Society offers hope for salvation to century-old Catholic church
Thursday, April 20, 2006
The church with the interesting past has hope for the future.
A group is being formed with the aim of restoring and preserving the century-old St. Patrick's Catholic Church which sits along Macleod Trail.
The church was built in 1905. The legendary Father Albert Lacombe became the first resident parish priest at St. Patrick's in 1909.
For years, the old, wooden church has stood empty, and vandals and climate have taken their toll. The dilapidated St. Pat's stands in sharp contrast to St. Paul's, the nearly identical Anglican church a stone's throw to the south.
St. Paul's, built in 1885, is a historical gem, neatly painted and well kept, thanks to the Midnapore Church of England Society, which stepped in when the Anglican diocese wanted to sell the property after the church was closed in the 1990s.
At the urging of that society, a number of people interested in saving the old Catholic church have decided to form the Old St. Patrick's Preservation Society.
"We're applying for society status with the Alberta government," said Michael McGuire, who has taken charge of filing the paperwork for the group, headed by Hugh McKevitt, who is out of town on vacation.
McGuire said charitable status from the federal government and a website for the old church are imminent.
The move to form a St. Pat's society came after a group of Catholics met with members of the Anglican society a few weeks ago to see what could be done to save the old Catholic church.
Clarence Patton was at that meeting.
"It was a marvellous meeting," he said. "There was a great mix of Roman Catholics and Anglicans."
Patton was the first chairman of the Midnapore Church of England Society, named after the pioneer group that built the original St. Paul's. He has watched with dismay the deterioration of St. Patrick's, which his grandfather helped build.
He was one of several Anglicans who urged their Catholic friends to take action to save St. Pat's. He said he's delighted that initial steps have been taken.
"I sure hope it comes to be," he said. "Those two churches were born to be together."
The land on which St. Pat's sits was sold about 10 years ago to Memorial Gardens Canada, which maintains the cemetery adjacent to the church. The original agreement was that the Catholic diocese, which still owns the building, would move or raze the old church.
The diocese applied for a demolition permit in 2000, but that process was halted when the province declared the church a historic site in 2001.
McGuire, descended from the McKevitts, one of the pioneering families which helped build St. Patrick's, said the Anglican group has provided encouragement and experience to the St. Patrick's group.
"They've been a great, great bunch of people to work with," he said.
The Anglican group was aggressive and sometimes combative with the Anglican diocese in its efforts to save St. Paul's, but McGuire said the St. Patrick's group hopes to achieve its goals through co-operation and consultation.
"We're working with two governments, two dioceses and a couple of local societies," said McGuire. "I think it's in everyone's interest to come to a resolution.
"We want to talk about the solutions and not about the problems past."
At the meeting between the Anglicans and Catholics, one plan suggested was to move St. Pat's a few metres south so it would share the St. Paul's property.
But McGuire said it would be premature to comment on specific proposals. The Anglican diocese, the Catholic diocese and Memorial Gardens Canada have not yet been consulted, he said. That will happen after the society is fully organized and operating, he said.
Catholic Bishop Fred Henry said he's open to proposals for the future of the old church.
"If somebody's got some ideas, I'm certainly willing to listen," he said.
"I don't see any point in just letting it fall to the ground. If we can do something, I'm all in favour of it."
Gary Carmichael, vice-president of media relations for Memorial Gardens Canada, said his company would "welcome dialogue with any group."
"I don't think anybody has a preconceived notion of what should happen or not happen," said Carmichael from his Toronto office, "but we are certainly open to discussions with interested parties and the diocese."
Employees of his company recently cleaned and secured the old church, which had been trashed by vandals.
McGuire said the parishioners of the two churches were always good friends and neighbours, regardless of religion.
"It didn't matter to them which side of the Reformation you came from," he said.
The supporters of old St. Patrick's have tapped into that same spirit. Patton said the Anglicans are ready to help their Catholic friends succeed in restoring and preserving the old church. And he's certain they will succeed.
"There seems to be a groundswell to protect structures like St. Pat's that wasn't around years ago," he said.
© The Calgary Herald 2006