Painting Evokes Memories

The Way It Was In St. Kyran’s

By Ernest Ennis

Originally published in The Monitor, 1984-12, Christmas Supplement, Page 29

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I recently visited St. John Bosco Church, Shea Heights, St. John‘s to see a painting of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary that was formerly in St. Kyran’s Parish Church, Placentia Bay. It was a beautiful and revered painting. Seeing it again after more than 50 years in this significant anniversary year for the Church in Newfoundland and Labrador. made me reflect on the interesting history of St. Kyran’s Parish and parish life at the time. The 1960‘s brought one of those epochal events that often drastically change the way things are. Such was the Provincial Government Resettlement Plan. In Placentia Bay four parishes closed. St. Kyran’s and three others: Oderin. Merasheen - Red Island and Bar Haven. The four parishes and the communities (about 30) of which they were comprised have been reduced to two parishes, Rushoon and Long Harbour, and six communities. Twenty-four of the communities are now without people. Resettlement was complete by I967 with Merasheen, l believe, the last to resettle. The movement had begun much earlier, particularly with the American Military Base Construction Program beginning with Argentia in 1941. The people who left are today living in many places, with large concentrations in the Placentia area, Southern Harbour and St. John's. It was due to Father Denis Walsh (Basilica Parish) and Father Shea, former pastor of St. John Bosco Church, after whom Shea Heights is named, that the painting was preserved. lt is fitting then that it should be in what was once Father Shea‘s church.

When the parish church of St. Kyran’s, which was midway between St. Kyran’s and St. Leonard's, a distance of about a mile, burned down in I922, it was replaced by a new church in St. Kyran’s, the Church of the Assumption, by Father (late Monsignor) Fyme, P.P. (1914-1938), who had the painting done in Rome. It was placed in the church about 1924 and dedicated to the memory of Father Doutney, his predecessor and parish priest (1876-1913).

The painting, rectangular, about twelve feet by eight feet, designed to fit the curved area behind and above the altar and portraying a life size image of the Virgin against a sky background, was a beautiful depiction of the Assumption of the Mother of the Son of God. Countless eyes must have been raised to it over the years.

The painting in St. John Bosco Church is much smaller than the one that was in St. Kyran’s, showing only its main features and enclosed in a circular frame, about six feet in diameter. This and the fact that it is at eye level, makes for, as one would expect, a different effect than in its previous context. After 60 years it is surprisingly intact. I have been told by a former resident of St. Kyrans that the change (framing. etc.) was made after Father Fyme left the parish.

The old parish church was a gracious edifice in a superb setting. Built of stone, unique in a Newfoundland outport (Ferryland is the only other one I know of), probably by Father Walsh, an Irish priest who moved from Merasheen to St. Kyrans in I854. The reason I would think, was that Merasheen at the head of Merasheen Island, was isolated from other communities and only accessible much of the time over rough seas while St. Kyran’s could be reached by a dozen communities over virtually inland waters or by land. Merasheen remained part of the parish until the 1930‘s with the parish priest, Reverend A. Fyme, making regular monthly visits, Friday through Sunday, and sometimes on special occasions such as Holy Week and Christmas. In 1927, Father Fyme had an assistant, the late Father Fleming, stationed there. Later it became a parish and in 1941 joined with Red Island to form the parish of Merasheen - Red Island.

The much admired new parish church at St.Kyran’s was also on a well chosen site - at the top and to the side of a large acreage of meadow and woodland that sloped gently up from the beach at the bottom of the beautiful Presque Arm. It was connected to the Rectory by a long enclosed walkway, which was also used as a workshop. Passengers on the old Newfoundland government coastal boats, Argyle and Home, would crowd the rails to view the idyllic scene as they made their way from Presque to St. Kyran’s, which was part of what was then known as the west "run" of Placentia Bay: Argentia to Lamaline.

A Merasheen resident of St. Kyran’s Parish, I taught school at Clattice Harbour (Northwest) and Isle Valen from I925 to I927. The people of the two places regularly attended Sunday Mass, spring through fall, and sometimes in winter as did those of Presque, St. Ann’s, etc. The Clattice N.W. and Isle Valen people went by boat to St. Leonard's and walked the one mile to St. Kyran’s. People from Presque and other communities journeyed directly to St. Kyran’s, mooring their boats at the priest's wharf, a few minutes walk from the church. Parishioners from Little Paradise frequently came in summer, and sometimes from Merasheen. The distance to St. Kyran’s, except from St. Leonard's, varied from about three miles to eight. It was impressive to see men, women and children from so many places come together for Sunday Mass at their central place of worship, the parish church. It was evident that it was socially beneficial too. Today numerous former parishioners, their sons, daughters and grand-children worship in St. John's and the Placentia area.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the formal establishment of our Catholic faith in Newfoundland and Labrador. St. Kyran’s Parish, with which Merasheen was closely associated from the beginning, existed most of this period. It seems a good time to remind ourselves, ex-parishioners and descendants, of our local Christian heritage. A link in that heritage is the painting of the Assumption of the Mother of the Son of God, which 60 years ago was in St. Kyran’s Parish Church of the Assumption and is now in St. John Bosco Church, Shea Heights,St. John's.


Editors notes:  In March 2023, the painting was moved to St. Theresa's Parish.

It was painted in Rome by Tito Ridolfi (1886-1956).

Note the document organizing funding for the Doutney memorial.

BVM TitoBVM Doutney 1BVM committee