The history of St. Michael Church can be traced back to 1824 when settlers from Cork, Ireland, arrived in Huntley Township. These early settlers celebrated mass in their homes with a travelling priest, Fr. MacNamara. Although the exact date and place of the very first mass is not known, we do know that the earliest masses were held at the homes of the Manions, Kennedys and Meehans.
Around 1837, a wooden church was built. It was made of logs, about the size of a three-car garage, and was located in the present cemetery between the tall cross and the road. Fr. Terence Smith, who established the parish of Richmond in the same year, served the entire area. He travelled between churches and homes on horseback, by snowshoe and by sleigh.
In 1851, Fr. Edward Vaughan was appointed the first resident parish priest and it was during his tenure that the current church building was erected, without the tower, after the log church burned down in January 1864. The church was consecrated and named St. Michael on February 26, 1865. Fr. Vaughan was also responsible for building the first stone rectory, which stood on the northeast side of the road just past the present church.
In 1884, Fr. Patrick Corkery, a native of Ramsay Township, was the first Canadian to be named pastor of the church. He oversaw the building of new drive sheds, the digging of a new well and the installation of a new altar and hardwood ceiling.
In the early 1900s, subsequent priests made other additions and renovations to the church to mark milestones and based on the availability of funds. Fr. Cavanaugh, was responsible for building the new brick rectory in 1908. In 1917, Father Stanton undertook a major renovation of St. Michael which included excavation of the cellar, new pews and floors and construction of the bell tower.
By this time, a number of parish organizations—such as the Catholic Women’s League, the Catholic Men’s Benevolent Association, the League of the Sacred Heart and the Altar Society—had been created to support the faith and fellowship of this rural parish and to provide assistance to the priest and parishioners.
The short-lived period of prosperity after the Great War was followed by a period of decline as people began to leave in search of jobs and better land. In the 1870s, the parish counted 127 families and by 1930 it was down to 60 families.
The 1950s signalled a change in fortunes as a result of the post-war economy, and the opening up of the area to commuters with the reconstruction of Highway 44. However, in 1959 Fr. John Whelan was appointed as pastor of both Corkery and Pakenham and he chose to live in Pakenham, leaving St. Michael’s Corkery without a resident priest. This would change only in 1973 with the appointment of Fr. Gerald Gahagan.
The next major renovations were carried out by Father Hickey in 1966. He replaced the sanctuary floor and the main altar and, much to the chagrin of parishioners, removed the statues. He also introduced the new ritual of the vernacular mass said facing the congregation. It was during this time that the Parish council and its committees took over the responsibilities of the wardens, the three men elected every two years to look after the business of the church.
St. Michael’s parish grew in the 70s, 80s and 90s with better roads and transportation, the growth of Ottawa and Carp, the draw of well-paid jobs in the city and the construction of St. Michael School. In 1999, St. Michael Church celebrated its 175th anniversary and in the years leading up to that milestone Fr. Shepherd undertook additional renovations. The most significant was the addition of the backdrop to the altar and placement of the crucifix on that wall.
In more recent years, Fr. Gerard Monaghan undertook renovations of the rectory, while Fr. Michael Ruddick replaced all the exterior doors and had confessionals built near the entrance to the church.
St. Michael Parish today still counts descendants of its founding families among its parishioners, but has added to its flock the public servants, professionals, tradespeople and many others drawn to the countryside. We now have 108 families in the parish and are embarking on a journey of renewal. We look forward to celebrating our 200th anniversary in 2024.
This is an abridged history St. Michael’s. As we develop our website, we hope to post a more complete account of the pastors and people of the parish.