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How do you condense 100 years of history into a book in two years?

Well you don according to Jean Plouffe, the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie, home to some 210,000 Catholics spread over dozens of communities stretching from Callander and North Bay on the east and taking in North Bay, Sudbury, Manitoulin Island, Elliot Lake, the Sault and north and west to Wawa and White River and dozens of communities between.

As a reporter over the years, I often wondered why Sault Diocese was actually based in North Bay and now in Sudbury. When it was set up in 1904, it was believed that the Sault was ideally geographically located in the middle, but the first bishop, David Joseph Scollard, felt that North Bay was then a booming railway community so he chose to set up there since he felt it would be easier for him to travel to the far reaches of the diocese by train.

The book started as a centennial project in 2004 but it took 10 years to finish.

In his opening remarks, in this full colour 180 or so pages, Bishop Plouffe said the objective of the book was to provide an overview of the history of the diocese but that being said, he noted history continues to write itself but in order to understand life as it is today, we must know where we came from and to learn and appreciate those who have handed down to us their faith and spirit of solidarity.

Out of the five bishops who have headed up the Sault Diocese since its creation was Bishop Alexander Carter, who was known as the best communicator and according to Bishop Plouffe his time in office was the easiest to research for the book.

In fact he founded two diocesan newspapers, one English, The Northern Ontario Register, for which I actually wrote a few articles, and one French, L was during Vatican II so there was lots of news to print. But the cost of printing and distribution meant the papers only lasted until 1968.

The first 42 pages of this book is more than a diocesan history it is actually an early history of Canada with the arrival of the French in Canada and the subsequent conquest by the British and the arrival of the Jesuits and their story of the zeal they exhibited in Christianizing the natives.

It details the battles between English Catholics (mostly Irish) and the French Canadians (all French speaking) the battles over government financing for Catholic schools in Ontario (still contentious in some areas today.)

The Jesuits started many missions in Canada and it mentions that Father Claude Dalfon founded one in the Sault in 1669. The church also invited orders of nuns to Canada and they founded and ran hospitals in the Sault, North Bay and other cities and they also taught at many Catholic schools. I was one of those students the nuns great teachers.

Bishop Plouffe outlines his thoughts for the future

A last chapter on the early history is an interview with Bishop Plouffe and his thoughts for the future of the diocese.

He talks of his growing up in the Lower Town section of Ottawa where the population was mostly Catholic or Jewish with two Catholic churches one French, one English, two synagogues and one small protestant church.

And his dream for the church of the future?

wise, as a Diocesan Church born of Jesuit missions, we must once again become a missionary church, aware of the urgency to reach out to those whose faith has dwindled away or who are looking for meaning in their lives or suffering from hopelessness brought about by loneliness, sickness, old age or exclusion.

They worked with committees across the diocese, which produced copy for each church and some great photos of each church too. These books are a great read, not only for Catholics who may belong to any one of the dozens of parishes listed, but anyone else who is interested in the early history of Canada.

They sell for $35 each and are available at any Catholic Church in the Sault, or across the diocese. As a history buff myself, I am on my second reading learning new things about our early days in Canada.
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