CAPE BRETON DIARY — PART II
Cooperation & Supernatural Brotherliness

September 2018By Richard Upsher Smith Jr.

Richard Upsher Smith Jr. is retired from teaching classics and honors at Franciscan University of Steubenville. After serving for 19 years in the Anglican ministry, he converted to Catholicism in 2001. He recently published “A Latin Hymn for the Jesuit Martyrs of North America” in Shared Treasure: Journal of the Anglicanorum Coetibus Society (vol. IV, no. 7; Lent 2018).

Ed. Note: Part I of this two-part series appeared in our July-August issue.

Cape Breton’s three founding peoples — the aboriginal Mi’kmaq, the French Acadians, and the Scottish Highlanders — proved to be of most interest to me in the first days of my journey on Cape Breton Island. (Unfortunately, time limited my exposure to Mi’kmaq sites.) As chronicled in Part I, my experiences created in me the sense that the forgetting and remembering of language, culture, and ways of making a living characterized these three communities of “little people.” In fact, the communities themselves were in danger of extinction as cohesive realities, while individual members had been dehumanized. Part II, which records my impressions from the last days of my journey, not only adds to my observations of these communities but explores more deeply what Catholic social teaching calls subsidiarity and solidarity as these were practiced in Cape Breton under the influence of the Catholic social-justice experiment, the Antigonish Movement.

June 14, 2017. The Cabot Trail has many breathtaking views, but it also has an abundance of monotonous stretches of forest. But really, how many breathtaking views can human emotions sustain in one day? That said, I had some wonderful experiences as I drove it. First, the Margaree River Valley is more beautiful than the Connecticut River Valley. The river is smaller, but it has the same wide and gentle intervale spreading to the mountains, and it is the only region I saw in Cape Breton that is still almost thoroughly cultivated. The river meanders and forms several excellent salmon pools. I listened to some local men discussing their rods at one of my stops. What bliss to live on such a river!

The Rev. Dr. Moses Coady and the Rev. Dr. Jimmy Tompkins, who were cousins, grew up near Margaree Forks, where their ancestors had settled after emigrating from Ireland. St. Patrick’s Church still stands in North East Margaree, and many Tompkinses and Coadies are buried in the church yard. The “Tudor Gothic” church was locked, but I was able to look in the windows. Its bones are elegant, but the old altar and east-wall decorations have been removed.

Drs. Coady and Tompkins were the founders and leaders of the Antigonish Movement. They are largely forgotten today in Cape Breton, though Coady’s portrait hangs in every credit union on the island. The Antigonish Movement taught the Cape Breton and eastern Nova Scotia poor to free themselves from the tyranny of major corporations through the pooling of their resources in credit unions, among other institutions. Fr. Jimmy, though explicitly and deliberately trying to implement the teaching of papal social encyclicals Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno, liked to call his group at St. Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, “Bolsheviks of a better sort”! There is a Drs. Coady and Tompkins Library in Margaree Forks, but it was closed.


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