The Life of Father Francis McSpiritt
St. Patrick’s Church, Wildfield in Gore Township was formally blessed on June 27, 1830.
Affectionately known as Father Mac, Father Francis McSpiritt became the pastor of St. Patrick Wildfield parish 57 years later. He would remain in this position from 1887 until his death in 1895.
Father McSpiritt’s Childhood
Born in County Cavan, Ireland, in 1830, Francis McSpiritt immigrated to New York in 1854. From there he moved to Toronto, where he studied philosophy at St. Michael’s College. Following his graduation, he became a seminary student and was ordained in 1865.
Father McSpiritt’s first placement was in the Gore Mission, north of Toronto, where he served as a curate. This was the first time he was assigned to St. Patrick Wildfield parish. He was then sent farther north to St. Cornelius parish in Silver Creek, where he became a pastor.
Father McSpiritt’s Miracles
In 1870, Father McSpiritt was transferred to the Niagara Region. It was here that he gained a reputation as a miracle worker after he restored the sight of a blind man and stopped the tremors of a woman who had suffered from a rare neurological condition known as Sydenham’s Chorea.
In 1875, Father McSpiritt was transferred again, this time to St. James Parish in Adjala Township.
Word of Father McSpiritt’s miracles spread and Catholics and Protestants began to seek him out. When asked how he performed his miracles, Father McSpiritt answered, “it is between the afflicted and God, I know nothing of it.”
Oral tradition in St. Patrick Wildfield parish supports this belief yet also strongly supports belief in Father McSpiritt’s ability to work miracles.
Father McSpiritt and St Patrick’s Church
In 1887, at his own request, Father McSpiritt returned to St. Patrick Wildfield parish, where his reputation as a miracle worker followed him. Pilgrims came from all over Ontario to see him. So many people came to be cured by Father McSpiritt that he began to sleep in the church basement, in order to be readily available.Those who sought him out for cures for their ailments were always given the same penance. Abstinence from meat on Wednesdays and Saturdays was common. Alcohol was forbidden. Women were advised not to brush their hair on Fridays and men were told not to shave on Sundays.
By 1895, Father McSpiritt had grown seriously ill. Concerned parishioners began to ask him for words of comfort, in case he should suddenly pass away. “A bit of earth from my grave will do ye,” he said. “Say a prayer for the repose of my soul when you take it.” As a result, local tradition also records the perpetual frustration of the church caretaker, who was never able to keep an adequate covering of topsoil on Father McSpiritt’s grave. For a long time following Father McSpiritt’s death, many parishioners and pilgrims believed that the earth covering Father McSpiritt’s grave had miraculous properties.
Father McSpiritt died on Wednesday, August 14th, 1895 at the Sacred Heart Orphanage in Sunnyside, Toronto. When the news reached the parish, the church’s bell was rung in mourning. On August 16th a Requiem High Mass was said and Father McSpiritt was buried in the church’s cemetery.
Monument to Father McSpirit
On May 7, 2009, the Region of Peel unveiled a new monument dedicated to preserving Father McSpiritt’s memory. This monument, which consists of a large limestone block and a bronze plaque is part of an on-going effort to preserve this nearly forgotten chapter in Brampton’s history.
Adams, Rita et al.St. Patrick’s Wildfield: 150th Anniversary.St. Patrick’s Research Committee. 1985
O,Reilly Dan. “Father McSpiritt remembered at St. Patrick’s in Wildfield.” The Caledon Citzen. Published May 7, 2009