The 20 congregation members of Sacred Heart Church in Fannystelle faced a tough decision about two years ago: raise enough money to repair the 98-year-old church or see it demolished.
Although attendance at the Roman Catholic church’s services has dwindled as the years pass, the historic church is an important community symbol. It also holds special significance for those who grew up in the area.
"People just feel connected to it," said congregation member Rachelle Nadeau.
Congregation member Jeannine Guyot said the paint inside the church was flaking so badly that she and other members had to clean it off the pews before each service. "It was raining paint chips."
Nadeau said the stained glass windows were broken and the church’s distinctive rose window above the front entrance was held together with wire and posed a safety hazard.
The members agreed to hold a fundraising dinner in November 2010, and to let the outcome of that event decide whether or not they would continue their work to save the church.
Miraculously, this single event brought in $50,000 – half of their fundraising goal of $100,000.
Nadeau credits the generosity of former parishioners and local residents who sent in donations. A ‘name the window’ campaign covered the $40,000 cost of replacing the church’s eight stained glass windows. Bronze plaques bearing the donors’ names will be unveiled at the church’s 100th anniversary service on Oct. 21.
Private donations added to funding from grants provided by the provincial government, the Sir Thomas Cropo Foundation and Thomas Sill Foundations brought in about $125,000.
"We exceeded our goal and we were able to restore more than we had expected," Nadeau said.
Because of the church’s historic status, all repairs were done in keeping with guidelines to maintain the building’s original décor and design. Scraping through layers of paint on the church’s inside walls, the professional restoration technologist found the cream colour first used, and was able to duplicate it.
The church’s bells were removed, repaired and rehung in the renovated bell tower at the end of September.
Nadeau said the lights on the illuminated cross at the top of the church’s bell tower had been burned out for many years, and LED lighting is being installed so the cross will shine again.
The anniversary service on Oct. 21 will give donors the chance to enjoy the church’s beauty and recognize its history. Guyot and her family and other musicians are performing in a musical celebration beginning at 10:30 a.m., followed by Mass at 11 a.m. Bishop Albert LeGatt will join the church’s Father Lawrence and former parish priests for the service.
A celebratory lunch will be held after the service. Tickets are $30 and must be pre-ordered from a parishioner before Oct. 14.
Nadeau said former church members are coming from as far away as Ohio to attend the anniversary celebration.
Now that the church is restored to its original beauty, the task ahead is to keep its doors open. As well as being used for funerals, Nadeau hopes it will be the site for weddings and christenings.
"We always want this church as a landmark for the community," she