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McDONELL, JOHN, Le Prêtre (1768-1850) – Volume VII (1836-1850)

d. 17 April 1850 in Pointe-Fortune, Upper Canada


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McDONALD (MacDonald), ANGUS, Roman Catholic priest, educator, and journalist; b. 4 Nov. 1830 at the Inlet (Fairfield), Lot 47, Kings County, P.E.I., son of Angus McDonald and Mary Campbell, both natives of the Island; d. 29 April 1889 in Charlottetown, P.E.I.

Born in a rural area at the eastern extremity of Prince Edward Island, it is probable that Angus McDonald passed his first years in humble circumstances. Despite the irregular nature of his early education in various Kings County schools, the youngster must have excelled, for in 1845 he was able to enrol in Charlottetown’s Central Academy, a grammar school with relatively few rural pupils. McDonald remained at the academy, where he was soon recognized as an outstanding student, until 1852, when he proceeded to the Séminaire de Québec. He returned to Prince Edward Island in 1853 or 1854, apparently because of ill health, and resumed his theological studies “in an intermittent kind of way, according as his health would permit him,” at the residence of Bishop Bernard Donald MacDonald* in Rustico. When in January 1855 Bishop MacDonald founded a new “diocesan Seminary,” St Dunstan’s College in Charlottetown, he named Angus McDonald rector, although the latter had not yet been ordained, being under canonical age. The college opened with 18 students, seven of whom would eventually become priests. Although he had an assistant from the beginning, the strain of his new duties caused McDonald to suffer a severe relapse; he recovered over the summer of 1855 and on 21 November was ordained at Rustico.

As rector of St Dunstan’s, “Father Angus” became a well-known figure in Island public life. Political parties in the late 1850s and early 1860s were divided largely along religious lines, with Protestants supporting the Conservatives, and the Roman Catholic minority supporting the Liberals. McDonald was the leading Catholic spokesman in a series of “religious” disputes which erupted in the local press of the early 1860s over such topics as the temporal power of the papacy, the “Index Prohibitory,” and comparative levels of morality and education in Roman Catholic and Protestant countries. His major adversaries were David Laird*, the editor of the Protestant and Evangelical Witness, and William Henry Pope*, the Tory colonial secretary and editor of the Islander. McDonald was particularly annoyed with Pope who he thought was cynically exploiting the religious prejudices of the more credulous Island Protestants for political motives. In the summer of 1862 the rector appealed, directly or indirectly, to Lieutenant Governor George Dundas*, the local Tory government, and the British secretary of state for the colonies, the Duke of Newcastle, to dismiss Pope (who was not an assemblyman) as colonial secretary because of his virulent attacks upon Roman Catholic doctrines and institutions. Pope remained in office but, privately, Newcastle virtually ordered Dundas to silence him.

The quarrel was renewed in late September when Pope claimed that the Roman Catholic clergy, since 1860 led by Peter MacIntyre*, bishop of Charlottetown, were united in a determination to obtain public endowment for St Dunstan’s College, and that the way to prevent this was to keep the Tories in office at the next election. Father Angus and Edward Whelan*, the Irish Catholic editor of the Examiner, retaliated by accusing Pope of reneging on a promise made the previous year to obtain a public grant for the college as a Roman Catholic institution. Pope then made clear that any grant would have been conditional upon the secularization of St Dunstan’s and he also revealed the incautious threat made by MacIntyre, when he had learned that a grant was not possible, to do all in his power to defeat the Tory government. These disclosures had an explosive impact on the local political scene and led directly to the Tory victory, based exclusively on Protestant support, in the general election of January 1863.

On 17 Oct. 1862, in the midst of the bitter dispute, a militantly ultramontane newspaper, the Vindicator, had appeared. Father Angus was widely believed to be its editor, although on 13 Feb. 1863, after much equivocation, this was denied in its editorial column. Nevertheless, his signed correspondence in other papers had suddenly ceased, and much of the Vindicator’s material closely resembled McDonald’s former contributions to the press: essays on the rates of crime and illegitimacy in Protestant England, ardent defences of the papacy against the claims of Victor Emmanuel II and Giuseppe Garibaldi, and attacks upon such public educational institutions as Prince of Wales College (successor to the Central Academy) and the Normal School as “Protestant.” The Vindicator was particularly prone to personal abuse. In addition to Dundas, Pope, and Laird, targets included the Reverend David Fitzgerald* and school visitor John Arbuckle Sr, both militant Orangemen, and Joseph Harding Webster*, master of the Normal School. Attacks on Webster for alleged impropriety led to a successful libel suit against the Vindicator’s publisher, Edward Reilly*, and on 5 Oct. 1864 it ceased publication. Father Angus had also continued privately to press his case against Pope at the Colonial Office, but the major result, aside from further angering Pope (who had been informed of the charges against him), was to wear out McDonald’s welcome at Downing Street. To the chief clerk of the Colonial Office, he had by May 1863 become “that unscrupulous ecclesiastic.”

