The Diocese of Hamilton was established on February 29, 1856 by Pope Pius IX in order to meet the needs of a rapidly growing Catholic community in Ontario. The Diocese of Hamilton has flourished through the leadership of its Bishops and the faith of its clergy, religious communities, and dedicated parishioners. With the formal decree of establishment promulgated in a leap year, the Diocese has only celebrated the anniversary 41 times on the proper date in its 166 year history! However, the rich history is well worth marking every year. As we approach the end of February below is a look back at our early history and development.
Petition to Rome
The Diocese of Hamilton and the Diocese of London were founded as divisions of the Archdiocese of Toronto. In a letter dated June 3, 1854, the Bishops of Quebec petitioned Rome seeking creation of these two new dioceses. The large population in the province and the growth in Niagara, which necessitated an unachievable level of pastoral care were given as reasons for this appeal. In the letter, the Bishops of Quebec offer Rev. John Farrell as candidate for the episcopacy of the Diocese of Hamilton and Rev. Adolphus Pinsonneault as the candidate for the Diocese of London.
A notation is written on the bottom of the letter stating that the petition for the establishment of the dioceses of London and Hamilton, with everything duly noted, was accepted by Rome. Signed and dated: J.F. Cardinal Franzoni, Prefect, July 7, 1855. His Eminence Cardinal Franzoni was the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation of the Propagation of Faith.
Bishops of Quebec to the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of Faith in Rome, June 3, 1854
The Bishop Farrell Library & Archives maintains founding documents issued by Pope Pius IX establishing the Diocese of Hamilton and appointing Bishop John Farrell as our first Ordinary. The former outlines the physical boundaries of our jurisdiction, originally encompassing Wentworth, Haldimand, Brant, Halton, Waterloo, Wellington, Grey, Bruce, Manitoulin Island, the mission of Sault St. Marie, the missions of Lake Superior, and as far north as Bytown (Ottawa, Ontario) and St. Boniface (Winnipeg, Manitoba). A huge geographic area for missionary priests travelling on horseback in their ministry! The most northern parts of the Diocese were soon transferred to the care of other dioceses and Haldimand became part of the Diocese of St. Catharines in 1958, leaving us with our current boundaries encompassing Brant, Bruce, Grey, Halton, Waterloo, Wellington, and four Townships in the County of Dufferin.
Another significant document in the founding of the Diocese is Bishop Farrell’s first Pastoral Letter. Dated to May 1856, the letter announces that by papal dictate the See of the diocese will be fixed in the City of Hamilton. In the letter Bishop Farrell urges all to support each other in charity and holy devotion. Lastly, he sets out four decrees for the functioning of the diocese, the first being the patronage of the diocese under the Virgin Mary.
Then & Now
Bishop John Farrell was the first bishop of the Diocese of Hamilton, installed on May 24, 1856 in Hamilton’s St. Mary’s Church. There were estimated to be 28,000 Catholics in the region, with 9 parishes and 16 missions. There were only 8 priests and 3 Sisters of St. Joseph to help with this ministry.
Bishop Joseph Ryan was the bishop, the sixth for the Diocese of Hamilton. He was installed on October 19, 1937. Bishop Ryan was a “true son” of the diocese, having been born and educated in the Diocese of Hamilton. The diocese was comprised of 86 parishes, 28 missions, and 112,000 Catholics. There were 223 active priests, 9 religious congregations of men, and 10 religious congregations of women.
Bishop Douglas Crosby is the ninth bishop of the Diocese of Hamilton, having been installed on November 8, 2010. Bishop Wayne Lobsinger serves as Auxiliary Bishop, appointed to the role in 2020. The Hamilton Diocese has grown to become the second largest English-speaking Roman Catholic Diocese in Canada. There are currently 120 parishes, 28 missions, and over 600,000 Catholics. We have 144 active priests, 5 religious congregations of men, and 15 religious congregations of women. There are 49 permanent deacons in the diocese.
Throughout the years the Diocese of Hamilton has celebrated its anniversaries through special events, publications, and videos. Below are a few highlights celebrating the history of the Diocese of Hamilton. Click on the links to open the documents in full!
The Diocese of Hamilton 150th Anniversary 1856 – 2006, Produced by Frank Lilliman, 2006
Note: Content in this post edited from original 2016 publication from the Diocese of Hamilton website.