St. Joseph’s Community Kingsbridge celebrates the grand opening of the church as a new community centre. Photo by Steven Travale

Youth revive community after church closure

By  Steven Travale, Youth Speak News
  • September 11, 2015

KINGSBRIDGE, ONT. - After an almost three-year hiatus, the echo of the uplifting song “Revival” by Robin Mark could be heard inside the former St. Joseph’s Church, a beautiful turn-of-the-century, red brick church building in Ashfield Township in Ontario’s Huron County.

Here, a gathering was held Aug. 22 to celebrate the grand opening of the St. Joseph’s Community Kingsbridge Centre, after a testing and tumultuous few years for the community.

“We feel rejuvenated with the purchase and reopening of the church. Hopeful and optimistic,” said Marianne Hogan, leader of the St. Joseph’s choir for more than 35 years.

St. Joseph’s Church was closed three years ago, victim of the restructuring in the Diocese of London that saw numerous churches closed due to dwindling numbers in the pews and lack of clergy to look after all the diocese’s parishes.

Hogan’s choice of the song “Revival” as well as The Rankin Family’s “We Rise Again” for the evening’s program is a testament to the sentiment felt by all who have been involved in the process of bringing life back to the former church.

It has not been an easy journey, but everyone involved seems to agree that the young people in the community have been vital in the saving and re-opening of St. Joseph’s.

The young people of the parish were determined to save their church, and eventually Bishop Ronald Fabbro heard their appeal.

“He was moved by their desire (to save St. Joseph’s),” said Jim Van Osch, president of the St. Joseph Kingsbridge Community. “(The youth group) was a very strong factor in not closing the church originally.”

Almost immediately after the closure of St Joseph’s parish was announced in September 2012, a meeting was held at which it was suggested that if enough money were raised, the Diocese of London would bring the building up to standard and keep it running. Although that did not fall into place, the diocese offered to sell the church and rectory to a non-profit organization for one dollar.

It was then that the St. Joseph’s Kingsbridge Community organization came into existence with the goal of purchasing the former church and rectory and turning it into a community centre.

Fast forward to today, and the youth who rallied for their church almost a decade ago are still engaged. And while the parish has ceased to exist, the sense of community is alive and well.

Van Osch said the young people have been great not only in moral support and general interest in St. Joseph’s future, but they are still very active in the community.

The community has worked hard to renovate and repair the building and rectory, which was left empty and unkempt since that fateful day in 2012.

With the church building now officially open, the venue is ready for an array of events. Concerts are already lined up, with a local trio performing on Sept. 12 and wedding ceremonies booked as well. The rectory is now open for cottage rentals.

When the old church hall is renovated in the next phase of updates, it will have a large kitchen, meeting room and hall. The former sacristy will be used as a historical archives and conference room; no space is going unused.

(Travale, 17, is a Grade 12 student at Sacred High School in Walkerton, Ont.)

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