DALTON, JOHN, Franciscan priest and Roman Catholic bishop of Harbour Grace, Nfld; b. c. 1821 in Thurles, Tipperary (Republic of Ireland); d. 5 May 1869 at Harbour Grace.
In 1839 John Dalton arrived in Newfoundland where his uncle, Charles Dalton, was a Franciscan priest at Carbonear. In 1840 John also entered the Franciscan Order and enrolled at St Isidore’s College in Rome where he was ordained in 1849. He returned to Newfoundland later that same year. Dalton was then appointed curate at Carbonear to assist his uncle. When Charles Dalton was later transferred to Harbour Grace, John became parish priest in Carbonear. In the spring of 1856 Newfoundland was divided into two Roman Catholic dioceses, and on 1 June John Dalton was consecrated bishop of the newly created diocese of Harbour Grace, which included Labrador. For the first few years the new bishop continued to live at Carbonear but following the death of his uncle he moved in 1860 to Harbour Grace, which remained the episcopal seat of the diocese until it was moved to the industrial town of Grand Falls in 1956.
By the 1850s Newfoundland’s Roman Catholic bishops were accustomed to playing significant roles in the political life of the Island. Dalton was no exception, and during the 1859 and 1861 elections he took an active part in the campaigns in his diocese, especially in the Harbour Grace and Harbour Main districts [see Hogsett]. For these interventions he was roundly criticized by the Protestant Conservative press in St John’s. Nevertheless, he was not as politically prominent as his older, more experienced colleague, Bishop John Thomas Mullock of St John’s, who was a close friend of Liberal leader Philip Francis Little*.
Dalton was a busy and effective religious leader and administrator. He directed missionary activities on the Labrador coast by sending a priest there each summer with the migratory fishing crews, many of whom came from the town of Harbour Grace. He also improved the educational facilities in his diocese and commenced construction of the Harbour Grace Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. His pastoral letter of 1 June 1865, in which he granted permission for Roman Catholic fishermen to fish on 15 August, the date of the Feast of the Assumption, provided they gave the proceeds of their day’s catch to the church, is the earliest known documentary evidence of the origins of a custom still existing in some communities. It was also during his episcopacy that the first native Newfoundlander was ordained priest at Carbonear in 1856.
John Dalton’s “Pastoral letter,” 1 June 1865, is in the possession of Mgr J. M. O’Brien, Harbour Grace, Nfld. Newfoundlander, 1856, 1869. Royal Gazette (St. John’s), 1869. Centenary of the diocese of Harbour Grace, 1856–1956, [ed. R. J. Connolly] (St John’s, 1956). Gunn, Political history of Nfld. Prowse, History of Nfld. (1896).