Luc Belanger of Hillsdale, Ont., working on a raredos for St. Isaac Jogues parish in Pickering, Ont. Photo by Christian Cadera

Woodworker’s calling is furnishing churches

By  Christian Cadera, Catholic Register Special
  • November 23, 2014

HILLSDALE, ONT. - A quick search online is all that’s needed to find a woodworking professional capable of crafting furnishings like tables and chairs. 

But Fr. Paul Dobson of St. Isaac Jogues parish in Pickering, Ont., needed someone a little more specialized. For starters, St. Isaac Jogues was in need of a new raredos as well as matching furnishings. The challenge wasn’t just to find someone who could build a raredos to his liking, it was finding someone who knew what a raredos — the altarpiece that decorates the space behind an altar — was in the first place. 

In stepped Luc Belanger from Hillsdale. Belanger specializes in woodworking projects for Catholic churches and his work can be seen in parishes all over the world, including altars at the private and public chapels of the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration at Our Lady of Solitude Monastery in Tonopah, Arizona. 

“It’s not often you find a carpenter who is both an artisan and knowledgeable about the requirements of church furnishings and ornamentation,” said Dobson. “It’s nice when a church looks like a church.” 

It takes a special skill set to construct the appropriate furnishings and ornamentation for the interior of a church, said Belanger. While knowing how to work with wood is important to the process, it is not enough by itself. Be it a tabernacle, stations of the cross or offertory, knowing the purpose of each of the pieces is needed to elevate an item like an altar from merely being a table being used as an altar. 

“He (Belanger) has a good eye,” said Dobson. “It’s nice when you don’t have to explain what a tabernacle is to the person making one.” 

The 15 ft by 15 ft raredos Belanger crafted for St. Isaac Jogues was painted to resemble marble, a practice Dobson said is common in Canadian parishes as wood was historically easier to find in Canada than marble. 

“I suppose if the church had been in Italy it would have been made of real marble,” he said. 

Dobson heard of Belanger through other priests, and after seeing examples of his work at Holy Redeemer Church in Pickering and St. Bernadette’s in neighbouring Ajax, Dobson was impressed enough to contact Belanger to see if he was available to to spruce up St. Isaac Jogues. 

When Dobson found out Belanger not only knew what a raredos was, but had crafted them before, he was certain he had found the right person for the job. 

The 39-year-old Belanger didn’t start out crafting interiors and furnishings for churches straight out of high school in 1993, but it was always his goal. Today, about half of his work is for Catholic churches, convents and monasteries. 

A devout Catholic, Belanger was drawn to the church architecture and ornamentation as a child. 

“I wanted to get into it right from the get go,” said Belanger. “It took a while to get into it. I had to feed myself so I was mostly doing residential when I started out.” 

Belanger said properly crafting the interiors and furnishings for a church is an involved process. Multiple consultations with the parish priests are needed as well as visits to the church when possible to get a feel for the space being provided for. 

“I felt secure with his sense of things,” said Dobson “He handled it well because of his liturgical sense and artisanship.” 

Most days you can find Belanger in his woodworking shop in Hillsdale, still filling orders for kitchen cabinets, dining room furniture and wardrobes. Every few months Belanger gets to set aside these common woodworking jobs and work on projects near and dear to his heart; beautifying the interiors of Catholic churches. 

“Every church is different, every church leads to an outlet for creativity,” said Belanger. “People replace their kitchens all the time; churches endure.” 

(Cadera is a freelance writer in Barrie, Ont.) 

Comments (1)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

I love DIY people because I’m one of them. It can be a fun and rewarding adventure that will enable you to save a ton of money.
Very good write up and those are great projects you did.
DIY is in my blood because my Grandfather was a...

I love DIY people because I’m one of them. It can be a fun and rewarding adventure that will enable you to save a ton of money.
Very good write up and those are great projects you did.
DIY is in my blood because my Grandfather was a self-employeed painter/carpenter for over 50 years. I started learn

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