Bishop Edward John Horan

The following is an excerpt from Built On A Rock: The Story of the Roman Catholic Church in Kingston 1826-1976, by Lt. Col. L.J. Flynn, published by the archdiocese of Kingston. It is reprinted here with permission.

Edward John Horan was born in the Parish of Notre Dame, Quebec, on October 26, 1817, the son of Sieur Gordian Horan and Dame Eleonore Horan.

He entered the Petit Séminairé in Quebec in 1830. He studied for a time under the Lancastrian system of mutual instruction. He was a brilliant Latin student. He entered the Grand Séminairé in 1839. It was the custom for first year students either to teach some subject, or care for the boarders, or both. Edward Horan was designated to teach English which he continued to do until 1848. He also commenced the study of natural history, agriculture, and especially geology in 1843. The following year he wrote a manuscript in French describing 423 different minerals.

He was ordained on September 22, 1842, and continued on the teaching staff of the Grand Séminairé.

On February 15, 1848, he proceeded to Harvard for advanced studies in natural history and then went on to Yale. After five months he returned to Quebec and to his teaching assignments.

He also made field trips to L’lle aux Coudres in 1849, Baie St-Paul in 1850, and then to St-Pierre de L’lle d’Orleans. He discovered a species of Tribolite on a trip to Cap Tourmente; this was later known as “Acidaspis Horani Billings.”

He supplied the Ursulines in Quebec with duplicates of plants which he had developed for the Séminaire de Québec.

His tastes were universal; he loved music, above all the Gregorian Chant. He contributed to the department of Physics of the Seminary documents describing a gyroscope and a mathematical instrument.

He was a signatory on an application for a charter for Laval University. Her Majesty Queen Victoria granted the Charter on December 18, 1853, in the 16th year of her reign.

Father Horan’s university career was interrupted by the illness of his mother. He resigned his post at the Seminary and at the University in 1856. He became the first principal of Laval Normal School, where he taught religion, physics, chemistry, natural history and agriculture from May 12, 1857 to April 23, 1858.

Chosen Bishop of Kingston on January 8, 1858, he was consecrated in St. Patrick’s Church, Quebec, on May 1. He left for Kingston in June.

He always remembered his close association with the Seminary and the University and seized every opportunity to render them whatever assistance he could. On November 1, 1866, the reverend E. Methot of the Quebec Seminary asked Bishop Horan for permission to have his picture painted and conserved in one of the rooms of Laval University as he was a respected benefactor of their Seminary.

Authority gloved

Bishop Horan was an authoritarian man who ruled his Diocese with an iron fist. He was fully conversant with the most personal problems of his priests, his religious and the laity. During his reign he was to consolidate the position of the Church in the Diocese of Kingston subsequent to the growth period from 1826 to 1857, and to encourage and assist in developing Separate Schools in Ontario. He was a confidant of politicians and maintained a deep interest in the negotiations leading to the British North America Act of 1867.

Bishop Horan was a prolific letter writer, his letters were never terse and all were hand-written, with equal facility in English and French, and in Latin when the necessity arose.

He found himself deeply immersed in financial problems. In the case of the return of the commutated funds arranged by his predecessor Bishop Phelan, and divided between the Dioceses of Toronto, Ottawa and Kingston, he felt that the funds, which emanated from government allowances, should have been entirely for the benefit of Kingston. He pursued a long campaign to have the money which had been distributed to Ottawa and Toronto returned to the Kingston coffers to help alleviate some of the crushing debt of the Diocese.

During the first two years of his reign there were problems with several members of his clergy. He was a fair and understanding man, but he did not tolerate any misbehaviour after a first warning; however, he did not take drastic action until a number warnings and personal admonitions hads been rendered.

As early as 1858, he felt that the Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph (then and still in charge of Hotel Dieu Hospital) were hampered in their good work by the rules of cloister. He wanted to have the cloister requirements of the Order abrogated; but this was not to be accomplished for almost a century afterwards.

He brought the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul to Kingston and to the Diocese, and helped establish the House of Providence in 1861.

He took an active part in the Provincial Councils of Quebec in 1863 and 1868 and assisted a the Vatican Council in Room in 1869-1870.

The Central Council of the Propagation of the Faith in Paris congratulated Bishop-elect Horan in a letter dated February 28, 1858. The letter reaffirmed their friendly relationship, and enclosed 1,000 francs as an expression of good will. During the following year, on June 8, 1859, the Council sent the Bishop 2,000 francs for his generous work for the propagation of the faith in Kingston.

