Our History

Our History

‘Twas a beautiful autumnal day in September 1896, when Bishop Narcisse Lorrain of Pembroke boarded a train destined for Barry’s Bay.  He picked up his colleague Father James McCormac, pastor in Brudenell and together they spent the next several days in the Bay, searching for a suitable site for a new chapel to serve approximately 50 Catholic families, mostly of Irish extraction.  There already was another Catholic Church in the area, the Church of The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, which served a large Polish community.  Perhaps that is the reason for locating the new chapel at the other edge of the village and naming it St. Lawrence O’Toole Parish, to accommodate the many Irish pioneers and several other nationalities.

After selecting what was an appropriate site, the Diocese of Pembroke made application for the purchase of the two-acre plot from the Crown and plans were formulated to erect a chapel which would be a mission church to the already established parishes of Brudenell and Killaloe.

In 1898, St. Lawrence O’Toole chapel was erected on the purchased site and our historical voyage had begun.  Missionary priests from Brudenell and Killaloe would visit St. Lawrence’s on a bi-monthly schedule and the parish congregation would soon swell from fifty to ninety families, with Irish catholics being in the majority, but with a good mixture of French, Polish and other nationalities.  Such early family names were Murray, Sullivan, Conway, Smith, Dooner, Daly, Kitts, Acton, Sloan, Coughlin, Drohan, Billings, Dolan, Dunnigan, Mahon, Kirwin, Stafford, Nicholson, George, Whelan, Letang, Morans, Doyle, Kilby, Kelly, Malone, Dillon, Delaney, Dunn, Conlon and many more.

Some of the clergymen who travelled form Brudenell and Killaloe from 1898 to 1934 to serve St. Lawrence’s were Fathers James McCormac, Francis French, Archibald Reynolds, Isaiah French, Daniel Breen and Martin McNamara.  The chapel was expanded at least twice in order to house the growing congregation and also to provide living quarters for the visiting priests.

Rumour has it that a young curate by the name of Father Martin McNamara couldn’t see eye to eye with his pastor, Father Daniel Breen, in Killaloe, and upon being sent to St. Lawrence’s in the Bay, Father Mac, who was then extremely well known, decided to stay in the Bay and took up permanent residence at st. Lawrence’s.  This being the case, the then Bishop of Pembroke, his Excellency, the most Reverend Patrick Ryan decided to establish St. Lawrence’s as a permanent parish in 1934 and named Father Mac as the first parish priest.

Under Father Mac’s guidance and dedication from 1934 till his death in 1958, St. Lawrence’s flourished and grew in stature and in faith.  Father Mac was a big man, in strength and in spirit, and he endeared himself to practically everyone he encountered.  He finished his priestly days by celebrating Mass on an organ stool, after both his legs were amputated due to diabetes.  In conjunction with his fellow priest at St. Hedwig’s church, Monsignor Peter Biernaski, they literally ran the educational and athletic programs in the village and were instrumental in most endeavours in town, especially the many bazaars, picnics, plays and other fundraising events.  Their legacies have made the village of Barry’s Bay and area a predominantly Catholic community till this very day.

After Father Mac’s demise St. Lawrence’s experienced a succession of parish priests, all of whom were well accepted and well respected.  Following Father Mac, Father John Hogan served for three years.  Father Ken O’Brien arrived in 1961 and it was under his tutelage that our present church was built.  When Father O’Brien retired in 1971, he stayed on in Barry’s Bay and served as Chaplain at St. Francis Memorial Hospital and also at the Valley Manor, serving the needs of the sick and elderly.

Father Donald Donahue succeeded father O’Brien but only was active at St. Lawrence’s for about one year and was transferred to Sheenboro.  Father Jack Green became the fifth parish priest at St. Lawrence’s in 1972 and remained our spiritual leader for 21 years.  Father Green’s mild and humble approach endeared him to all.  He was transferred to Osceola in 1993.  After Father Green, St. Lawrence’s was guided by three more priests, all of whom were local boys.  Father Joseph O’Malley, served from 1994 to 1999, Father Norbert Cybulski, from 1999 to 2001, and Father Mervin Coulas, from 2001 to 2018, and now we are blessed to have Father Patrick M. Dobec, 2018 to present.