Montreal Archbishop Christian Lépine celebrated the Mass to reopen Saint Nom-de Jésus Church on Christmas Eve. Among the congregants was local MP Marjoline Boutin-Sweet. Photo by Alan Hustak

Five years after closure, Montreal’s East End Cathedral reopens

By  Alan Hustak, Catholic Register Special
  • January 10, 2015

Due to an editing error, a previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Montreal's Saint Nom-de-Jesus church was closed due to a fire. There was, in fact, no fire but the church was closed at the insistence of fire inspectors.

MONTREAL - Five years after it was closed, more than a thousand parishioners and visiting dignitaries filled Montreal’s historic Saint Nom-de Jésus on Christmas Eve to celebrate the reopening of their church.

Fire inspectors had condemned the building in the working class Hochelaga-Maisonneuve area as a danger to public safety.

There were concerns the church might have to be demolished. But the archdiocese covered the cost of repairs and the parish has launched a $7 million restoration campaign.

Archbishop Christian Lépine, who celebrated the Mass, arrived early to greet members of the congregation such as local NDP MP Marjoline Boutin-Sweet.

The evening was especially emotional for Daniel Dumochel, who drove in from the West Island with his wife, Donna, their son, Stefane, and Stefane’s girlfriend. Five generations of Dumochel’s have worshipped in the church, locally called the East End Cathedral, since it opened in 1906. Daniel, a retired RCAF officer, was an altar boy in the church in the 1960s.

“When I heard they might tear it down, I would sometimes come back to say prayers that it could be saved,” he said. “If I had the resources, I would write the cheque myself to save it. You cannot put a price on something as valuable as a church.”

It was the first time his son’s girlfriend, Fatimata Traore, who is from Cote d’Ivoire, had ever been in a church. She, too, was impressed by the service.

There was nothing extravagant about the Christmas service; the archbishop walked in procession to place the infant Jesus in the crèche, the choir under the direction of Jean Francois Noel sang traditional hymns, and organist Bertrand Lameroux played the celebrated Casavant Organ, among the world’s largest when it was installed in 1915. It was restored in 1995.

In his homily, Lépine stressed the importance of family and of community.

“The church is a community, and a community needs a roof,” Lépine said. “I have listened to the community in this neighbourhood that has gone through difficult times. Saving the church is an adventure that we have embarked on together.”

Saint-Nom-de-Jésus was designed in the Roman Byzantine style by architects Charles Reeves and Albert Mesnard. From the moment it opened on Dec. 16, 1906, it was dubbed the East End Cathedral by wealthy French Canadian parishioners who resented having to travel all the way downtown to the heart of English-speaking Montreal if they wished to worship at St. James Cathedral (now known as Mary Queen of the World).

Originally, the church had two rounded dome towers characteristic of the Byzantine style but they were replaced in 1926 by the present, more traditional steeples. The exquisite stained-glass windows were manufactured in Limoges during World War I.

Much of the interior of the church is the work of decorator Toussaint-Xenophon Renaud. The fine mural above the high altar representing the feast of Pentecost is by the acclaimed Quebec artist Georges Delfosse.

(Hustak is a freelance writer in Montreal.)

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