St. John Emigrants' Aid Society
To further his plan, Bishop Sweeny formed the St. John Emigrants' Aid Society, on 30 January 1860, for the primary purpose of helping working class families obtain land grants. As society president, Sweeny was in regular contact with government leaders to ensure that the project moved ahead. In early 1860, a number of public meetings were held in Saint John to explain the scheme and encourage working men to participate. There was much interest. More than 300 people attended a February gathering where his Grace the Archbishop of Halifax stated his support for the plan. Reports of these meetings were published in the Saint John Morning Freeman, the city's Roman Catholic newspaper.
Bishop Sweeny moved swiftly, asking government officials to set aside thousands of acres of land in New Brunswick for settlement. A grant of 10,000 acres was awarded in Queens County, but the demand for land was so great that additional tracts had to be found elsewhere. In May 1860 Sweeny wrote the government, stating that more than 100 people had applied for land in Carleton County, if the society could obtain a grant there.
The response was swift and encouraging. The government agreed to survey 10,000 acres immediately in Carleton and Victoria counties. Over the next few years additional blocks of land were surveyed for settlement adjoining the original Johnville tract. In all, the St. John Emigrants' Aid Society received no fewer than 36,000 acres of land in Carleton County for the creation of the Johnville settlement. The Bishop was also successful in securing large blocks of land along the Buctouche River in Kent County for Acadian settlers and additional grants for colonization elsewhere in the province.
Bishop Sweeny took other action to further the Johnville scheme. He wrote letters promoting immigration and settlement, which were published in Irish, American, and New Brunswick newspapers. The Rev. Thomas Connolly, the Pastor at Woodstock, located 35 miles south of Johnville, was directed to oversee the settlement and to minister to the colonists' spiritual needs. He offered the first Mass there in June 1862. As well, Connolly shouldered the responsibility of assigning lots, teaching the pioneers how to swing an axe and clear their land, and supervising the construction of temporary bridges. He also has been credited with naming the settlement in the Bishop's honour. Johnville's success as a planned settlement was due largely to Connolly's persistent efforts.