Political issues revolving around “religion and education” subsided in the mid 1860s, and Father Angus appears to have confined his energies to more conventional activities. When the question of a grant to St Dunstan’s College arose again in 1868, he took no public part in discussion of it. In June of the same year he was named by the Liberal government to the board of education, as one of two examiners of teachers, with power to exempt candidates for licences from attendance at the Normal School. His health appears to have been failing again by 1869. He was replaced as rector of the college, and in October he was summoned to Rome by Bishop MacIntyre to the Vatican Council, to serve as “Theologian to the Bishop.” When he returned to Prince Edward Island in the summer of 1870, his health showed little improvement. He was assigned to the parish of Fort Augustus, Queens County, his first pastoral charge, and he remained there until 1877, with the exception of a lengthy period in 1873–74 which he spent in New York, again for reasons of health. During the rest of his life he appears to have been a semi-invalid; he spent his time in different parts of rural Prince Edward Island (Grand River West, West River, Tignish, Rustico), sometimes assisting other priests. His symptoms suggest that he suffered from a form of chronic rheumatoid arthritis. Following a winter at the Hôtel-Dieu Hospital in Montreal, he returned to Charlottetown on 19 April 1889 and died ten days later of stomach cancer.

Angus McDonald achieved his greatest success as founding rector of St Dunstan’s College. He was, in the words of Laurence K. Shook, “without any specialized academic training.” But although it is difficult to be precise about the academic standing of the college, there can be no doubt that, from the first, it fulfilled its primary purpose: to provide preliminary training for future priests of the diocese of Charlottetown. McDonald himself appears to have been a man of superior intellectual capacity, and during his rectorship he was a popular public lecturer, particularly at the Catholic Young Men’s Literary Institute, on topics ranging from the classics to the contemporary Polish question to intemperance. As a journalist and polemicist he was less successful, and it is conceivable that Bishop MacIntyre removed him from St Dunstan’s partially because, by the end of the 1860s, MacIntyre was becoming dissatisfied with the Liberal leadership and the possibility was arising of an alliance with the rector’s old enemies in the Conservative party now led by W. H. Pope’s brother, James Colledge.

Ian Ross Robertson

[The author is grateful to Professor Paul Potter of the Department of History of Medicine and Science, University of Western Ontario (London), for his diagnosis of the medical symptoms ascribed to Father Angus McDonald in surviving reports.

Almost all issues of the Vindicator (Charlottetown), 1862–64, are available on microfilm. The author believes that Father Angus was its major contributor, but in the event that he was not, examples of his polemical writing will be found in his letters to the Islander, 1, 8, 22 Feb., 8, 22 March 1861, and to the Examiner (Charlottetown), 16 Dec. 1861; 13, 27 Jan., 3, 17, 24 Feb., 3, 10, 17, 24, 31 March, 7, 14, 21 April, 5, 26 May, 14 July, 29 Sept., 6 Oct. 1862. For an indication of the sort of atmosphere which McDonald wished to create at St Dunstan’s College, see his advertisement in the Vindicator, 14 Aug. 1863.  i.r.r.]

PAPEI, Central Academy, Note-book, 1844–53. PRO, CO 226/96: 248–302; 226/98: 29–39, 66–75, 221–30. Univ. of Nottingham Library (Nottingham, Eng.), Manuscripts Dept., Newcastle mss, Letterbooks, B-4: 81–82, 230–32 (mfm. at PAC). P.E.I., House of Assembly, Debates and proc., 1870: 41. Examiner, 22 Jan. 1855; 16 Jan. 1860; 9 Jan., 24 July 1865; 29 April, 1 May 1889. Herald (Charlottetown), 23 Jan., 1, 15 May 1889. Island Argus (Charlottetown), 6 Jan., 7 July 1874. Islander, 27 Dec. 1845, 24 July 1846, 16 July 1847, 22 Oct. 1869. Island Farmer (Summerside, P.E.I.), 2 May 1889. Island Guardian and Christian Chronicle (Charlottetown), 3 May 1889. Monitor (Charlottetown), 22 Oct. 1863. Patriot (Charlottetown), 29 April 1889. Prince Edward Island Agriculturist (Summerside), 6 May 1889. Summerside Journal and Western Pioneer, 12 Aug. 1869, 2 May 1889. [A.-E. Arsenault], Memoirs of the Hon. AE. Arsenault, former premier and retired justice, Supreme Court of Prince Edward Island ([Charlottetown, 1951]), 17. J. C. Macmillan, The history of the Catholic Church in Prince Edward Island from 1835 till 1891 (Quebec, 1913), chap. 13–17 and pp.102–6, 117–18, 248–49, 258, 260–61, 282, 285, 291, 301, 305, 307, 318, 397, 408, 425, 455, 460–62. I. R. Robertson, “Highlanders, Irishmen, and the land question in nineteenth-century Prince Edward Island,” Comparative aspects of Scottish and Irish economic and social history, 1600–1900, ed. L. M. Cullen, and T. C. Smout (Edinburgh, [1977]), 234–36; “Religion, politics, and education in P.E.I.,” chap.4–6. S. N. Robertson, “The public school system,” Past and present of P.E.I. (MacKinnon and Warburton), 365a–66a, 369a. L. K. Shook, Catholic post-secondary education in English-speaking Canada: a history (Toronto and Buffalo, N.Y., 1971), 39–42. M. O. McKenna, “The history of higher education in the province of Prince Edward Island,” CCHA Study Sessions, 38 (1971): 33–35. I. R. Robertson, “The Bible question in Prince Edward Island from 1856 to 1860,” Acadiensis, 5 (1975–76), no.2: 16–17, 21; “Party politics and religious controversialism in Prince Edward Island from 1860 to 1863,” Acadiensis, 7 (1977–78), no.2: 29–59.

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Cite This Article

Ian Ross Robertson, “McDONALD, ANGUS (1830-89),” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 17, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/mcdonald_angus_1830_89_11E.html.

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Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/mcdonald_angus_1830_89_11E.html
Author of Article:   Ian Ross Robertson
Title of Article:   McDONALD, ANGUS (1830-89)
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1982
Year of revision:   1982
Access Date:   April 17, 2024