Dominic Joseph Lavin was born at Riverston, County Sligo in 1842. His parents were Thomas Lavin and Honora McGowan. The family fled Ireland in "black '47" at the worst of the Famine. The group included Thomas and Honora, an uncle and Dominic and his two brothers. Cholera struck the little family and when it had run its course only Dominic and his mother survived. His father and uncle were buried at sea and his brothers died at Quebec, and almost certainly went into the mass graves on Grosse Ile to lie with ten thousand of their fellow-immigrants of that dreadful year.
Honora Lavin put her son in the care of Archbishop Bourget of Montreal and of a young priest, Father Anthony O'Malley, who was just ordained that year. The surviving records do not show Dominic Lavin's career during the following years, but they do show that Father O'Malley, after a period in the Quebec region, was transferred in 1854 to the then-new Ottawa diocese. He was parish priest at Corkery from 1868 to 1884. We do not know how closely Dominic Lavin's travels paralleled those of Father O'Malley, but we do know that he was called to the priesthood at an early age. He studied at St. Sulpice Seminary at Montreal in 1861 and was ordained at Montreal in 1865. He spent a brief period assisting Father Lynch at Allumette Island, where he proved so capable that he was assigned his own parish at Pakenham in November 1866. Borrowing eighty dollars for his expenses, Father Lavin came down the Ottawa by steamer and then from Arnprior on horseback to his new parish.
From the start of his priesthood, the young pastor displayed remarkable qualities of devotion, charity and organization. In keeping with his duty to care for the well-being of his flock, Father Lavin was untiring in his concern for the poor of the congregation. In addition to constantly distributing alms to the needy of St. Peter Celestine, he organized a big annual drive to supply the Catholic Orphanage of Ottawa with large amounts of produce. Conversely, he also arranged the adoption of many orphans by families in the parishes of Pakenham and Fitzroy. His rectory was home to his own aged mother, his widowed housekeeper, Mrs. Murray, and to a series of young men studying for the priesthood. Father Patrick Dowdall of Pembroke and Father Austin Stanton both lived with Father Lavin at various times during their youth.
One noteworthy quality of Father Lavin's character was his energetic zeal. He kept the most exact records of his parish's administration; his energy prompted his people to donate with amazing generosity to the works he carried out. Our beautiful church is only the most permanent memorial to his tireless efforts. Over his entire career he marked peoples' lives with his generosity, care and competence.
However the most striking aspect of Father Dominic Lavin was the powerful spirituality that motivated and formed his whole life. His tireless public life was underpinned by a profound personal faith. He rose every day at five and began with meditation followed by the reading of his breviary. He ate and drank sparingly and only at mealtimes and sought constantly the mortification (humbling) of his spirit. His notes show that he began this life before he left the Seminary and continued its practice until his last years. He was especially devoted to Our Lady and dedicated many of his works to her. Typically, when he was presented a purse of $500 on the occasion of his 25th anniversary, the good priest donated the money for the altar of Our Lady in the new church.
Father Lavin's death at the relatively young age of sixty-one followed closely the completion of his beloved church. He lies beside his mother in the cemetary at Indian Hill. The monument he leaves us is not just the church and rectory we admire today, but also the deep respect and indeed love of his parishioners and many others as recorded at the time of his death. Few people have been so universally loved in their time as was Father Dominic Lavin.
Kathleen (Moynihan) Noonan
recalls that as a little girl, she was frightened
when the church bell began to toll unceasingly one morning.
Her mother began to cry and led little Kathleen up to the
church, where the bewildered child saw the pews filled with
weeping people. Father Lavin was dead.
© 1992 (text) Terence Currie - Used with permission