Over the past year, The News has covered the efforts of the Glengarry Fencibles Trust, a local non-profit citizens group seeking to restore the Bishop’s House in St. Raphael’s to its former glory.

But more than nine decades ago, an area parish priest had a similar vision, which was ultimately realized through a unique agreement between the church and its members.

In a re-printed front page article from Oct. 13, 1944, entitled ‘Iona Academy at St. Raphael’s West Monument to Father Campbell,’ Ottawa Citizen columnist Austin Cross recalled the work of the “lovable septuagenerian priest,” Fr. Duncan A. (D.A.) Campbell, 20 years prior.

“Some years ago, Iona (located in the former Bishop’s House) had to expand, and as usual, Father Campbell had been doing some thinking about it. In fact, he had been thinking about it for 11 full years,” wrote Mr. Cross.

“People remembered that he had repeatedly attended the summer school of the Catholic University of America, at Cliff Haven (near Plattsburgh), New York (where he lectured and taught).

“Then he dropped a bombshell in their midst when he told them that he had raised $11,000 for their school (Iona) in this way.”

(According to the Bank of Canada’s Inflation Calculator, that sum, in 1923 – when Fr. Campbell made his announcement – would be the equivalent of over $155,000 in 2015.)

Upon recovering from this “bombshell,” Fr. Campbell convinced his flock to contribute to the proposed expansion of the Bishop’s House/Iona Academy – consisting primarily of the addition of matching east and west wings to the existing structure – as well.

To accomplish the goal, he suggested a deal between the church and its parishioners whereby anyone who “contributed a certain quota for three years would have education for his family,” and that anyone who subsequently became the landowner of that contributor’s property in the future, “in perpetuity,” would benefit likewise.

In other words, “free education forever went with that farm,” according to Mr. Cross.

A brief piece on the Glengarry Fencibles Trust website notes that parishioners, between 1923 and 1927, donated more than $20,000 towards construction costs through this “special levy,” which was collected on October 1 annually over that period, and that “no taxpayer’s money was used in the building of the wings.”

The formal opening of the “new Iona Academy” took place in June, 1924.

Apparently, the selfless actions of their parish priest left quite an impression on members of the church.

“They loved, almost worshipped, a man who would work hard for 11 years, and secretly save $11,000,” stated Mr. Cross.

“They were profoundly touched by a priest who would deny himself everything so that he could deny St. Raphael’s and Iona nothing.”

Ordained at St. Finnan’s in Alexandria in 1893, Fr. Campbell served as St. Raphael’s Church parish priest for almost a half-century – from October 1900 to October 1948.

He died at the family residence in Alexandria, in September 1952, at the age of 85.

Fr. Campbell’s obituary on the front page of the Sept. 19, 1952 edition of The News spoke highly of the tremendous contributions he made to the parish, and in particular, his efforts to revamp the Bishop’s House/Iona Academy, over his half-decade there.

“At that time (his arrival), the parish had a one-room rural school and the scholarly young priest soon applied himself to bettering facilities there,” it stated.

“The result is Iona Academy, which in 1913 he invited the Sisters of the Holy Cross to take over. Under his interested charge, it was steadily expanded and improved until today St. Raphael’s boasts a consolidated primary school from which pupils pass on to high school work and a complete commercial course.”

© The Glengarry News, Wednesday, December 09, 2015. pg 5

All rights reserved.

St. Raphael's Parish Levy, 1923-1927
$125K sought for landmark
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