Parishioners at St. Emerence installed new pews as part of extensive renovations of their church in Rivière Qui Barre, northwest of Edmonton. Photo courtesy St. Emerence Parish

Tiny parish in Alberta is filled with big hearts

By  Chris Berthelot, Canadian Catholic News
  • July 26, 2018

Edmonton – Parishioners in Rivière Qui Barre, a tiny hamlet northwest of Edmonton, are celebrating a major achievement after completing a $50,000 renovation to their church building over the past year. 

For Joanne Byfield, the process was “overwhelming and miraculous.” 

“People are just astonished when they come in and see what it looks like. It looks like a new church, and it’s pretty amazing,” said Byfield, a member of St. Emerence Parish. 

Officially the hamlet only has 15 people, but over 100 attend Mass each Sunday. And many of them donated money or volunteered their time and labour to help renovate the 50-year-old church. The church sanctuary, sacristy and hall were completely overhauled and the interior stucco walls replaced with new drywall. New electrical work and lighting was also installed. The walls received a fresh coat of paint, and statues of Mary and Joseph were restored with handmade arches now surrounding them. 

“Even for wedding pictures and everything, having (the arches) in the background is so much nicer than what it was before,” said Don McRae. 

A parishioner for 17 years, McRae contributed by restoring the church skylight and he helped to install new pews. 

The first St. Emerence Catholic Church was built in 1895. It was demolished after its foundations had deteriorated beyond repair. The current building was completed in 1968. Fundraising for the renovation began in April 2017 with a telephone campaign that raised $16,000 within two weeks. 

The money was then used to renovate St. Emerence’s aging stucco-covered exterior walls. 

“I just thought, ‘Wow, this is incredible! Who would have thought this could happen in a matter of weeks?’ ” said Byfield. “I think once the outside was done, people started to get a sense of we could do this, we can actually, probably get this money and do this renovation.”

The initial campaign was followed by larger, private donations from other parishioners.

“God provided us with whatever we needed and it’s amazing to see,” said Fr. Miguel Irizar, the pastor of St. Emerence Parish. Irizar is leaving St. Emerence Parish to study in Rome and said he wanted to see the renovation to its completion. Parishioners agree he was instrumental in getting it done.

“He definitely lit a fire under people in our community to get this done,” said Byfield. “It’s been really overwhelming and touching, the number of people who have been involved and supported it in whatever way, (with) labour, money or finding other people to help out.”

(Grandin Media)

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