Scaffolding has been erected as work finally begins on the first phase of restoration of Our Lady of Assumption Church in Windsor, Ont. Photo by Ron Stang

Historic church begins long road back

By  RON STANG, Catholic Register Special
  • June 12, 2019

WINDSOR, Ont. -- Repairs to restore one of Canada’s oldest churches are finally underway after the Diocese of London gave $1 million to kick off another fund-raising campaign to reopen this city’s historic Our Lady of Assumption Church.

The church, a landmark and centrepiece of the oldest parish west of Montreal, has been mothballed five years while its future was in question, following an earlier fund-raising campaign that was closed 10 years ago by the diocese over questions about the professional fund-raisers’ management and a loss of $450,000.

With the diocese’s recent donation, work began in early June on the first of four phases that could take four to five years to complete. But it hinges on other money being donated. One local benefactor, Al Quesnel, has pledged $5 million, conditional on a matching amount being raised as soon as July. 

Several million dollars have also been pledged separately, according to local lawyer Paul Mullins, who voluntarily prepared a report on restoring the 176-year-old church and ongoing fund-raising efforts.The overall costs of renovations are put at upwards of $20 million.

The first phase consists of replacing the aged roof tiles with a copper plated roof, removal of asbestos in the church’s foundation and installing a new heating system.

Hoarding has been placed around part of the church and a scaffold erected, with roofers disposing of debris down a shoot into a garbage bin. A hole has also been dug to get to the asbestos by the foundation.

“They had to have an archeologist on site for the entire time they were digging to see if there were any artifacts. Thankfully there were none,” pastor Fr. Maurice Restivo said on a site tour.

Next steps will be replacing the roof shingles with plywood and a weatherproofing strip before adding the copper tiles. There are 3,500 copper tiles and a campaign has been launched in which people can purchase a single tile for $250 and have their name inscribed.That campaign is now diocesan wide and later in June there will be an appeal to 90,000 homes across the Detroit River in the City of Detroit Catholic archdiocese.

“We’re hoping that we may move some hearts in Detroit,” Restivo said. “Assumption Parish is a daughter, as it were, of Ste. Anne’s which is the second oldest continuously functioning parish in the United States.” 

Ste. Anne Parish de Detroit sits almost directly across the Detroit River from the Windsor church. It was founded in 1701, 27 years before  Assumption was founded as a mission. Construction of the current Assumption church began in 1842, finishing in 1845. 

After the roofing, the next restoration phase will be restoring the church ceiling’s plaster, which has had some water damage. 

“If the plaster is still safe once they finish the roof work ... we could move in this fall,” Restivo said.

But while diocesan and church officials are optimistic repairs will be made and funds raised, there is still some uncertainty about the project.

If funds are not raised — and in particular Quesnel’s matching $5 million not obtained by July — it would be “a real blow,” Restivo said. The diocese contribution is final. “They’re not going to give us more,” he said.

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