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Three priests and a cottage
Three priests from Hamilton, Ontario, decide to gift their cottage to the Canadian missions - here's their story
Story by Patria C. Rivera
Cottage #0011 would be easily missed by passersby were it not for the small sign on the side of the road. From a grove of cedars, a ray of light peeks through the foliage onto a roughly hewn driveway that meanders past old-growth trees and ground tufted with wild flowers.
At the end of the footpath, by a clearing overgrown with grass native to Fergus, Ontario, a plank of wood announces, "Vespers," and you know you are in the right place. It is Cottage #0011, with its vinyl siding and windows painted white.
Father Gerald Mulhall, tall, wiry and 75, opens the screen door, arms ready to welcome friends and visitors from Catholic Missions In Canada.
Fr. Mulhall was in his 40s when he first found this place, an acre of cedared land overlooking the Grand River, a few hundred metres from the famed Elora gorge. At the time, he and three of his fellow priests were looking for a place to go home to after their parents died.
"I gave the real estate agent $50 as a down payment. I asked him to keep the property on hold while I told my friends about it."
He and his friends, Father Philip Sherratt, Father Steve I. Stinson, and Monsignor John Newstead (who died four years ago), pooled their life savings of $4,500 towards the purchase of the land.
Soon, the four priests began spending their days-off building the small cottage. Fr. Stinson's brother Peter laid the foundation.
Msgr. Newstead, who "didn't know a claw from a hammer," rolled up his sleeves just the same, and worked with them.
The three priests, who are still living, and who have recently gifted their cottage to Catholic Missions In Canada, were handier with their tools. Fr. Mulhall and Fr. Stinson have never stopped ribbing Fr. Sherratt for keeping his tool shed long after they had built their home.
The four priests bought the land in 1969; its location fitted their need for a place that would be accessible from their parishes in Guelph, Brantford and Hamilton, Ontario.
Over the years, they added improvements to the property. First, the shell of the cottage and the plumbing, then the roof, the walls and the windows, and finally, the finishing touches-old furniture and fixtures, among them old tables and chairs, even a spindly wooden wheel from a hay cart.
Fr. Stinson remembers the many weekends they spent on their "home away from home": "We have enjoyed so many rich memories of this place."
The three priests recall that it was in 1999 when Msgr. Newstead first approached Father Roger W. Formosi, then president of Catholic Missions In Canada, about the possibility of leaving their cottage to the missions. This was to be realized only after he died in 2001.
Fr. Sherratt, in his prayer before a simple but sumptuous spread, thanked the Lord for giving them refuge in their cottage.
"We pray that the missions which will benefit from the proceeds of this gift will find refuge and peace in their communities as well. Lord, You have given us so much we can only give back by sharing our joy with others."
The three priests from Hamilton diocese entered St. Augustine's Seminary in 1948, the same year that their classmate, Aloysius Cardinal Ambrozic, chair of the board of governors of Catholic Missions In Canada, came to the seminary in Scarborough, Ontario.
Fr. Sherratt remembers the strict rules they had to live by once they entered the seminary: "We knew that once the doors were closed, you couldn't get out."
Fr. Stinson recalls being told that the fourth floor, which housed the library, was restricted, "but you'd always find Big Al (Cardinal Ambrozic) there, studying." They are still in awe of the Cardinal for his dedication to learning.
Fr. Sherratt was one of twelve boys and one girl-Anne Lobsinger, the youngest sister of the late Oblate Bishop Thomas Lobsinger-who completed Grade 13 at Brantford Catholic High School in Brantford, Ontario. "Of the 12 boys in that class, six of us became priests!"
Fr. Stinson, on the other hand, grew up on a farm in Melanchthon, Ontario, population: 18. "It's so tiny, it's not even on the map." He remembers working on the farm-baling hay, feeding the cows and pigs, and making do with so little.
Their pastor, Father Radey McKenna, was an early influence on his deciding to join the priesthood. "He was my model-a caring priest and well loved by his flock."
The early days of rationing are also never to be forgotten by Fr. Sherratt, the trio's designated gardener. "Up to now," he jokes, "I don't buy plants unless it's the end of the planting season!"
Their gift of thrift and hard work paid off, Fr. Mulhall says. "We didn't have much but we have enjoyed our work."
Their life's work, in an ingenious way, is a mirror image of the framed menu tucked neatly on top of their oven: "Menu for Today: (1) Take it or (2) Leave it."
"We took our vows seriously," says Fr. Mulhall, "but we also had fun." As he leads the visitors out the door, he adds: "As priests, we know we have to help the missions. For whatever it is worth, we hope this will encourage others to do the same. Give back and help in the Lord's vineyard."
(Patria C. Rivera is editor of Catholic Missions In Canada Magazine.
For more information on Catholic Missions In Canada, visit their
website at www.cmic.info