By: Father Clerance Thibeau



As the dust settled, following the hustled preparations for the Church’s dedication, the pressing obligation of paying off the construction debt became a priority,. As mentioned earlier, the Bishop had set a limit of fifteen thousand dollars that could be loaned from the bank, to re-build the Church and build a Rectory. Our Finance Committee decided to apply nine thousand towards the Church, and six thousand towards the Rectory. Obviously, this was sadly inadequate, even for the late l950’s. As a comparison, a new rectory was being built in an older parish of the Diocese, and was allowed to borrow $30,000. It’s much larger income would permit quicker payment.

Our debt, therefore, was not $15,000, but closer to $30,000, when one added to this, the plumbing supplies (from Simpson-Sears Co.), the furnaces (from Irving Oil Co.), and a good portion of building materials (from Shelburne Woodworkers Ltd.) which were paid on the instalment plan.

An older priest of the Diocese casually remarked to me one day: “Construction is one thing! Paying the debt, afterwards, is a totally other matter.”


The added space in the Church contributed considerably to the comfort of the parishioners, and the enhancement of all services, so reducing the debt became a great priority. To reduce the debt, a variety of measures were used: the usual stand-bys of a special monthly collection; Advent and Lenten Folders; Mite Boxes. One good lady donated through a “cuss-box”, in which she assessed herself a fine, each time she used a cuss-word.

Altar Societies and/or Ladies’ Auxiliaries are very adept at raising funds , as every pastor will attest. Throughout the next several years, our Altar Society , through card parties, rummage sales, social evenings and our annual Fall Fair, led the way in reducing the parish debt. Donations from our Holy Name Society and from individual parishioners also contributed to lowering the debt to $7,000, by October of 1962, then to zero by June of 1964.


On Thursday, November 23, 1961, whilst visiting relatives in the Boston area, I received a phone call from the family of Maurice Flemming Sr (known as Sheriff Flemming) saying he had just passed away. I hurriedly re-booked a return flight to the parish, and his Funeral Mass was held on Monday, attended by a large number of people from many walks of life. He was well known and loved. Whilst a Mission Church, he had cared for St. Thomas Church for many years. On July 15th, 1962, a stained-glass window , depicting the Good Shepherd, was installed near the Sanctuary, in his memory.


The following incident was too charming to omit. Mr. Ricky MacDonald was the senior school teacher at the Nova Scotia School for Boys. His wife was a nurse at the local Roseway Hospital. Sundays, Ricky attended early Mass at the NSSB Chapel, returning at once to tend the children, and allowing his wife to attend the later Mass at St. Thomas Church. On this occasion, nearing the end of his wife’s pregnancy, Ricky arrived at his front door after Mass, to be met by his wife holding an overnight valise. When he asked for an explanation, she replied: “Either get me to the Hospital in a hurry, or our next child will be born here on the front step.” Within the hour of arriving at the Hospital, she had a trouble-free birth.


Through the courtesy of Monsignor Nil Theriault, rector of St. Ambrose Cathedral, Yarmouth, a number of our youngsters attended Monte Bello, his Parish’s summer camp at Tusket, Yarmouth County.

In fact, this became an annual event for several years, allowing the Catholic boys and girls of Shelburne County, to meet and mingle with other Catholic youngsters of the Diocese.


Shortly after his election in 1958, Pope John XXIII announced the convening of an Ecumenical Council for 1962, allowing several years preparation. The Council would not effect the Church doctrine, but rather attitudes and practices. Adjustments began occurring , even before the official opening of the Council in 1962. These may have been better accepted by Catholics world-wide, if there had been a more careful preparation in each parish, before introducing them.

In early January of 1961, the media, not the Bishop’s Office, announced from Rome, that Latin would no longer be the exclusive language of the Mass, but that the local, secular language would also become official; altars could be turned around to face the congregation; and congregational singing encouraged. Many beautifully-sculptured altars, often fastened to the rear walls of the Churches, were un-ceremoniously detached, and replaced by make-shift, free-standing altars, leaving the back walls noticeably bare. St. Thomas Church, just recently renovated, was more easily converted to this new direction..

As the Vatican Council progressed, other new directions arrived, instructing parishes to prepare Lay Readers, Eucharistic Distributors, and establishing Parish Councils. Here, again, the adjustment was minimal, at St. Thomas Parish, as the standing Finance Committee merely re-named itself the Parish Council, advising the Pastor on all concerns of the Parish. Un-accustomed to facing the congregation, many parishioners , at first, were reluctant to accept the Pastor’s invitation to be Readers or Lay-distributors. All these changes , though meaningful, were nevertheless no more than surface changes in the Church, compared to doctrinal clarifications, but had the greatest impact on Catholics nevertheless.


It became obvious, by 1960, that the enlarged Church still wasn’t large enough, so remote plans for further enlargement pre-occupied the Parish Council for the next several years. Also needing attention, was the Mission Church at Lockeport, which was poorly situated on a shabby piece of land, and thoughts were given to moving it to a better location, before winterizing it.

