The Rev. J.G. Joyce: Renaissance Man

Rev. J.G. Joyce in Verdun United Church.

Rev. J.G. Joyce in Verdun United Church.

Some in the community may remember the name of Rev. J. G. Joyce - maybe it appears on your marriage or baptismal certificate - but how many know that the minister who led worship at Verdun United in the 30s 40s and early 50s was an accomplished craftsman and a pioneer in radio broadcasting?

Born in Carbonear, Newfoundland in 1889, Joseph Gilbert Joyce attended Mount Allison University in New Brunswick and was ordained by the Methodist Conference at Harbour Grace, Newfoundland in 1917. He went on to Boston University, graduating in 1920 with a Bachelor of Education and Bachelor of Sacred Theology. Rev. Joyce accepted the position of Minister of Wesley Methodist Church, St. John’s Newfoundland in 1922 where he stayed until 1930. During that time, according to his obituary, he built “the first radio station in St. John’s Nfld.”

Rev. Joyce’s motives were in line with his religious calling. He wanted people living in isolated communities along the Newfoundland coast, as well as some of his own parishioners who were too ill to attend services, to nevertheless be able to hear the message every Sunday. He personally enlisted local tradesmen to put up poles and wires behind the church building and by 1924, radio station 8WMC (later VOWR or Voice of Wesley Radio) went on the air. When Rev. Joyce found that many in his flock were too poor to afford radios, he personally made them crystal radio sets so they could follow the services.

Rev. Joyce was the second minister at Verdun United Church on Woodland. The building was inaugurated by Rev. Isaac Norman in 1931 but in 1933 the congregation called Rev. Joyce who would lead worship there for the next 24 years. Over that period, Verdun was growing by leaps and bounds and so were the churches. Despite the lean years of the Depression and the deprivations of wartime, in 1947 the congregation was justifiably proud to be able to acquit its mortgage. A special service was held to celebrate the occasion, during which Rev. Jones actually set fire to the mortgage deed! Several representatives of the congregation joined him at the podium, including 10-year-old Marjorie Cooper, representing the Sunday School. Marge Cooper-White is still a member of our congregation, attending outreach services at the Floralies Residence.

Rev. Joyce sets fire to the mortgage deed, surrounded by (L to R): Marjorie Cooper, representing the Sunday School; Mr. Harris Way, Clerk of Session; Mrs. Clement King, oldest living member; and James Goodwin, representing Church Youth. 1947

Rev. Joyce sets fire to the mortgage deed, surrounded by (L to R): Marjorie Cooper, representing the Sunday School; Mr. Harris Way, Clerk of Session; Mrs. Clement King, oldest living member; and James Goodwin, representing Church Youth. 1947

A talented craftsman, Rev. Jones’ lasting bequest to the Verdun community is a stained glass window which he created after retiring from the ministry. Again according to his obit, Dr. Joyce (he gained that title in 1931 after graduating from United Theological College in Montreal) sought out several Italian craftsmen in order to learn about stained glass making. He ordered glass from Europe and seems to have acquired all the skills - cutting, painting, leading, firing - to complete the piece himself. It was presented to the Verdun United congregation which proudly displayed it until the building was sold in 2007. At that point it was moved to SouthWest United where it can still be admired in our entranceway. The original dedication read, “For Pleasant Memories, presented by J.G. Joyce, D Th, Minister 1933-1957.”

Rev. Joyce died in 1959 and is buried with his wife Susan in her home town of Souris, PEI.

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