The Untold Story

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Irish History
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The Irish in the Artic: A Perspective on the Irish in Canada

Irish Hermit of the Arctic

On the banks of the mighty MacKenzie River, The Great Cross marks the ground of the Oblate Mission of Our Lady of Good Hope. Behind the Church, in a small enclosure, a wooden paling encloses two graves. One is that of Father Henri Grollier who founded the Mission in 1859. The other is that of Brother Joseph Kearney who was the mainstay of the Mission for 57 years. He was known as Dene Ondie- Little Brother -by the local Hareskin Indians. This is the story of an Irishman whose epitath reads: "We are nothing, unless we are above all men of God."

Joseph Mary Patrick Kearney was born in Dungannon, Tyrone, in 1834. The family moved to Belfast when the father died and the mother was left with five children. Joseph acquired a better than average education. With a number of young companions, he founded a religious association devoted to Mary Immaculate. Their habit was a black suit with crucifix; they elected a Superior, held weekely meetings and drew up a rule book. A new religious order was in the making. Their Superior, on the suggestion of the Bishop, was travelling to Rome to submit their rule for approval when he met Father Robert Cook, the first Irish Oblate. Their meeting resulted in four of the companions applying for admission to the order of Mary Immaculate

In 1855, Joseph entered the Noviciate in Yorkshire and made the decision to become a brother rather than a Priest. The following year he spent teaching in the Oblate Primary School in Inchicore, Dublin. That summer, he pronounced his final vows. Two months later, he arrived at the Red River Mission where he spent his first winter in Canada. Next year, he transferred to Fort Chipewan on Lake Athabasca where he prepared for the rigours of the northern climate.

In August, 1859, he was sent to St. Joseph's Mission, Fort Resolution, where he served as dog teamster, carpenter, gardener, catechism teacher and mission cook. After two years there he proved himself adept at all the skills required to maintain a mission house. With Father Jean Sequin, he was sent to Good Hope Mission where, as it turned out, he was to remain for the next 57 years of his life.

Fort Good Hope was one of the remotest of the Hudson Bay outposts. The mail came once a year. The winter lasted from October to May. The territory was vast, extending to the Arctic Ocean. It embraced numerous tribes, Slavs, Loucheux, Gens des Montagnes, Eskimoes and the Hareskin.