One of the first matters pertaining to schools was a letter dated June 28, 1858, from the War Office in England on the question of altering Article 30 of the School Regulations of July 1857, so as to separate religious instruction from that part which related to the general attendance at Army Schools. Major General Peel was of the opinion that it would increase the efficiency of Army Schools if the Regulations permitted opening with the Lord’s Prayer, with or without the addition of one or more collects from the Book of Common Prayer or some other prayer expressly authorized for the purpose. The schoolmaster was required to proceed to give a collective Bible lesson or to read and explain a passage of Holy Scripture taken from the Authorized or the Douai version.

On November 15, 1858, Bishop Horan wrote to the Bishop of Bytown expressing his surprise and consternation at the poor observance of Feasts of Obligation in the City of Kingston … “The good Catholics have no scruples about opening their stores and conducting their affairs after having attended Mass.” He supposed the same thing applied in other parts of the Diocese … There were two choices to follow: To oblige the faithful to observe the Laws of the Church; or , if this proves to be impossible, “to ask the Court of Rome for a dispensation from observing these feasts as holy days of obligation.” (Bishop Horan was 100 years ahead of his time in these remarks).

Adept politician

In the area of politics there is correspondence in the Archdiocesan Archives between Bishop Horan and John A. Macdonald who were close friends. The personal and official letters indicate that John A. enjoyed a high degree of confidence in the Bishop’s judgment. Always couched in extremely friendly and sometimes expansive terms John A. frequently discussed matters which he felt the Bishop could help him to solve, or for mere discussion.

There were many political favors extended in both directions. A certain justifiable nepotism on the part of Bishop Horan was seen when he sought positions for his relatives with whom he maintained a close association while they lived in Quebec and in Ottawa.

There were letters from the Honorable Alexander Campbell, the Honorable Hector Langevin, the Honorable P.J.V Chaveau, the Honorable J.G. Taché, Thomas D’Arcy McGee, Mr. Ian Crawford and other political figures.

John A. frequently solicited the personal involvement of the Bishop in his endeavors to have certain of his followers elected in ridings within and sometime outside the boundaries of the Diocese of Kingston. One August 15, 1861, John A. wrote to extend his thanks for the Bishop’s assistance in the election of that year in which his Postmaster General was running for re-election in Trent, which comprised the County of Peterborough, the County of Lennox and the north riding of Hastings.

On September 23, 1865, John A. expressed his thanks to the Bishop for agreeing to visit New Brunswick in “the case of union”; Lord Monck and his colleagues “were infinitely pleased.” John A. quite agreed with the Bishop that the object of the visit should be kept a profound secret.

John A. wrote to Bishop Horan on March 18, 1867: “As the newspapers will have informed you, the Confederation Bill has passed the House of Parliament and now awaits the Royal Assent, which is a matter of course.” He continued that his wife was anticipating the pleasure of meeting the Bishop on their return to Canada.

In the diocese

Bishop Horan entered into extensive correspondence with his clergy, religious and laity. One letter, dated December 12, 1870, from the Reverend John Twomey of Centreville requested the Bishop’s direction to “help overcome bad actions of young people at nocturnal gatherings where many and enormous crimes were committed.” The Reverend John Masterson wrote concerning taking over St. Raphael’s; he said on November 9, 1868, that Gaelic was still an important and first language among many of the parishioners, he also regretted the retirement of the Reverend John McDonald, “poor old Father John.”

Many of the letters concerned parish administration, building of new churches, personality problems of the pastors and laity, disputes, dispensations, all of which helped to fill the all too short time he reigned as Bishop of Kingston.

Soon his health began to fail. He was not yet 60 years of age but Rome judged it best for him to find a successor; he made a trip to Rome to safeguard his rights but this visit convinced his superiors that the fine years of Bishop Horan were drawing to a close.

He died on February 15, 1875, after a life filled with good works and accomplishments in every domain. He was entombed with all the previous Bishops of Kingston in the vault below St. Mary’s Cathedral.

The following parishes were credited to his leadership and that of his successor: Napanee, Brewer’s Mills, Cardinal and Madoc; the following missions were established: Richmond, Queensboro, Bath, Stirling, Iroquois, Philipsville, Howe Island, Dixon’s Corners and Amherst Island.

For more information on the Archdiocese of Kingston, visit the archdiocesan website at