With St. Patrick’s Day nearly upon us, I’ve been thinking about Benedicta, the Aroostook County plantation that could have been the home of College of the Holy Cross.
Bishop Benedict Fenwick, then leader of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Boston, in the 1930s had his eye on Maine as a location that could be a site for a Catholic college and Irish Catholic community.
Holy Cross ended up in Worcester, Mass., but the colonization of the Benedicta area did take place. William Leo Lucey, the Jesuit who wrote “The Catholic Church in Maine,” published by the trustees of Holy Cross in 1957, wrote:
“The names of some of the first settlers are known. Nicholas Broderick, Timothy Dorsey, Martin Qualey, Philip Finnegan and John Nullmore came in 1834; Patrick Brade, Chris Keegan, John Byrne, Francis Smith, John Perry, Henry Rivers and Martin Lawlor followed shortly thereafter.
In 1842, Lucey wrote, the community was actually called Conway, after its first resident priest, Father James Conway. The later name of Benedicta honored the bishop who founded it, Benedict Fenwick.
The first United States census in which every person is named was enumerated in 1850, so I decided to look for the names of Benedicta residents who told the census taker that they were born in Ireland. They were:
• Boyle: Bridget, Peter
• Brady: Elen, Patrick
• Brainard: Thomas, Alice
• Brinn: John, Julia
• Brown: Julia, William
• Burke: Margaret, John
• Byrne: John, Elen
• Carol: John
• Cary: Bridget, Martin
• Casey: Thomas
• Cowley: Maria, Martin
• Crowa: Richard, Mary
• Cruden: James, Sarah
• Dee: Margaret, James
• Doile: Owen, Francis
• Dorsey: Timothy, Mary
• Doyle: Edward, John
• Durfee: Thomas, Ann
• Farmen: James, Patrick
• Favour: John, Elen
• Finigan: Philip, Bridget
• Gorden: Patrick
• Grady: James
• Griffin: John, Catherine
• Gunn: Petter
• Hearn: Richard
• Henebery: Amastacia
• Holland: Bridget
• Hynds: Ann
• Kearns: Bridget, Mary, John, Peter, James, Eunice
• Kenidy: Patrick, Mary
• Lauler: Martin, Margarett
• Macavoy: Patrick, Elisabeth, Thomas, Catherine, Thomas, Mary, Thomas, Joseph
• Mahan: Thomas, Amistacia, Michael, Mathew
• McCarty: Thomas, Henry
• McMann: John, Elen
• Milmore: Sarah
• Moran: William, Edward
• Murphy: Michael
• Perry: John, Catherine, Anne, Glenn
• Plunket: Catherine, Peter
• Riley: Sarah, Owen
• Rion: James, Mary, John, Thomas, Mary
• Smith: William
• Sweny: Ann, John, Edward, Edward, Ann, John, Sarah
• Woodlock: John, Thomas, Alice, Mary, Edmund
• Yudley: Martin, Mary, John
Keep in mind that there were many 1850 residents of Benedicta who were not born in Ireland, including many children of the Irish-born. I have used the spellings found as indexed by Ancestry.com, so look further if you don’t find the name you expect. Fogler Library at Orono’s University of Maine has the state’s censuses on microfilm, 1790-1930.
Many of these people came to Maine from Massachusetts, so there’s another place to look for Irish names.
In reading Lucey’s book, we find that Fenwick’s plans for an Irish colony in Maine were not secondary to his hopes for a college seminary. One of the factors in creating a town was the desire to have a place for some of the growing numbers of Irish immigrants who were arriving in Boston. Then, too, having a resident priest could help create educated laypeople who the bishop hoped would contribute candidates for the college and seminary.
Fenwick, Lucey wrote, “proposed and promoted the idea of an Irish Catholic immigrant colony there, he purchased land for the project, he directed the construction of its church, he planned to make the town, by opening a college and seminary there, the center of New England Catholic intellectual life and a model Catholic community writ large for all to see and imitate.”
Fenwick was inspired to start an Irish colony after witnessing the flourishing of St. Dennis Catholic Church in Whitefield. It was actually Father Conway who found the land in Township 2, Range 9.
The contract signed on July 7, 1834, purchased 11,358 acres for $13,597 from the Land Agent of Massachusetts. The earliest settlers paid $1.25 an acre for land in the western half of the township. Thirty families lived there by Christmas 1836, and there were twice as many a year later.
A few Maine parishes have Catholic burials listed on the website of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland at portlanddiocese.net/genealogy_main.php.
These include a partial listing of burials at Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Bangor, and parishes in Biddeford, Lewiston, Sanford, South Portland, Springvale and Waterville.
Good luck in searching for your Irish ancestors. We are familiar with the fact that many Irish came here in the 1800s during the famine. I find that my “Irish” ancestors from the 1700s turned out to be Scots-Irish from Ulster.
For information on researching family history in Maine, see Genealogy Resources under Family Ties at bangordailynews.com/browse/family-ties. Send genealogy queries to Family Ties, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.