Due to the increasing number of Catholic airmen, and their families, arriving at the Barrington Air Force Station, there were rumblings of the need to have a mission church in the West end of the County, to service both local and military families. The chronology of events leading up to the eventual building of a mission church in Barrington may be read in this book’s section concerning St. Philip’s Church.


In 1962, after five years in command of the Barrington Air Force Station, the United States airmen officially handed over the base to the Royal Canadian Air Force.

Regulations did not allow the Americans to return items to the United States, that might harm U.S. businessmen, such as lawnmowers, sports’ equipment, hobby items etc. so these had to be destroyed. Lawnmowers etc. were cut up by acetylene torches and sent to landfills. The same should have been the fate of their large supply of sports equipment, but these escaped destruction by the following underhanded manoeuvre.

One day, whilst fulfilling duties as Catholic Chaplain at the base, I was requested to meet the officer in charge of the sports’ program. First he asked if I was also Chaplain at the N.S. School for Boys, at Shelburne, and then asked if I would covertly deliver a carload of sports’ equipment there, with no questions asked and no publicity. There was no dishonesty involved, as this secrecy was to avoid complaints from merchants. My car was carefully loaded, trunk, back-seat and passenger-seat with a variety of new and nearly-new, top quality sports equipment. Arriving later , at the N.S. School for Boys, I spoke privately to the Councillor in charge of sports, showing him the eye-catching supply of equipment. I assured him that it was honestly obtained, and, on condition of no questions asked, he could have it all. “No problem!” he replied, though apparently curious about who this benefactor might be. We quickly unloaded my car, and I headed back to the rectory, leaving a perplexed but happy sportsman, standing there watching me leave the premises. This made immensely more sense than burning all this equipment.


Shortly after the Canadian Airmen took command of the Station, I was called to the office of the Commanding Officer to be told that my duties at the base would continue as before, with one exception: I would no longer have clearance to visit the radar operation room. I had been spending a good deal of time with those on duty there, who worked in the dim light of the scopes, sensing that a break from this routine was beneficial. It seemed a rather strange security measure, since on occasion, the members of the local Kinsmen Club would be invited , as a group, to visit the Operation Room, and I would then be invited to accompany them.


During the Spring and Summer of 1962, a decision was made to move the Lockeport Mission Church to another location. By July, all was ready, and it was moved without incident. Details of this may be found in the section of this book relating to the Lockeport Mission Church.


At the end of each calendar year, every Parish of the Diocese is required to send a copy of its sacramental activities of the past year, to the Bishop’s Office, where they are carefully protected in the vault as permanent records. Over the years, many people researching their family roots have found these records to be invaluable, often being the only records available. The report from St. Thomas Church reported 28 Baptisms, 17 First Communions, 55 Confirmations, 8 Marriages, 7 Deaths and 6 conversions. The influx of Catholic servicemen to this predominantly non-Catholic area, many of whom met and married Shelburne County girls, accounts for the conversions. Instructions to these included weekly lessons over a three-month period, often with unexpected , though amusing, reactions. The following are just such examples.


This young teacher, from the western part of the County, became engaged to a young Catholic airman, stationed at the Barrington Military Base. On the day of her first appointment, I met her at the door and directed her to a chair opposite my office desk, but she insisted upon seating herself on a chair near the door, some distance from my desk, necessitating speaking a bit louder to be heard across the room. This became her practice for several weekly instructions, but, then, without explanation, she unhesitatingly sat in the chair opposite to my desk. At a later session, I asked her about her reluctance to sit near the desk. Her answer, though surprising, was rather amusing: “ From my childhood, I had been taught , by parents and church friends, that Catholic priests had the ability to hypnotize a person, and have them believe what they would otherwise not wish to believe”. “But”, I said, “ you’re a professional school teacher! You’ve been away to the Truro School for Teachers, you’re a thinking person!” Her reply: “Yes, but when such things are handed over to you from family and close friends, it’s not that easy to reject them”.


My duties every Friday, at the Shelburne Navy Base, included visiting the personnel at their work stations, and making myself available for anything they wished to discuss. One of these stations was the base’s garage, where their mechanics kept their vehicles in good running condition. It so happened that the three mechanics were Catholics, but their Petty Officer was not, and usually displayed a lot of anger, often using abusive words, and tossing wrenches about , when I visited. When he was absent, the men confided that he showed most of his anger when I was present. This puzzled me, because I had little conversation with him, and never knowingly offended him. On one occasion, when he displayed unusual anger, I immediately left the garage, stood on the outside step debating whether to report him to the Base’s First Officer. Unexpectedly, he followed me outside, and stood beside me. His first words really caught me by surprise: “ How does a person become a member of your Church?” I said : “You’re not kidding ?” “Never been more serious, “ he replied. “Then why the angry and abusive display each time I visited here?” I asked. “ I was just testing you, to see if you had a breaking point,” he replied. Little did he know how close he came to discovering it. I told him about the three months instructions, and he asked when he might begin. He attended faithfully and we became lasting friends.