History and Antiquities of the Diocese of Ossory - James Phelan

James Phelan


Rev. James Phelan (1834-1915)

Rev. James Phelan was born in 1834 in Kilkenny, Ireland. He was educated at Carlow College, Ireland, sometime before immigrating to Prince Edward Island in 1854. James' younger brother William Phelan (1836-1921), also came to PEI, from Ireland. Both of the brothers were priests, as well as trained stonemasons.

The year after arrival, James assisted Rev. Angus McDonald in opening Saint Dunstan’s College. James and Rev. Angus were the only two faculty members in 1855.

In August of 1856, James was ordained by Bishop Bernard MacDonald in Rustico. He remained a professor at Saint Dunstan’s College for two years and then assigned as the Parish Priest at East Point, St. Margaret’s, and Vernon River.

During his time as Parish Priest, James oversaw the construction of a new parochial house, 1862, and a new church in Vernon River, 1877.

From 1863-1874, James was the visiting priest at St. Michael’s Mission in Iona. Then in 1891, he was made the full-time Pastor at St. Michael’s.

In 1895, he became the Vicar General of the Diocese.

In 1906, James celebrated his 50th Anniversary of his Ordination and his nephew, Patrick J. Phelan of the Ursuline Convent, gifted a set of four books to his uncle. In volume 4 of The History and Antiquities of the Diocese of Ossory, by Rev. William Carrigan, C.C., Patrick wrote the following inscription:

To the Rev. Monsignor James Phelan
-in honour of the 50th Anniversary of your Ordination
As a token of love and gratitude
from his Affectionate Nephew
Patrick J. Phelan
Ursuline Convent
? ?
1906 (6 overwritten with 7).

Below this is written (in a different script):
from Rev. Jas. Phelan, to his old and dear friend Re Philip Henibery
Hobart, Tasmania

The same year, 1906, that James received the gift from his nephew, Pope Pius X honoured him with the distinction of Domestic Prelate. James retired two years after being revered with this title.

James eventually came out of retirement, in 1912, when he was named the Administrator of the diocese in Charlottetown. He remained in this position until the new bishop was appointed, allowing James to finally, fully retire in 1913.

Rev. James Phelan died 5 November 1915, in the Charlottetown hospital. He was the sole survivor of the early missionaries to Prince Edward Island.

He bequeathed his entire estate ($20,213.28) to the Catholic Church to be invested, with all interest from the investments going to the Charlottetown chapter of the St. Vincent de Paul's Society, to be distributed among the poor.

Other books in the UPEI Provenance Collection:

O'Donovan, John. Annals of the Four masters: Annals of the kingdom of Ireland. 1856. V. 1-7. [Inscribed “Presented to the Library of St. Dunstan's College by Very Rev. James Phelan V. G. Iona? July 1905." Inscription is only in Volumes 1, 6, & 7.]

O'Curry Eugene. On the Manners & Customs of the Ancient Irish. London: Williams and Norgate, 1873. V 1-3. [A. McLean Sinclair signature in volume 1, with “from whom this work was bought by Rev. James Phelan, for S.D.C. written underneath it. Also inscribed “Presented to the Library of St. Dunstan's College, by Rev. James Phelan May 28th 1905.”]

Bourke, Rev. Ulick J. The Aryan Origin of the Gaelic Race and Language: The Round Towers, The Brehon Law, Truth of the Pentateuch. London: Longmans, Green 1875. [Inscribed “Presented to the Library of St. Dunstan's College by Rev. James Phelan, May 28th, 1905."]


1881 Census of Canada. Census Place: Lot 49, Queens, Prince Edward Island; Roll: C_13164; Page: 26; Family No: 99.

1901 Census of Canada. Census Place: Lot (township/canton) 57, Queen's (east/est), Prince Edward Island; Page: 7; Family No: 87.

Ed., Bolger, Francis W.P. The History of Vernon River Parish: 1877-1977. 1977, pg. 23-24.

Historic Places, Prince Edward Island: St. Paul's Roman Catholic Church. “Why is this place important?" Accessed on 27 October 2016.

“Will Probated". Charlottetown Guardian 13 November 1915, p.5. Accessed from Island Newspapers on 27 October 2016.

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