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JONES, JAMES, Roman Catholic priest, Capuchin, and superior of missions; b. 1742 in Dunshaughlin (Republic of Ireland); d. on or about 18 June 1805, probably in Ireland.

James Jones was the first Roman Catholic priest in Nova Scotia whose mother tongue was English. Little is known of his early life, although one of his critics, the Reverend William Phelan of Arichat, N.S., claimed that he had been apprenticed “to a Skinner & Glover & followed his Trade & Tenets of Presbyterianism till the age of 28.” He spent some time in the Capuchin monastery at Bar-sur-Aube, France, and later did pastoral work in the diocese of Cork (Republic of Ireland) for eight years. During this time he was one of the first to take the oath of allegiance prescribed for priests who wished to gain relief from the penal code.

In 1785 Bishop Louis-Philippe Mariauchau* d’Esgly of Quebec, responding to the pleas of Halifax Catholics, arranged for the transfer of Jones from Cork to Nova Scotia, where the growing population of Catholic loyalists and Irish demanded the presence of English-speaking priests. Arriving in Halifax in August of that year, Jones immediately won the respect of Vicar General Joseph-Mathurin Bourg*, who wrote that Jones was “a very good priest, a learned man full of piety and zeal, and an excellent preacher in the English language; in short, a man for whom I have greater esteem the more I know him.” On his recommendation, Jones secured appointment in October 1787 as superior of the missions of Nova Scotia, Cape Breton, Îles de la Madeleine, St John’s (Prince Edward) Island, and part of New Brunswick.

Jones encountered many problems in his new post: besides having to write to his superiors in French, a difficult task for him, he had to cope with a low income, poor communications, recalcitrant or weak priests, and a congregation in Halifax that stubbornly demanded a large role in the regulation of parish affairs. In his view, however, the most serious of his problems was the fact that the Roman Catholic Church in his region, lacking an adequate supply of clergy, was hard pressed to prevent its members from being led astray by “fanatical Methodists,” “Scotch Calvinists,” and the clergy of the established Church of England. In April 1792 Jones reported that the Acadians, Scots, and Irish under his charge were served by only a handful of priests, including Thomas-François Le Roux*, Angus Bernard MacEachern*, and Thomas Grace*, known as Father James. Fortunately, the arrival of clerical refugees from the French revolution, which Jones denounced for its “mob rule” and its “slaughter of priests and royalty,” strengthened the church’s position in the Maritime colonies. In the late summer of 1792 Jean-Baptiste Allain and François Lejamtel*, two priests from Saint-Pierre and Miquelon who had refused to swear allegiance to the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, fled to the Îles de la Madeleine and offered their services to Jones. Other refugee priests came to the region in subsequent years, among them Amable Pichard, Gabriel Champion, and Jean-Mandé Sigogne*.

Jones’s life was not made easier by the behaviour of one of his priests, William Phelan. A graduate of the Irish College in Rome (Italy), Phelan served in Ireland for 17 years before emigrating to Nova Scotia in 1786. Appointed to Arichat, a mission which embraced all of Cape Breton Island, Phelan was soon complaining that his flock, composed mostly of Micmacs and Acadians, was “rude and ignorant” and “totally unacquainted with any sort of restraint or subordination” – an assessment which contrasted sharply with Jones’s view that the Roman Catholics of the region were “regular and disciplined” in religious practice. Apparently jealous of Jones’s appointment as superior, Phelan fought him at every turn, principally by ignoring his authority and reporting directly to the bishop of Quebec, but also by conducting unauthorized missionary tours and refusing to cooperate with plans to establish an endowment fund for the Halifax mission. At length Jones, angered that Phelan spoke “so much of money,” lost all patience. In April 1792 he dismissed Phelan from office and informed the Roman Catholics of the Arichat mission that they were to “act as if there were no priest, except in danger of death.” Phelan, for his part, held on to his post until early 1793, when he was told to submit by the vicar general of Quebec, Henri-François Gravé de La Rive.

Jones’s health was poor after 1790, partly because of a fall from his horse. Afflicted with dropsy, he sought to return to Ireland, pleading that “they need here a young man, used to their ways.” In August 1800 he finally secured passage home, with the understanding that he would return to Nova Scotia as soon as he was well enough; he was replaced in Halifax by an Irish Dominican, Edmund Burke (fl. 1785–1801), who in turn was succeeded one year later by another priest of the same name. In October 1800 Jones was in London, England, where he attempted to recruit clergy for the Nova Scotia missions. He then spent a few months in Bath taking the waters, and during the course of his stay there he met several Nova Scotians. He continued to give every indication that he planned to return to the colony, but, probably because of his deteriorating health, he never did. Writing from Bath in March 1801, Jones informed Joseph-Octave Plessis*, the coadjutor bishop of Quebec, that he was about to go to Dublin to visit his relations. Thereafter he disappears from view until 30 July 1805, when his death was commented upon by the archbishop of Dublin.

Apparently a man of strong character, Jones was a hard-working priest and an eloquent preacher, although his effectiveness may have been reduced by his stern, unbending attitude and by his dismay at the “levelling, democratic” spirit of the colonial population. He seems to have been a competent administrator, but his record in managing church finances leaves some unanswered questions. Throughout his stay in Nova Scotia Jones complained to his superiors that his living conditions were poor and his income inadequate. However, after 1796 he obtained an annual stipend of £50 from the local government, and before leaving the colony he was able to deposit at least £2,000 in a Philadelphia bank for the support of the eastern missions – money that was drawn from his personal funds in Ireland, the donations of the Roman Catholic community of Halifax, and a bequest from Bishop Charles-François Bailly* de Messein of Quebec to the church in the Maritime colonies. Curiously, at Jones’s death in 1805 the eastern missions received none of the funds he had accumulated. In his will he bequeathed £1,300 to the Royal College of St Patrick, Maynooth (County Kildare, Republic of Ireland), £500 to a number of charitable institutions in Dublin, and the remainder of his estate to his relations.

A. A. MacKenzie

AAQ, 12 A, H: ff.199v–200v; 20 A, II: 17; III: 181, 186; 210 A, I: f.214; II: ff.25, 125, 136, 141, 150, 166, 179, 209; III: ff.171, 191; IV: ff.42, 52, 83, 159, 208; VIII: ff.184, 543; 22 A, V: f.219; 1 CB, II: 10; 10 CM, III: 130; 90 CM, I: 18–20; 30 CN, I: 20, 23; 312 CN, I–III (copies at Arch. of the Archdiocese of Halifax). Arch. of the Archdiocese of Halifax, Edmund Burke papers. Johnston, Hist. of Catholic Church in eastern N.S. K. E. Stokes, “The character and administration of Governor John Wentworth” (ma thesis, Dalhousie Univ., Halifax, 1934). Terrence Murphy, “James Jones and the establishment of Roman Catholic Church government in the Maritime provinces,” CCHA Study sessions, 48 (1981): 26–42. Père Pacifique [de Valigny] [H.-J.-L. Buisson], “Le premier missionnaire de langue anglaise en Nouvelle-Écosse,” Soc. de géographie de Québec, Bull. (Québec), 26 (1932): 46–62.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

A. A. MacKenzie, “JONES, JAMES,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 18, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/jones_james_5E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/jones_james_5E.html
Author of Article:   A. A. MacKenzie
Title of Article:   JONES, JAMES
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1983
Year of revision:   1983
Access Date:   June 18, 2024