Journal Volume 4 2004
A Priest, an Altar and a Window (continued/1)
On another occasion an engine and snowplough were engulfed and with them a conductor, Mr Green. Father Pat heard of the accident and hurried to the spot. The conductor's body was recovered and placed on a toboggan, and alone and single handed Father Pat hauled the sleigh from the pass over the desolate and dangerous trail to Donald. The journey took two days.
He built a number of small wooden churches where services were held on Sundays. It sounds amusing now but at the time it was far from amusing when one of his churches was literally stolen and used elsewhere!
In 1890 Father Pat met and married Frances Innes at St Paul's Church, Esquimalt on Vancouver Island. Her father was the superintendent of H.M. Naval establishment. His bride was described as a charming lady, soft curling brown hair, expressive blue eyes and a sweet childlike smile. They were very happy for just eleven months until both Frances and their only baby died within a few days of each other.
Father Pat was left to labour on alone once more. At Rossland he opened a free library and reading room for miners and rail road workers. He built churches and called to one and all to come and worship God. For a short period he returned to Ireland and helped his father at St Matthew's, but he was restless and returned once more to British Colombia. He died at the young age of 43 in 1902. In Rossland today there stands a monumental lamp and drinking fountain. It tells symbolically of the “Light” this man of God from Newtownmountkennedy had followed and of the “Water of Light” which he gave men to drink. On the stone fountain are written the words:
“His home was known to all the vagrant train; he chid their wandering and relieved their pain”. On the east side of the fountain is the inscription: “I was thirsty and ye gave me to drink”. On the west side: “I was hungered and ye gave me to eat”. On the north side: “In Memoriam. Father Pat”.
On the south side: ”A man he was to all the country dear. Requiescat in Pace”. Close by is another memorial, perhaps as eloquent and even more touching: a cairn erected to Father Pat's memory by the miners themselves, consisting of specimens of all the rich and valued ores produced by the mines of Rossland, each labelled with the name of the mine.
In a comer of the beautiful little cemetery at Sapperton near Montreal above the Frazer River there is a semi-circular headstone, very low and small. In its centre is the Cross enclosed in a circle. It is the grave of the nameless little one who never saw light; and beneath the symbol are these touching lines:
“No name had I, OChrist, to offer thee, nor from thy font received thy sacred sign, yet in thy book of life remember me, I plead my Saviour's name instead of mine. Child of H and F S Irwin.”
Not far off lie the parents in one grave with two white marble crosses at head and foot. In 1907 a beautiful east window was erected in St Matthew's Church, Newtownmountkennedy in memory of Father Pat. There is another memorial window in St Colomba's College Chapel, Rathfarnham.
Father Pat's dedicated life and work is still so revered in Canada that he is commemorated and named in the Canadian Church Calendar every January 14, the date of his death. A verse from a poem by a Rossland miner pays this tribute to Father Pat:
He wore the Church of England brand, but didn't bank on creeds.
His way to hearts was not with words, but helpful, loving deeds.
Though we were hard to work upon not readily enticed
We called him the first Christian that ever lived - since Christ.