MacKINNON, COLIN FRANCIS, priest and educator; b. at Williams Point, a sparsely settled rural area adjacent to the town of Antigonish, N.S., 20 July 1810, son of John MacKinnon and Una (Eunice) MacLeod; d. at Antigonish, 26 Sept. 1879.
Colin Francis MacKinnon’s family emigrated from Scotland in 1791 and first settled at Parrsboro, Nova Scotia. His parents later moved to Williams Point to live among other Roman Catholic Highland settlers. The lack of educational facilities in the immediate area forced MacKinnon’s parents to place him, in 1824, under the tutelage of the Reverend William B. MacLeod, parish priest at Grand Narrows, and later under Malcolm MacLellap at East Bay, Cape Breton. Following his completion of preparatory classical studies the young student enrolled at Urban College in Rome on 22 Jan. 1829. He remained there until 26 June 1837 and qualified for both his phd and dd. MacKinnon was ordained into the priesthood at the College of the Propaganda in Rome by Archbishop Luigi Fransoni on 4 June 1837.
Father Colin Francis MacKinnon returned to Nova Scotia that summer and was appointed first resident pastor at St Andrews, Sydney (now Antigonish) County. His pastorate extended from 3 Nov. 1837 to 11 May 1853. In the summer of 1838 he established the St Andrews grammar school, the first school of its kind in the area, and one which gained a respectable reputation through the distinctions won by its graduates. It was probably through his efforts in this venture that Father MacKinnon became convinced of the need for an institution of higher learning in eastern Nova Scotia.
On 11 Nov. 1851, the Reverend Colin MacKinnon was appointed bishop of Arichat, at that time the ecclesiastical centre of eastern Nova Scotia. He was consecrated by Bishop William Walsh* on 27 Feb. 1852 and lived at Arichat from 11 May 1853 until 21 July 1858. Recognizing the religious needs and educational aspirations of the Roman Catholic Highlanders of his diocese, Bishop MacKinnon founded a minor seminary, St Francis Xavier College, on 20 July 1853, his 43rd birthday. When it opened the college had a staff of four professors and a student population of 40; instruction was given in mathematics, Latin, Greek, theology, philosophy, English, French, and Christian doctrine. In 1855 the college was moved to Antigonish where it grew into St Francis Xavier University. In an effort to improve the educational opportunities for young women, Bishop MacKinnon brought the sisters of the Congregation of Notre-Dame to Arichat in 1856; their superior was Mother Sainte-Élisabeth (Marie-Louise Dorval*), a former superior-general of the congregation.
Bishop MacKinnon lived at Antigonish from 21 July 1858 until his death in 1879. During that period he carried out his episcopal and educational duties aided by the Reverend John Cameron*, dd, whom he had appointed as the first rector of the college when it transferred to Antigonish. In 1860 MacKinnon was able to write that St Francis Xavier “bade fair to realize to religion and to society all the benefits anticipated at its foundation.” The recognition of its success came in 1866 when the college was granted, without any difficulty, full university powers by an act of the provincial legislature. From the evidence available, it is apparent that MacKinnon did not become seriously involved in any political controversies of the day. He was quite successful in increasing the number of churches and priests in his diocese, and between 1866 and 1874 he was largely responsible for the building of St Ninian’s Cathedral, the present seat of the diocese.
During his later years he was again assisted by the competent and aggressive Cameron, who had been appointed coadjutor bishop in 1870. Forced by ill health to retire from active charge in July 1877, MacKinnon was made titular archbishop of Amida on 7 September. He died on 26 Sept. 1879 and was buried in the vault of St Ninian’s Cathedral. His work in the promotion of higher education in Nova Scotia stands as his greatest achievement.
Ronald MacGillivray, Remember your prelates: a sermon, preached at the solemn requiem of Colin Francis MacKinnon, archbishop of Amydo, in St. Ninian’s Cathedral, Antigonish, September 30, 1879 (Halifax, 1879), copy in PANS. Casket (Antigonish, N.S.), 27 June 1895; 17 June, 30 Sept., 25 Nov. 1943; 7, 14 July 1960. Catholic encyclopedia (1907–12), II, 563. St. Francis Xavier’s University, 1853–1920 (Antigonish, N.S.,1920). A. A. Johnston, “Antigonish diocese priests and bishops, 1790–1825,” typescript in possession of the author, Antigonish, N.S. Sister St Miriam of the Temple [Eileen Scott], “The Congregation of Notre Dame in early Nova Scotia,” CCHA Report, 1953, 67–80.