In 2017, Assumption Parish celebrated 250 years of service. Courtesy of Assumption Church

London diocese pledges $1 million to save church

By  Ron Stang, Catholic Register Special
  • December 13, 2018

WINDSOR, ONT. – The Diocese of London has pledged $1 million towards the restoration of Ontario’s most historic Roman Catholic Church, mothballed due to safety concerns over the past four years and not in active use since 2004.

This would be in addition to some $8 million already pledged towards a goal of $20 million to fully restore the Windsor church, long a landmark in southwestern Ontario and the oldest parish west of Quebec. The church dates to 1842 and the original Catholic mission to 1728.

The decision comes after the release Dec. 8 of the second part of an independent fact-finding report that assessed the costs of renovating the building.

It follows release of the interim report last August that analyzed what went wrong with a previous professional fund-raising campaign, which left the diocese with a $450,000 loss. The diocese fired the fund-raising company, Philanthropic Management Consultants, a move that dispirited many people who had great hopes for the church’s future and soured some community support.

The report was conducted independently and at no expense by Paul Mullins, a local lawyer who has long had an interest in the historic value of the parish.

Mullins attended at parish services Sunday to discuss the report with parishioners.

The final report signals optimism that a goal of $20 million can indeed be reached, in part because a local benefactor, Al Quesnel, has pledged $5 million so long as a matching $5 million can be acquired. The diocese $1 million contribution, plus $3 million Mullins says he has had pledged from other sources, and additional amounts he expects to receive “by Christmas,” would raise the total to $10 million, halfway to the goal.

In a letter to Assumption’s parishioners, London Bishop Ronald Fabbro praised Mullins’ report and said the restoration of the church “has been my long-held hope. I fully support the work that will now need to be done to determine whether sufficient funds can be raised to restore Assumption Church.”

Mullins said, going forward, no formal community wide fund-raising would take place as has been done in the past. This is to avoid expenses and as a nod to a community that may be exhausted and disillusioned from previous efforts.

Instead, he would be seeking “a number of significant potential donors” and he’s “convinced that the importance of restoring that church is high enough that there will be sufficient people prepared to help make it happen.”

He said individual personal donations are welcome as well.

The actual cost of Assumption’s repairs would be $17 million, including contingencies, based on estimates from two engineering and architectural firms. Mullins said he would like $3 million extra as a “cushion.” The money is for the church itself and if a new parish hall and copper roof are added that would bring the total to $26 million. But “we’re not including that as part of the fund raising.”

Mullins’ report compared the cost of restoring Assumption with two other options — one to renovate t svhe more than century old Holy Name of Mary Church, where Assumption parish now holds weekend masses. (Weekday masses are held in Assumption’s adjoining Rosary Chapel.) The third option would be to build an entirely new church. 

Holy Name renovations would cost $5.1 million and the cost for a “hypothetical” new church would be $13.4 million.

Assumption pastor Rev. Maurice Restivo said the second report complemented the initial one, explaining how the earlier fund-raising effort went south.

“In a way it’s like the (federal) Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” which investigated the history and impact of the Indian residential school system, he said. “It was our own truth and reconciliation report in a sense. It kind of aired the dirty laundry, it told what went wrong in the past, that Bishop Fabbro took responsibility for errors that the diocese had made, but it was a wonderful way of clearing the air and allowing us to move forward.”

Former pastoral council chair Kevin Alexander said Mullins’ efforts were “very clear” and “pretty complete.” Most importantly, he said, “it shows that the church has financial sustainability in terms of whether we are able to restore the building.” 

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