Fonds - Basilica-Cathedral of St. John the Baptist Parish (St. John's, N.L.) fonds

Title and statement of responsibility area

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Basilica-Cathedral of St. John the Baptist Parish (St. John's, N.L.) fonds

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  • Textual record
  • Graphic material

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Also known as the Basilica Parish fonds

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  • Source of title proper: Title based on canonical decree found in the fonds

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Statement of scale (architectural)

Issuing jurisdiction and denomination (philatelic)

Dates of creation area


  • 1793-1998 (Creation)
    Basilica-Cathedral of St. John the Baptist (St. John's, N.L.)

Physical description area

Physical description

1 m of textual records
3 reels of microfilm
13 photographs

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Archival description area

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Administrative history

On 5 June 1784, Newfoundland was made an independent ecclesiastical territory/mission with its establishment as a Prefecture Apostolic. The arrival of Rev. James Louis O'Donel, the newly appointed prefect of Newfoundland, in St. John's in that same year is generally recognized as the date of the founding of the parish currently known as Basilica-Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. However, the name of this original St. John's-based parish is uncertain. Records comprising the fonds only make reference to the "Old Chapel" (on Henry Street) that acted as the first parish church and later cathedral when the Diocese of Newfoundland was erected on 4 June 1847. It also is unclear whether this original entity actually was established as an official parish in 1784 or as some other less formal unit (references exist to the District of St. John's). Certainly, by 1847, with the erection of Newfoundland as a Diocese, a formal parish existed in St. John's.

The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, constructed between 1841 and 1855 (consecrated on 9 September 1855), replaced the "Old Chapel," and in 1955 was raised to the rank of Minor Basilica, giving rise to the parish's current name, Basilica-Cathedral of St. John the Baptist Parish (more popularly known as the Cathedral Parish and, later, the Basilica Parish).

The original parish boundaries stretched from La Manche to Holyrood and over time have undergone several changes. The most recent occurred in 1998 when St. Joseph's, located in the East End of St. John's, was suppressed and its congregation absorbed by the Basilica Parish. Currently, the parish boundaries include Pleasantville, Quidi Vidi, and the downtown core.

The Basilica Parish was active in the establishment and administration of schools within its boundaries, including Our Lady of Mercy, Presentation, St. Patrick's Hall, St. Bonaventure's, Holy Heart of Mary, and Brother Rice schools. The Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Congregation (the Presentation Sisters), the Sisters of Mercy, and the Irish Christian Brothers also were closely affiliated with parish and educational affairs, supervising many of these parochial schools and participating in the general operations of the parish.

The Basilica Parish has also maintained close relations with numerous societies and organizations active within its geographical boundaries. Such past and present bodies include the Purgatorial Society, the Confraternity of the Most Holy Rosary, the Catholic Cadet Corps (CCC), the St. Vincent de Paul Society, the Third Order of St. Francis, the Total Abstinence and Benefit Society, the Propagation of the Faith Society, the Blessed Virgin Mary Society, the Legion of Mary, the Catholic Women's League (CWL), and the Knights of Columbus (KOC). Thus, the operations of the parish are intimately intertwined with several allied lay societies and organizations (the above enumeration is not exhaustive).

Structurally, the parish is currently organized along lines similar to most Roman Catholic parishes, including a Parish Pastoral Council, a Finance Committee, and a Liturgy Committee. These bodies are comprised of clergy and members of the laity, established to administer pastoral concerns and affairs. Other bodies found in the parish include the Service Committee, the Restoration Committee, the Family Care Centre and the Hospitality Committee.

The oldest parish in Newfoundland, the Basilica Parish forms part of the Archdiocese of St. John's and is the seat of the Archbishop. Thus, the parish is somewhat unique in that parish and archdiocesan affairs often converge. While the Basilica Parish is administered by an appointed priest entrusted with the pastoral care of the community, the Archbishop, officially, is the chief pastor with his cathedra (or throne) located in the Basilica-Cathedral.

The following is a list of the prelates who have presided over the Basilica Parish: James L. O'Donel, prefect and later vicar Apostolic of Newfoundland (1784-1807); Patrick Lambert, vicar Apostolic of Newfoundland (1807-1816); Thomas Scallan, vicar Apostolic of Newfoundland (1816-1830); Michael A. Fleming, vicar Apostolic and later Bishop of Newfoundland (1830-1850); John T. Mullock, Bishop of Newfoundland and later St. John's (1850-1869); Thomas J. Power, Bishop of St. John's (1870-1893); Michael F. Howley, Bishop and later Archbishop of St. John's (1895-1914); Edward P. Roche, Archbishop of St. John's (1915-1950); Patrick J. Skinner, Archbishop of St. John's (1951-1979); Alphonsus L. Penney, Archbishop of St. John's (1979-1991); James H. MacDonald, Archbishop of St. John's (1991-2000); and Brendan O'Brien, Archbishop of St. John's (2000- ).

Custodial history

Scope and content

Fonds consists of baptismal (1802-1855), marriage (1793-1882), and publication (1873-1907) registers; a marriage register index (1821-1855); microfilm reels of marriage registers (1793-1899) and baptismal registers (1802-1889); a register that documents the conveyance of stone for the construction of the Cathedral (1837-1857); canonical decrees and maps delineating parish boundaries (1982-1998); correspondence relating to the general operation of the parish and the maintenance of the Basilica-Cathedral (1853, 1952-1955, 1972-1979); photographs of the Basilica-Cathedral and its ornamentation (1980); and articles of incorporation for the Roman Catholic Episcopal Corporation of St. John's (1913).

Material also has been collected around the theme of the parish and integrated into the fonds by the Archives. This material includes newspaper clippings, articles, and histories detailing the construction, ornamentation, and architecture of the Basilica-Cathedral, and church bulletins and publications. Photocopies predominate.

Notes area

Physical condition

Immediate source of acquisition


Language of material

  • English
  • French
  • Latin

Script of material

Language and script note

English predominates. Some records in Latin and French. No translations available.

Location of originals

Availability of other formats

Restrictions on access

Restrictions on access may apply. Consult the Archivist.

Terms governing use, reproduction, and publication

Because of conservation concerns, researchers are required to use microfilm and/or photocopies of original church registers.

Finding aids

Box list available.

Associated materials

The Archives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John's also holds the fonds of all of the prelates listed above.

Related materials


The fonds is open. Further accruals expected.

General note

Microfilm reels and photocopies of vital statistics registers include registers in the custody of the Basilica Parish. However, the range of dates in the scope and content should be compared with the microfilm list to identify registers not held as originals at the Archives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John's

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Dates of creation, revision and deletion

Created - April 22, 2013

Language of description

  • English

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