Lorraine Williams

Lorraine Williams

KEARNEY, Ont. - Everyone’s heard of seeking a second opinion for medical issues, but it turns out it can also be good for the health of a parish.

St. Patrick’s parish in Ontario’s cottage country did exactly that and today they are celebrating the completion of a restoration project that had seemed a distant dream not so long ago.

Built by Irish lumbermen in 1904, St. Patrick’s is a heritage-designated church that, engineers had said, required $700,000 worth of repairs in order to re-open after being closed for five years. The parish has just 25 permanent families and “swells” to 39 families in summer. A fund-raising drive under Fr. John Albao started strong but slowed down well short of its ambitious target.

According to one parishioner, “Fr. Albao went out every day for two years praying at the church’s outdoor Marian shrine for assistance.”

His prayers were answered one day at Holy Spirit Church in nearby Burks Falls where he met a parishioner named Brian Peever, the owner of a masonry business. 

“We got to talking and he told me he had a special feel for St. Patrick’s,” Albao said.

When Peever heard about the stalled restoration project he offered to get another estimate from an engineering colleague. That estimate came in at just $89,500 for the major structural work. Other improvements required an additional $60,000, so the original project cost of $700,000 was reduced to about $150,000.

Buoyed by this unexpected news, the parish fundraising drive was invigorated and enough money was found to repair the beams, posts, pillars and exterior masonry. Toronto’s Portuguese community had already covered the $20,000 cost for a new roof. So the church was recently re-opened.

Peever has long ties to St. Patrick’s.

“My wife and I were married there,” he said. “My son was baptized there. My father-in-law is buried there and I plan to be buried there.”

When asked if he had given the church a special rate for the work, Peever replied, “No, it was an honest quote. It was what I would have given to anyone for similar work.”

With the major work complete, all that’s left is finishing a wheelchair ramp and reinforcing the steps to the choir loft.

“The response of our regular and summer visitors has been so generous,” Albao. “It is not me who has done this. It is the loyal parishioners.”

{mosimage}ST. ANNE DE BEAUPRE, Que. - Last year marked a resurgence of religious consciousness in Quebec City. Not only did the International Eucharistic Congress take place during that UNESCO World Heritage City’s celebration of its 400th anniversary. It was also the occasion of the 350th anniversary of Canada’s celebrated pilgrimage site, St. Anne de Beaupre Shrine.

This year the Shrine, which is only 35 kms. northeast of Quebec City, anticipates more than its usual 1.5 million pilgrims as a result of the 2008 celebrations. In particular during the annual novena  July 17-26 (celebrating the feast day of St. Anne) the faithful will flock to ask the intercession of the grandmother of Jesus and mother of the Blessed Virgin.

Many countries have a memorial to The Unknown Soldier. As our Year for Priests draws to a close, this story is my memorial to all The Unknown Priests.

Those are the priests who with a word, a challenge or a smile effect a radical change in our way of loving and perceiving God. One such priest was a Franciscan Friar who gave a weekend retreat for married women several years ago.

I had taken some overdue time out from my hectic life as the mother of five and the wife of a busy politician. I was so eager for some spiritual refreshment that I didn’t even care who the priest would be. I only knew I needed a couple of nights of solitude and quiet, with time to reflect on my spiritual life that was often neglected due to my exhaustion.

Once at the convent, we were assigned to our rooms and then directed to the dining room for a light supper. We were informed that this was a silent retreat, so meals were to be eaten with no conversation. What a change from Friday night supper at home.