.  The Basilica has the larger seating capacity of any church in the city.  The irony of having Joey Smallwood in the Roman Catholic Basilica was not lost on some parishioners.  It is said, that one of the Basilica Parishioners was urged to go into the crypt during the funeral service because the suspicion was that “Roche was spinning in his grave because Smallwood was in his church.”

Recommended Archival Collection:  At the Rooms Provincial Archives  explore GN 154  Newfoundland Delegation to Ottawa  fonds. This series consists of letters to the Chairman and the Secretary of the Newfoundland Delegation to Ottawa from various societies, business firms, unions, and government agencies concerning the ramifications of confederation with Canada for Newfoundland interests. The series are arranged by subject.

Recommended Publication: Confederation: Deciding Newfoundland’s Future, 1934 to 1949 by James K. Hiller, St. John’s, Nfld: Newfoundland Historical Society, 1998; reprinted with minor corrections 1999 75p. : bib, illus, map

Recommedned Reading on Line: ‘The True Father of Confederation’?: Archbishop E. P. Roche. Term 17, and Newfoundland’s Confederation with Canada  by John Edward FitzGerald.  Newfoundland Studies 14, 2 (1998)  http://journals.hil.unb.ca/index.php/NFLDS/article/view/787/1141

Recommended Song:  Joan Morrissey, The Anti Confederation Song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aLpWCiFyHT0