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SC Rewind: Reverend At The Reins

Published: January 16, 2016 8:42 am ET

Last Comment: January 18, 2016 12:13 pm ET | 5 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

In this week's Rewind which has a Maritime flavour, Robert Smith relates a rather unusual story of an unlikely combination of professions: one being a breeder, owner and trainer of harness horses.

The sport of harness racing has been graced by virtually every walk of life. Besides those who earn their livelihood from it solely, people of almost every calling possible have also been involved. Lots of farmers, medical doctors, veterinarians, lawyers, politicians, teachers, policemen, nurses, firemen and just about everything else in between. It is one of the really unique aspects; there seems to be a spot for everyone.

Just how many members of the clergy have been "hands on" I am not sure, but I do have one pretty good story involving a "man of the cloth". A man named Rev. Louis P. Callaghan, a Roman Catholic Priest not only cared for the spiritual needs of his parishioners, he also found time to operate a small stable of pacers, even raising his own stock. I hope you find his story as interesting as I have. There may be even a few people who still remember this intriguing gentleman.

Back in the mid 60's or 50 years ago, Canada's most 'successful' horseman may have been flying slightly under the radar. In 1967 Rev. Father Callaghan was 67 years of age and had been ordained a Catholic priest for 42 of those years. While his 'listed' occupation may have been one thing, he seemed to find quite a bit of time to devote to something he really loved. In other words don't schedule a wedding, a funeral or a christening on a day when races were being held in his vicinity. He just might not be available.

At around the same time that the great hero of the turf wars Cardigan Bay was about to become the first horse to earn a million dollars in a lifetime, the contrasting story of this P.E.I. priest was published. Its point was to illustrate that success in harness racing is often measured by different yard sticks. I am indebted to an old 1967 newspaper clipping which told this heartwarming tale.

Born and raised on a nearby Island farm, Father Callaghan was pastor of St. Mary's Parish in Indian River, P.E.I. The parish lands were a bit more spacious than most, consisting of some 75 acres. The farm supplied most of his food (15 head of cattle resided there) as well as hay and oats for his four harness horses. Dating back to the early 1950's, Fr. Callaghan had raced a horse, mainly on Maritime tracks. What made his story so interesting is that in 1966, the year prior to the writing of this story his stable had netted $250 which met his desired financial target! He couldn't have been happier or more content with the outcome.

His ongoing plan was to raise his own foals and sell them when they were ready to race. He stated "Whenever I'm tempted to keep one in hopes of owning a topliner I know it's time to sell. Otherwise my hobby may become a distraction from my main job as a priest." His broodmare Jolly Patch at the time of writing had presented him with seven foals. Six of them he had sold for prices ranging from $750 to $1,000. The other, he was just starting to train. With the mare currently in foal, he stated that he looked forward with great anticipation to the arrival because the sire was a noted name....Adios Forever.

He said "Buyers are a lot fussier than they used to be. Whereas I formerly sold them young, buyers now want only ones that have shown promise."

Father Callaghan takes a break from his pastoral duties to attend to the training of one of his stable members

In addition to the Padre's vast knowledge of the Scriptures he also took a certain measure of pride in the pedigree research of his prized brood. He was proud to be able to trace his broodmare back to perhaps the most famous of all harness horses, Dan Patch. Based on this finding he had his operation registered with the United States Trotting Association as "Patch Stables, Kensington, P.E.I."

As a matter of interest the Father's chestnut broodmare Jolly Patch was a foal of 1952 and apparently did not have a race record. She was sired by a Maritime favourite, Jollity who sported a record of 2:05 1/4, noteworthy in its day. Her dam was Donna Scott, who did not show a record either. True to his stable name, seven of Jolly's foals bore the "Patch" name tag. Eleanor Patch, Honest Patch, Cal Patch, Sheila Patch, Lizzie Patch, Rudy Patch and finally Adios Patch.

When Fr. Callaghan was asked what he did with the $250 he realized from his well-run operation, he surprisingly did not say that he had placed it in the Sunday collection basket. He proudly said "I invested the money in $2 bets, and would you believe of them saw me hit the daily double!!"

While this story may very well fall under the heading of 'different', it is a true one and yet a further example of how our sport has provided enjoyment, satisfaction and contentment in a variety of ways.

St. Mary's Church, a fine example of the French Gothic influence, was built in 1902 by Island architect William Critchlow Harris. It is still in pristine condition and is in use annually for a series of music concerts, picturesque weddings and other events. The Harris trademark, a rib-vaulted or groined ceiling, enhances the quality of sound and archives this with the use of fir, pine, spruce, maple, and birch throughout the building. It has been said that the natural acoustics of St. Mary's rates it as one of the top ten places to perform in the world. In 2012 it was designated as a heritage place because of its importance to the Island. Father Callaghan would indeed be proud. [Courtesy of The Indian River Festival]

January 18, 2016 - 12:13 pmIn recent years, Father Yvon

Rick Karper SAID...

In recent years, Father Yvon Barrieau has campaigned several horses in the maritimes. Prior to retiring as a catholic priest, Father Barrieau would spend every spring as a groom for his brother Marcel. About 4 or 5 years ago, Hoof Beats ran a story about him. He is now retired in Dieppe, NB.

January 17, 2016 - 5:52 pmThanks for another great

Thanks for another great story Robert. There was a United Church minister I met back in the 70's when I worked in radio who moved to the east coast and told me he found great peace in jogging horses. First time I've heard of an RC Priest owning and training horses. As a 20 year member of the clergy, I can tell you that many of my colleagues make the odd trip to the track, but I haven't met many like me who go on a weekly basis and truly follow the sport.

January 16, 2016 - 4:10 pmG'Day Robert I read with

G'Day Robert
I read with interest your most recent offering on SC and strictly from a trivia perspective would be curios as to how many ordained Priest/Ministers were sport participants I had been previously unaware of Father Callahan But as a kid Reverend Father Yvon Barrieau was a regula)participant alonside his Brothers Rufin (a New Brunswick Sports Hall Of Fame inductee)Marcel, Alfred (Gilles & Rheals Father) and Rosaire to a lesser extent at what was then Brunswick Downs in Moncton, N.B and other Maritime harness venues in later years the hierarchy of the local Diocese changed and curtailed his involvement But he still owned one up until a year or two ago that was trained by Ken Arsenault in Charlottetown named Yankee Sun

There was also a Father Mick Fleming who drove briefly in St John's in Newfoundland at Avalon Raceway


January 16, 2016 - 12:04 pmThanks Robert. I remember

Thanks Robert.
I remember this article well - in fact, I think I have the original article from Star Weekly, I think.
I also remember an article, which I also still have, about harness racing which included a picture of Ronnie Feagan driving H A Meadowland. Also Star Weekly, I think.
Owning a horse is still on my personal bucket list, andI have known several clergy friends/colleagues who loved harness racing.

As always, a wonderful trip down memory lane
The Rev. Mark McLennan, Woodstock

January 16, 2016 - 10:23 amSo many different memories of

Bob Bowness SAID...

So many different memories of the Father and his horses and the harness shop in Kensington where I spent a lot of my miss spent youth, listening to the stories of him and many more, dreaming of the day when they would have a top class 2:10 pacer!! I bought my first new set of harness for $35 man was I a proud young horseman! What a great story

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