History of St. Joseph's Villa
This little building has been the cradle of many parochial activities in Chatham. It served as the Presbytery of the first resident priest. In 1860, it became the Episcopal Residence of Most Rev. James Rogers, D.D., the first Bishop of northern New Brunswick.
On July 16th, 1869, it became the first Hotel Dieu Hospital, owned by our devoted foundresses of Montreal: Mother Davignon, Sister McGurty, Sister St. Louis, and Sister Vitaline.
In April of 1919, it opened its doors to another parochial work—St. Joseph’s Preparatory School for Boys. In 1931, this time-honored relic was transferred to a site behind the former Chatham Junior High School.
In 1962, St. Joseph’s Villa was renovated and now remains a pious souvenir of our devoted founder, Bishop Rogers, and of our revered foundresses and all the sisters who labored in this community.
On April 23rd, 1979, fire threatened to destroy the building. Shortly after, St. Michael’s Museum Association decided to move the museum to a safer site behind St. Michael's Rectory.
A foundation was constructed, the building moved, and restoration work began immediately.
With the aid of countless volunteers, government grants, and generous donations, the exterior and interior of the building were restored.
The museum contains three finished levels. This includes the basement, which contains a furnace room, kitchen, washroom, and a storage room for documents; a main floor containing a small library and genealogy office, a gift shop, and a room containing documents; and an upstairs area containing museum artifacts.
St. Joseph’s Preparatory School (1913-1931)
The Third Hotel Dieu, vacated in 1913, became St. Joseph’s Preparatory School for Boys. Boarding pupils and day pupils were received with the course of instruction from grade one to four. Mother Catherine Walsh directed the opening of the school, and Sister Fenety was the principal.
The rapid increase in the enrollment in St. Michael’s Academy after 1902--particularly in the High School, Commercial School, and Art Department—made it impossible to accommodate all the students in the stone building, and it was found necessary in 1917 to give up the project of a boarding school for little boys, and decided to convert these apartment into a High School, Commercial School, and Art Departments to make up for what they lacked.
On June 11th, 1914, Father Louis O’Leary was consecrated Titular Bishop of Hierapolis and Auxiliary to the Bishop of Chatham by Mgr. Stagni, Apostolic Delegate to Canada in St. Michael’s Cathedral. The boys of St. Joseph’s Preparatory School in Zouave uniform were proud to form a guard of honour at the station and accompany His Excellency to the Episcopal Residence.
On March 13th, 1919, a disastrous fire leveled St. Thomas College and the old Pro-Cathedral. The classrooms of St. Joseph’s Preparatory School perished with the college. The sisters in 1919 attributed the preservation of the First Hotel Dieu to a “marvelous intervention of Divine Providence.” It will be remembered that, between St. Thomas College and the Hotel Dieu building, is a cherished relic of the past, the little dwelling that received our pioneer sisters – the First Hotel Dieu. The walls of the building had been extended so that the east end of the building was joined with the western end of St. Thomas College, thus affording communication between the two. Only a narrow alley of some ten feet separates the house from the laundry wing of the Hotel Dieu. Running back parallel to each other and connected to the respected buildings are the barns and storerooms of both institutions.
The flames had burst from the windows of the west wing, and the metal roof melted and sank beneath the fiery waves. The explosions in the chemical laboratory sent heavenward volumes of flame and smoke. Wall after wall tottered and fell inwards until, alone, the west wall of the great four-story edifice stood between the devouring flames and the “First Hotel Dieu.”
“Not only was the First Hotel Dieu almost miraculously preserved, but abandoned for college purposed, it returned to the community and was transformed into St. Joseph’s Preparatory School, and the sisters returned to their labour of love – the instruction of young boys.”
St. Joseph’s Preparatory School had a stable existence under the sisters’ care until 1931, when classes were transferred to the newly-built St. Michael’s Academy.
(Source: A Chaplet of Memories, 1919)