FARRELL, JOHN, Roman Catholic priest and bishop; b. 2 June 1820, at Armagh, Ireland, son of James Farrell and Joan Patterson; d. 26 Sept. 1873, at Hamilton, Ont.
John Farrell emigrated to Canada with his parents, who settled in Kingston, Upper Canada, in 1830. He was educated in Kingston and at the seminary of Saint-Sulpice at Montreal, ordained in October 1845, and named pastor at L’Orignal. He later taught at Regiopolis College in Kingston for a few years before taking on the duties of pastor at Peterborough, Canada West. On 11 May 1856 Farrell was consecrated first Roman Catholic bishop of Hamilton.
One of Bishop Farrell’s first tasks in the newly created diocese was to provide for the needs of its many German-speaking Roman Catholics. To this end he brought from Europe in 1857 two brothers, Fathers Eugene and Louis Funcken of the Congregation of the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who laid the foundations for the education of a native clergy, one of Farrell’s principal objectives. The fruit of these efforts was St Jerome’s College, located in Berlin (Kitchener) and incorporated by provincial statute in 1866.
In the summer of 1862 Farrell became involved in a local controversy when the dying Sir Allan MacNab*, long the leading political figure in Hamilton and a member of the Church of England, requested the bishop to receive him into the Roman Catholic Church. In the furore that ensued, George Brown, the powerful publisher of the Toronto Globe and an opponent of Catholic interests in the province, claimed, over Farrell’s strong denials, that MacNab had been duped into this “remarkable” death-bed conversion. The heated exchange was symptomatic of the deeper conflict then raging in the province.
Farrell, who had been lauded for his efforts to “educate his people” in both Peterborough and Hamilton, urged politicians, especially those in Canada East (Quebec), to defeat attempts by Brown and other Reformers to block effective school legislation for Roman Catholics in Canada West. The bishop repudiated his fellow-Irishman, Thomas D’Arcy McGee*, in 1859 for contemplating a political alliance with Brown and he criticized Brown’s programme of representation by population in the fear that it might unduly strengthen the Protestant segment of the province. Later he was gratified when McGee rejected the friendship of Protestant Reformers who were opposed to separate school legislation, particularly the bill first introduced in 1860 by Richard William Scott*. A modified version of this bill received royal assent in 1863, after protracted debates, and “quite satisfied” Farrell. On the eve of confederation, Farrell, in company with other Canadian bishops, urged the government of John A. Macdonald* to embody the principles of Scott’s act in the constitution of the Dominion, a course of action subsequently provided for in the British North America Act.
Farrell augmented the educational facilities of his diocese, notably by supporting the work of the Ladies of Loretto, who established schools for young women in Guelph and Hamilton, and of the Congregation of Notre Dame which founded academies at St Agatha, Formosa, and Water-down. He combined his efforts on behalf of Catholic education with a “loathing and contempt for American Fenianism.” Throughout his career he was, it would appear, “an uncompromising foe” of the “agitators who trade[d] upon Irish patriotism and Irish generosity.”
Berliner Journal (Berlin (Kitchener), Ont.), 2 Oct. 1873. Canadian Freeman (Toronto), 29 July 1859. Catholic Citizen (Toronto), 5 June 1856. Gazette (Montreal), 29 Sept. 1873. Globe (Toronto), 27 Sept. 1873. Hamilton Spectator, 26 Sept. 1873. Mail (Toronto), 29 Sept. 1873. Documentary history of education in Upper Canada (Hodgins), XIX.
The golden jubilee of the diocese of Hamilton and consecration of St Mary’s Cathedral, ed. M. J. O’Reilly (Hamilton, ). J. G. Hodgins, The establishment of schools and colleges in Ontario, 1792–1910 (3v., Toronto, 1910), I, II. Moir, Church and state in Canada West. Theobald Spetz, The Catholic Church in Waterloo County ([Toronto], 1916). F. A. Walker, Catholic education and politics in Upper Canada: a study of the documentation relative to the origin of Catholic elementary schools in the Ontario school system (Toronto and Vancouver, 1955). Brother Alfred [A. J. Dooner], “The conversion of Sir Allan MacNab, Baronet (1798–1862),” CCHA Report, 1942–43, 47–64. T. F. Battle, “The Right Reverend John Farrell, D.D., first bishop of Hamilton,” CCHA Report, 1942–43, 39–45. A. P. Monahan, “A politico-religious incident in the career of Thomas D’Arcy McGee,” CCHA Report, 1957, 39–51.