About St. John the Baptist Parish
A Brief History of St. John the Baptist Parish – Woodstock
The history of the Catholic faith in this area can be traced back over 300 years. Just below Woodstock, in the 1600’s there was a community of Maliseet Indians at what is known as Medoctec (Meductic). Various French Missionaries: Jesuits, Franciscans and Recollects journeyed up the Saint John River to bring Christianity to this part of the new world.
By 1717 a tiny chapel dedicated to St. John the Baptist (St. Jean-Baptiste) was built. In1784 the Province of New Brunswick was formed. In 1785 Woodstock began as a settlement by the Loyalists. By the early 1800’s, the arrival of Irish Immigrants signalled the need to build another church closer to the growing Catholic population in Woodstock, known in those times as “The Creek”.From 1810-1830 Catholics gathered occasionally in homes to celebrate the Eucharist. In 1832, under Father William Dollard, St. Malachy’s Chapel was built on the present site of St. Gertrude’s.
On October 8, 1842, St. Gertrude’s Parish was incorporated – the first resident priest being Rev. Richard Veriker. At the same time in 1842, the Diocese of Saint John was created and also that same year saw the establishment of the Maine-N.B. Border as we know it today. In 1849, the Parish of Woodstock encompassed the area from Nackawic to Grand Falls, on both sides of the river, and included Houlton, Maine, as well. Father Veriker began working on plans for the construction of a larger church to serve the growing population. However, it was a decade before the first mass could be celebrated because of a period sectarian strife between the Protestants and the Catholics in the area. The most dramatic being a riot which occurred on July 12, 1847 between the Orangemen and local Irish Catholics in Woodstock.
It was not until the coming of Father Thomas Connolly, a pioneer priest in New Brunswick, from Chatham, in 1849 that the second church was completed. Father Connolly was appointed to Woodstock for three different terms spanning four decades and may be considered to be the most prominent priest in our history.
In 1856, the Town of Woodstock was incorporated and Father Connolly converted St. Malachy’s Chapel into a school open to children of all denominations which existed 14 years before the enactment of the N.B. School’s Act. Father Connolly calmed the waters and restored peace and tranquillity between Protestants and Catholics. Before leaving in 1876, he had completed a monumental work. Besides converting St. Malachy’s Chapel into a public school he began the annual Church Picnic in 1857 which continues today with our harvest supper and supervised the construction of new churches in Johnville, Lakeville, River de Chute, Debec and Canterbury. In 1880,Bishop Sweeney conferred Father Connolly the honor of Monsignor.
Our former rectory was built in 1884 by Father John Murray. It was replaced in 1992, our sesquicentennial year, under the direction of Father Peter Bagley. Completion of the New Rectory Project was done in 1994 with the grounds being landscaped and parking lot paved.
In 1904, Father F. J. McMurray built a church hall for use as a Sunday School and parish activities. In 1967-68, Father Donald Gillis built a new hall to replace the aging structure.
A significant turn of events in St. Gertrude’s history took place at midnight on March 1, 1925, when the original church burned to the ground. Father F.M. Lockary, pastor at the time, was in Rome when he received news of the tragedy. Our present church was blessed on July 7, 1926 by The Right Rev. E.A. LeBlanc, D.D., Bishop of Saint John. It was built by Charles Bowlin, father of our present parishioner Eugene Bowlin at a cost of $52,000.The present steeples on the church replaced the old ones being completed while Father B. F.McMahon was pastor. The church basement was made into Sunday School rooms and the vestry renovated during Father Leon Creamer’s tenure in 1982-87.
Our present convent was built as a rectory by Monsignor James Brown in 1950. Woodstock has been served by the Sisters since 1863 when they arrived to teach the Native children. The Charities of Saint John remained until 1877. In 1924 the Sisters returned and taught at the Woodstock Indian Nation School as well a parochial school at St. Gertrude’s until 1963 when the native children were integrated into the public school system, causing the Sisters to leave 100 years after their first arrival. We were once again blessed in 1983 when the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame arrived to assist our pastor in all aspects of parish life as well as reorganizing our catechetical programs. They remained with us until June 2010. Their influence here over almost two decades was a vital part of our faith community.
Today, the Parish of St. Gertrude’s includes the Mission churches of St. Bonaventure’s in Lakeville and St. Joseph’s in Newburg. Our records show descendants of some of those early families still live in Woodstock and actively maintain their faith. Our Parish is comprised of approximately 450 families with Father John Keoughan as our Pastor. We have a very active Parish with over 150 parishioners devoting hundreds of volunteer hours within the Parish Council; CWL; Knights of Columbus; Religious Education; Youth Ministry; Social Action; RCIA and Liturgical Ministries.
Many changes have taken place in our history, however, to this day, we continue to gather on the same hill to celebrate our faith, hear God’s Word and Break Bread.