With an eye to the past, a small group of Western Bay residents are hoping to preserve a local historic church for many years to come.
Holy Rosary Church was built on the north side of the Conception Bay North town around 1875. While it served as a place of worship for many generations, regular weekly masses ended about 20 years ago.
In a Dire State
Area residents and the Corpus Christi Parish Council held a meeting in August of 2017. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Grand Falls, which oversees the parish, had asked the council to look at properties under their jurisdiction and determine their viability. The parish council determined the inside of Holy Rosary Church was in good shape, but the outside was in a dire state. Besides peeling paint, the sill at the base of the structure was in poor condition, and birds had gotten in through holes and nested in the side of the building.
Without any funding available from the parish or diocese, it would be up to the local residents to raise funds for supplies and have the work done themselves. Father Thomas Offong, parish administrator, also sent out a letter to parishioners requesting their financial assistance.
“(The renovated church) will serve as a pride and posterity to the religious heritage of not only the Catholic faithful, but the community at large,” he wrote. “Our grandchildren and great-grandchildren, when they are grown, can be shown where their grandparents and great-grandparents nurtured their faith.” Western Bay residents Patricia Murphy, her husband Noel, and her sister Anna Jenkins took on the task of managing the work that needed to be done on the structure.
“The church is of sentimental value to us. Our dad (Patrick Fitzgerald, who died in 2001) was the one who endeavoured to maintain the property,” Patricia said.
Fond Family Memories
“I guess you could have called him the unofficial caretaker. He looked after the church and the church grounds. He would unlock the door for mass, and lock it up after. Any funerals he would go to the cemetery with a person from the funeral home to see where that person would be buried. He made and painted crosses for the graves that had no markers.”
Jenkins agreed the church has a special place in the family’s history.“It was where we attended mass growing up as children. It was where our parents and grandparents also attended mass, and it became a very important building to us as a family,” she said. “Summer masses were more special because it was then that extended family and friends also attended the service, giving us some extra time before and after mass to catch up on the news.” While the outside of the church took on a shabby appearance, Jenkins noted the inside is in good shape.
“Mostly we are just giving the church, which is a historic building, a facelift to make it more attractive-looking as you drive through the community, as it is right on the main highway,” she said. Patricia noted this isn’t the first time the structure has faced some difficulties. A fire caused by the church’s wood stove destroyed much of its roof in 1945. For a few years afterwards, mass was held in the community’s schoolhouse. When those repairs were finished, the church was in-turn used as a schoolhouse while a new school was being built.
In addition to donations received from parishioners and well-wishers, the Western Bay residents raised funds for the current facelift through such activities as merchandise bingos and a hot roast beef dinner. By the fall of 2017, they had raised enough money to begin the repairs and upgrades. They picked up with the facelift again in the spring of 2018.
“We are doing the work ourselves – there’s no money to hire a contractor,” Patricia shared. “We replaced clapboard, scraped existing boards, and then primed and painted the front and the side facing the road. Right now we have three-quarters of the front of the church done.”
While they thought their efforts might attract many volunteers, that hasn’t been the case. “We were hoping that some others would pitch in with the work because, as they say, many hands make light work,” Jenkins said. “Well, there is always next year when the work continues.” Planning is already underway for 2019 and the small group certainly wouldn’t mind some extra help.
Work in Progress
“Next year we hope to accomplish the church’s other two sides. It is in need of some sill replacement and (the roof) needs to be totally shingled,” Patricia said. When the facelift is complete, they hope to celebrate mass once again at Holy Rosary Church.