Bishop James Rogers
In 1860, the Diocese of New Brunswick was divided into two. One seat remained in Saint John, the centre of the old diocese, while the other was placed in Chatham, with the Most Rev. James Rogers appointed as its first Bishop.
Bishop James was born in Mount Charles, County Donegal, Ireland, on July 11th, 1826, as the son of John Rogers and Mary Britton. The Rogers family moved to Nova Scotia when the future Bishop was only five years old, meaning James Rogers lived in Halifax for most of his early life and would grow up there. He attended the Sulpicians' seminary in Montreal, and was ordained into the priesthood in Halifax on July 2nd, 1851. His first assignments were in Nova Scotia, but he spent from 1858 through 1859 working in Bermuda and playing a part in the construction of the first Catholic church on that island.
When the Diocese of Chatham was created, Father Rogers, then 34 years old, was appointed its first Bishop on August 15th, 1860, being installed in Chatham on August 22nd.
Bishop Rogers's responsibilities as the first Bishop of Chatham were considerable. The Chatham Diocese included almost five counties in New Brunswick; namely, it included Northumberland, Gloucester, Ristigouche, Victoria and Madawaska Counties, as well as the part of the Kent County which lies north of the Richibucto River. In a report to the Propagation of the Fatih in 1866, Bishop Rogers states that the diocese has a population of 54,379 souls, of which 33,624 are Catholics. By 1890, however, the Diocese included roughly 45,000 Catholics, as well as 40 priests, 8 academies maintained by religious Sisters, 1 boy's school, 7 convents, and 3 hospitals under the care of the Sisters of the Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph.
Bishop Rogers's forty-two year term as the Bishop of Chatham had no shortage of challenges, not the least of which came in 1878, when the original St. Michael's Cathedral (constructed 1830), along with its neighbouring complex of classrooms, a library, and living quarters, was destroyed by a fire. Under Bishop Rogers's supervision, a new wooden structure, known as the Pro-Cathedral, was erected on the same site. This structure, however, was considered temporary, as plans were already being drawn for the stone Cathedral which still stands today. Additionally, Bishop Rogers came out as a vocal supporter of Canadian Confederation and as an opponent of the New Brunswick Common Schools Act of 1871.
With Bishop Rogers considering retirement, Father Thomas F. Barry was installed as a co-adjutor bishop with right of succession in 1900 at Bishop Rogers's request. Bishop Rogers stepped down in February of 1902, and passed away in the Hotel Dieu Hospital in Chatham on March 22nd, 1903.