GORDON, EDWARD JOHN, Roman Catholic priest; b. 1 Nov. 1791 in Dublin (Republic of Ireland), son of Francis Gordon and Margaret McKernan; d. 15 Oct. 1870 at Hamilton, Ont.
Edward John Gordon’s parents died when he was a child and he was brought up by an uncle living in County Wicklow. In 1811 Gordon, who had been baptized into the Church of Ireland, was converted to the Roman Catholic faith through the influence of a brother. He then lived with a parish priest of County Wicklow, with whom he studied humanities until 1814, when he went to live with his brother in Woolwich, England. In 1817 he came to Canada. He was one of the first students to enter the newly opened seminary at St Raphael, Upper Canada, and after three years of theological studies he was ordained by Bishop Alexander Macdonell* on 29 Jan. 1829.
Gordon’s first year of ministry was spent at St Raphael as bursar and as a teacher at the seminary and in helping in the neighbouring missions. Early in 1830 he was appointed to York (Toronto) to assist Father William John O’Grady* in the parish of St Paul’s. O’Grady felt that although Gordon’s “talents or acquirements may possibly not be of the first order . . . he is blessed with solid judgment and piety, together with a sufficient portion of prudence and good sense to regulate his conduct in the duties assigned to him.” Gordon also served as an itinerant missionary in the York area. His first missionary journey, made during the winter season and without the aid of a horse, to the townships north of Toronto, including that of West Gwillimbury which had never before been visited by a Catholic clergyman, was described in a letter he wrote on 11 March 1830 to Macdonell and is indicative of his lifelong zeal: “The difficulties, hardships and expenses of my mission were forgotten, when I witnessed the fervour of our poor people in complying with their spiritual duties, their willingness to contribute to the support of a clergyman and the fervent prayers they offered to Heaven for your Eternal welfare, in thus giving them the means of complying with their duty.” In 1833, when O’Grady and Macdonell were in conflict, the bishop ordered Gordon to leave O’Grady’s house as his “presence there has been and is a virtual approval of his [O’Grady’s] disobedient, contumacious and schismatic conduct. . . .” Gordon denied disloyalty to his bishop.
Soon after, Gordon was sent to Kingston to look after the back missions and remained there six months. Gordon was appointed the first resident clergyman in the Niagara peninsula on 23 April 1834 and completed, at Niagara in 1835, its first Catholic church. He was responsible for the missions in the area around Niagara and near the falls, and in 1842 also assumed the charge of the district of St Catharines for a short time. On 31 Oct. 1846 he went to Hamilton and Waterdown, with privileges as rural dean in the Gore, Talbot, and Niagara districts, but two weeks later he replaced Father William Peter MacDonald* at St Mary’s Church in Hamilton. In 1851 he also became vicar general to Bishop Armand de Charbonnel* of Toronto, who assigned Father Auguste Carayon as his assistant.
The establishment of the new diocese of Hamilton in 1856 saw John Farrell* named first bishop and Gordon first vicar general, a post Gordon continued to hold for the rest of his life. Gordon also remained rector of St Mary’s, which had become the cathedral church, though he was in semi-retirement because of ill health after 1862. The church was destroyed by fire in August 1859 at a loss of $20,000 and Gordon was instrumental in replacing it; the corner-stone of the new cathedral was laid within 40 days of the fire, and the church was dedicated on 21 May 1860.
Gordon had also been instrumental in bringing the Sisters of St Joseph to Hamilton in 1852 and persuaded Sister Mary Martha [Bunning] and two novices to found a convent and orphanage in a house he provided. He was active in the establishment of separate schools in Hamilton, which were placed under the charge of the sisters in 1853, and donated a lot to be used for a school. During the cholera epidemic of 1854 Gordon and Carayon attended to the spiritual needs of the victims.
Edward Gordon visited Ireland twice, in 1839, and in 1864, en route to Rome to visit Pope Pius IX. He died in Hamilton six years later at the age of 78 and was buried beneath the cathedral.
Archives of the Archdiocese of Toronto, Macdonell papers, AB24-AB25; BBO4; CA14-CA18; Bishops Power and de Charbonnel letterbook. W. P. Bull, From Macdonell to McGuigan, the history of the Roman Catholic Church in Upper Canada (Toronto, 1939). [W. R.] Harris, The Catholic Church in the Niagara peninsula, 1826–1895 (Toronto, 1895). Theobald Spetz, The Catholic Church in Waterloo County . . . ([Toronto], 1916). The story of St. Paul’s parish, ed. Edward Kelly ([Toronto], 1922).