Torched Alberta church’s parishioners looking forward

Torched Alberta church’s parishioners looking forward

More than two years since a suspicious fire destroyed St. Jean Baptiste Parish in Morinville, Alta., the criminal investigation has borne no suspects or arrests.

Although the devastation that occurred on June 30, 2021, lingers with congregants who attended Mass in this 114-year-old house of worship, there is a greater desire to focus on the future rather than ruminate on the past.

“We know among the parishioners that there is no longer a need to seek out the who or what (behind the fire),” said long-time parishioner Ron Cust, who co-investigated the alleged crime scene as a member of the Morinville Fire Department (he served as fire chief from 2002 to 2014). “We are talking now about building our new parish. It is just a blip in time. We are building a church for the next hundred or so years like our forefathers did in the 1900s.”

Touchette, a St. Jean Baptise churchgoer since 1975, agrees with Cust.

“There is little talk about what happened, but more about where we are going. There is still a lot of pain over having lost the church. We are meeting in the (Ecole Notre Dame Elementary) school gym. We have lost some people because they don’t like attending church in a school. Everyone is looking towards the building committee to see how they are coming along as that is really the key.”

Cust is chair of the St. Jean Baptiste Parish building committee. He said multiple aspects of the project are “doing pretty good.” His team presented several proposed designs and sketches and received input from parishioners. Meanwhile, the fundraising team, which includes Touchette, has amassed $370,000 to date.

The building committee has finalized a building footprint and floor plan for the new church. The next step is formalizing the documents for tender. Cust said construction companies will present their proposals next March, and the winning outfit will break ground on May 21, which puts the grand opening on track for Christmas 2025.

A parish-wide survey conducted in 2022 revealed that 78.4 per cent — 298 of 382 — of members wish for the new building to model itself after the look of the original St. Jean Baptiste as much as possible. Cust said the building committee is honouring this desire, but cost-effective adaptations will be made.

“The church will be five-eighths the size of the original structure, but the tone and feel of it is the traditional look with a steeple with two spheres on each corner of the columns,” said Cust.

For the sake of financial prudency, the exterior of the new St. Jean Baptiste Church will be manufactured with fire resistant cement boards trimmed with traditional bricks that are the same colour as the original, thus creating the illusion of being an all-brick church again. And instead of a new bell tower being attached to the main building like the original, it will be staged independently in front of the new chapel (Cust said it will look like it is attached) so it won’t pose an obstacle in building the new parish structure.

Presently, Cust said the parish community, which is powered by nearly 250 avid churchgoers, believes it can fund this project, and maintain it going forward without putting a “burden on our diocese (St. Paul),” and at this point they are “not anticipating borrowing any money” to fund construction.

The Diocese of St. Paul did learn from its insurance company that $7.2 million would be bequeathed for the rebuilding project. Cust said the committee aims to erect the new Church for $6.2 million.

If phase one of this project proceeds nicely, eventually the parish community may begin to fundraise to build a new welcoming centre, projected to cost $2.2 million.

The Catholic Register/Canadian Catholic News


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