• 2018-03-13


Saint John Heritage

The Official Blog of the Cathedral Heritage Foundation

Faces of the Cathedral:

Hugh Fitzpatrick

Hugh Fitzpatrick and his family have been a central part of Saint John's Cathedral neighbourhood for more than 150 years. He recalls growing up there, managing the family business, and looking up daily at the Cathedral's Celtic Cross-- one of Ireland's most recognized symbols.


From Country Tipperary Ireland to Local Legends

Patrick Fitzpatrick of Co. Tipperary, Ireland arrived in Saint John in 1854 not long after the foundation of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception had been set and the walls were being erected with locally quarried limestone and sandstone. In time, two massive Celtic Crosses would be installed over the cathedral's main entrances. But in the mid-1800s, Saint John could be an uncomfortable place for newly arrived Irish immigrants like Fitzpatrick. Cholera was spreading through the city. Poverty rates were high. Political and religious unrest seemed to be as pervasive in Saint John as they'd been in the old country. And there was little in the way of social services at the time to ease the suffering.

But the Vinegar Hill section of Saint John (present-day Waterloo Street), with its rapidly rising Cathedral, represented hope. In the area surrounding the Cathedral, social institutions began to spring up to meet the tremendous needs of the Irish immigrant community. Schools to educate the children; a children’s home for those orphaned by the cholera epidemic and the harsh voyage across the Atlantic; and a hospital for the sick were but a few of the basic, necessary services that were woven into what was to become known as the Cathedral and Waterloo Village neighbourhood.

It didn’t take long for the former cabinetmaker to see the obvious need in the Irish immigrant community for funeral and burial services. In 1864, Mr. Fitzpatrick became the Cathedral neighbourhood's Irish undertaker, opening his funeral business directly across from the massive new church aloft on Waterloo Street.  Over the last 153 years, the business has been handed down through four generations-- from Irish-born Patrick, to Patrick J., to his son Hugh, and finally to Hugh E.

 
" For more than 70 years, I looked at the Cathedral's Celtic Cross from our home and business on Waterloo Street. The cathedral is the most important monument to our Irish ancestors in the City of Saint John." 

                ~ Hugh E. Fitzpatrick

Hugh E. is a typical Irish story-teller, known to many as one of those charmed custodians of local tradition and history, regaling those interested in the early days of the Cathedral's then out-in-the-country location with stories passed down through generations. "Back in the day," the Fitzpatrick family was the only one in the area with a telephone so they were often called upon to convey messages to the neighbours. Hugh E. recalls being dispatched regularly across the street to the Cathedral to fetch a priest to minister to the sick and dying because there was not yet a telephone at the Cathedral Residence.

The final Fitzpatrick undertaker, Hugh E., sold the business in 2012 to the city's only other family-owned funeral service firm, Brenan's Funeral Homes. In a move entirely befitting the Cathedral neighborhood's long history of community service, in 2018 the Brenan family gave the 122-year-old Fitzpatrick Building to the Outflow Centre for Training & Employment to provide assistance and training to those with employment challenges.

Hugh E. reflects on 153 years of the Fitzpatrick family's presence in the Cathedral community, which grew to become an integral sector in the heart of Uptown Saint John:

“When I started in the profession, the only thing my father said to me was 'Treat the poor with kindness... and God will take care of you!' Over the years it certainly seems to have been good counsel.

My ancestors saw the impact of following that advice firsthand from their vantage point across from the Cathedral. Since the mid-1800s, with the Cathedral as a the focus of support and hope, this area became a centre of healthcare and education. It was in this neighbourhood, as well, that thousands of Irish and other immigrants who arrived with nothing but the clothes on their backs could find a helping hand.  

Today, the number of families in poverty in Saint John is one of the highest in the country. With dozens of social support and community outreach organizations now operating in the area, including Outflow, I'm confident this neighborhood will once again thrive as a place of hope and support, like it was during my great-grandfather’s time.

The Cathedral Restoration  and Waterloo Village Revitalization Projects will do more for this City and people in need than just have a financial impact. This is about real, long-term renewal that can last for years to come." 

Are your family's ancestors connected to Saint John or the Cathedral?

The Fitzpatrick family is one of many Cathedral Heritage Families supporting the restoration of this important National Treasure and the neighborhood that's had a central role in the lives of their Irish ancestors since 1855.  Join them! Find out how you, too, can become a Cathedral Family.

Stay tuned to this space! In an upcoming blog post, you can find out if your family is among the hundreds with generations-long ties to Saint John's only cathedral and its surrounding neighbourhood. Countless thousands of Irish immigrants first arrived right here in New Brunswick.  Not all remained, with many heading to Boston and points along the American Eastern Seaboard but most can trace their New World roots to Saint John, New Brunswick. Many families have pledged their support to restore the Cathedral.

Won't you join them? 

Lynn Forbes Gautier
Lynn is the Executive Director of the Cathedral Heritage Foundation.  A lifelong traveler, Lynn loves to visit old cities and appreciates a society’s commitment to preserving its traditions and built heritage.

    

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We're raising money to repair the ceiling of Saint John's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. Every dollar counts when it comes to preserving one of New Brunswick's most important heritage buildings. It's a National Treasure! Please consider donating today.