Cottage #0011 would be easily missed by passersby were it not for the small sign on the right side of the road. From a grove of tall cedars, a ray of light peeks through the foliage onto a roughly hewn driveway that meanders past old-growth trees and through ground tufted with wild flowers.
At the end of the pine-scented footpath, by a small clearing overgrown with grass native to Fergus, Ontario, a plank of wood announces, "Vespers," and you know you are in the right place. It is Cottage #0011, with its clapboard siding and windows painted white.
Father Gerald Mulhall, tall, wiry and 75, opens the screen door, arms ready to welcome friends and visitors from Catholic Missions In Canada.
Fr. Mulhall was in his 40s when he first found this place, an acre of cedared land overlooking the Grand River, a few hundred metres from the famed Elora gorge. At the time, he and three of his fellow priests were looking for a place to go home to after their parents died.
"I gave the real estate agent $50 as a down payment. I asked him to keep the property on hold while I told my friends about it."
He and his friends, Father Philip Sherratt, Father Steve I. Stinson, and Monsignor John Newstead (who died four years ago), pooled their life savings of $4,500 towards the purchase of the land.
Soon, the four priests began spending their days-off building the small cottage. Fr. Stinson's brother Peter laid the foundation. "We made sure that we would cut only a few trees and keep the place as we'd found it," says Fr. Stinson.
Msgr. Newstead, who "didn't know a claw from a hammer," rolled up his sleeves just the same, and worked with them.
The three priests, who are still living, and who have recently gifted their cottage to Catholic Missions In Canada, were handier with their tools. Fr. Mulhall and Fr. Stinson have never stopped ribbing Fr. Sherratt for keeping his toolshed long after they had built their home.
The four priests bought the land in 1969; its location fitted their need for a place that would be accessible from their parishes in Guelph, Brantford and Hamilton, Ontario.
Over the years, they added improvements to the property. First, the shell of the cottage and the plumbing, then the roof, the walls and the windows, and finally, the finishing touchesold furniture and fixtures, among them old tables and chairs, even a spindly wooden wheel from a hay cart.