The Lord's Distant Vineyard: A History of the Oblates and the Catholic Community in British Columbia

By McGowan, Mark | The Catholic Historical Review, January 2002 | Go to article overview

The Lord's Distant Vineyard: A History of the Oblates and the Catholic Community in British Columbia


McGowan, Mark, The Catholic Historical Review


The Lord's Distant Vineyard: A History of the Oblates and the Catholic Community in British Columbia. By Vincent J. McNally. (Edmonton: The University of Alberta Press and Western Canadian Publishers. 2000. Pp. xxvi, 443. $34.95 Can. paperback).

Until very recently, the history of the Catholic Church in Canada's Pacific Northwest has received very little attention from scholars residing east of the Rocky Mountains. In some ways, the omission of British Columbia from a "national narrative" has been typical in many branches of Canadian historiography, not just church history. Despite excellent local microstudies undertaken by British Columbians themselves-Jacqueline Gresko, Rod Fowler, the late Tom Lascelles, O.M.I., Edith Down, S.S.A., or Bob Stewart-religious life on the Pacific slope has been generally treated within the context of the fur trade, missions for First Nations Peoples, or the advanced rate of secularization in British Columbia, Canada's leading province for persons declaring "no religion" on the national census. Over the past decade The Western Oblate History Project has done much to expand our knowledge of Roman Catholic Church development in the Pacific Northwest. Vincent McNally's monograph, published under the auspices of Oblate Project, is a sweeping and passionately written overview of the history of the Catholic Church in British Columbia and will justifiably become the standard reference work for professional historians, students, and those just simply interested in religion, missiology, or the Canadian west.

McNally's book bridges two related research projects: the history of the Diocese of Victoria and a much larger study of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in British Columbia. McNally is a tireless researcher, who has probed deeply into the primary sources, but who has considerable insight into how these rich source materials must be read within the broader historical context of European Catholicism and its eventual importation into Canada and the United States. With considerable intellectual skill and a vigorous narrative, McNally invites us into a world in which the stories of Euro-Canadian missionaries, Frenchand Scottish-Canadian fur traders, American capitalists, ambitious churchmen, and numerous First Nations Peoples, are woven together into a vibrant and controversial social tapestry. McNally's narrative is punctuated with transitions-the movement of British Columbia's Catholic enterprise from an American to a British-Canadian sphere of influence; the transition of a French-Canadian, French, and Belgian church culture to that of a more Anglo-Celtic religious ethos; and the movement of First Peoples from independence and self-determination to subjugation, dependence, and destruction.

McNally's survey is not for the faint of heart, nor in any way does it smack of Catholic trimphalism. He tells the story of British Columbian Catholicism, warts and all. He is clear that the Church's "shadow side" must be faced honestly in order to provide a foundation for unity, reconciliation, reform, and renewal. McNally warns readers that ignoring or "deliberately concealing" the shadows takes the Church along a path of self-destruction-one that "kills the human spirit... fosters apathy and ... institutional irrelevance" (p. xvi). McNally's position is as courageous as it is correct, particularly given the sponsorship of his project. …

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