Renewing Ties with the McNeill family on Prince Edward Island

In two of my mother's books ("Frank" and "Laura") she tells of her and my father's honeymoon on PEI and the friendship they formed with a young curate, Douglas McNeill.  McNeill later became godfather to my brother Leo, and when our father died in 1941 the now Pastor of Stella Maris Church in North Rustico wrote and offered to raise Leo in the rectory and educate him through college with no influence on his career. Although our mother declined the very generous offer, we always appreciated the bond between our family and Father McNeill.  I often wondered if the McNeill family was aware of this facet of their good priest.

On Saturday, September 11,2010 my three hiking buddies and I crossed the Confederation Bridge from New Brunswick to Prince Edward Island and at the Visitor Center we arranged a three night stay at the Ocean View Cottage in North Rustico. 

When we checked in at the cottage I mentioned my special interest in Father McNeill and the owner, Ron Toombs, said he knows the priest's niece and would try to set up a meeting with her.  After dinner he appeared at the cottage and asked me to come with him. He took me to the home of Cecilia MacNiell LeClair, knocked on the door and said he had a woman from USA in his car who would like to meet her to talk about Father McNeill.  She and her husband were watching TV but they invited me in to sit around the kitchen table and talk.

Cecelia told me the family history.  There is probably a connection to the MacNeill family whose homestead is the  site of the "Anne" books, but they don't make anything of that.

The name McNeill was the original Protestant spelling, but with conversion to Catholicism, it changed to MacNeill (or was it the other way around?).

The McNeil parents (Cecelia's grandparents) donated their land to be the cemetery, with the condition that 13 plots (mother, father and 11 children) be reserved for the family.  Some of the children moved away, but nevertheless today the plot is filled.

Father Douglas McNeill is buried next to Father MacDonald (the Summerside pastor that my parents knew), and interestingly his name is spelled MacNeill on his tombstone.  In my mother's books (both "Frank" and "Laura") she consistently spelled his name McNeill.

Same stone, the other side. Graves are side by side in front of this.

We drove out to the North Cape, passing the St Simon & St Jude church where Father McNeill first served after his ordination to the priesthood. The church is one of the oldest on PEI, being built in 1860.

In North Rustico where we were staying, we also visited the Stella Maris Church where Father McNeill was the first pastor of the new church.

Stella Maris Church

Workmen were replacing the floor when we visited.

I left a copy of the "Frank" book with Cecelia and she loaned me a copy of an "Essay on Father J. Douglas MacNeill" which was prepared by Rochelle Gallant in 1988.  This is an in-depth study of the accomplishments of Father McNeill. An excellent report.

It was good to visit the Island and actually see the places I've heard so much about ever since my childhood.  It was especially gratifying that I met some family. I can see how my parents were drawn to them too.