New copper shingles are being installed at Our Lady of Assumption Church, part of the first phase of renovations in the 177-year-old church in Windsor, Ont. Photo courtesy Assumption Parish

Restoration marches on despite setback

By  RON STANG, Catholic Register Special
  • August 8, 2019

WINDSOR, Ont. -- Parish officials remain optimistic an extensive restoration of historic Our Lady of Assumption Church will continue despite the withdrawal of an offer of $5 million by a well-known local philanthropist.

Al Quesnel, a successful businessman and former owner of a chain of fitness centres in southern Ontario, had indicated that the offer was conditional on an equal amount of money being raised in the community. In fact, in the roughly one year since Quesnel made the offer only $2.7 million has been raised. (The Diocese of London has committed another $1 million).

It’s the latest setback in the restoration saga of Assumption, which is in the midst of its third major fund-raising effort in more than a decade.

A high-profile professionally managed campaign collapsed in 2012 over allegations of financial mismanagement. A second effort never got traction as potential donors were skeptical in wake of the first campaign’s failure and diocesan due diligence raised concerns about a couple of major donor offers. 

Quesnel declined an interview with The Catholic Register, but Paul Mullins, a local lawyer who has been instrumental in assisting the restoration effort, said Quesnel’s funding will be “redirected” to other charitable causes. 

“We continue to commend Al Quesnel for his generosity and celebrate the good fortune of the beneficiaries of these generous gifts,” he said. Nevertheless, Mullins added, the campaign remains “fully confident” it will achieve its goal for what he dubbed “our own Notre-Dame,” a reference to Paris’ Notre-Dame Cathedral, severely damaged by a fire in April.

Our Lady of Assumption, which dates from 1842, is a landmark beside the Detroit River and represents the oldest parish west of Montreal, tracing its origin to a mission in 1728.

Assumption was mothballed five years ago because of structural deterioration and the parish has been consolidated at nearby Holy Name of Mary Church.

While $3.7 million has been raised to date, the overall church restoration, which will take several years, could cost a minimum $15 million.

Assumption Pastor Fr. Maurice Restivo said Quesnel’s withdrawal was “certainly a disappointment,” but credited the philanthropist with essentially kickstarting the latest fundraising campaign. However, Restivo was disappointed “no other major donor stepped up to match his pledge.”

While the two previous fund-raising campaigns ended in failure, Mullins is optimistic this one will succeed for several reasons.

One is the fact restoration costs to date have come in lower than expected. 

The first phase of restoration started this spring and is about to wind up. In a mid-July financial update Mullins said phase one has cost $670,000 less than budgeted. Phase one included asbestos removal, a new heating system and a copper shingle roof. 

The $670,000 saved from the first phase will be applied to the costs of the second phase, which will include ceiling plaster and murals restoration, and which will likely begin next spring, subject to funding. It’s budgeted for $3.4 million and Mullins said $1.2 million is in hand, requiring an additional $2.3 million.

Mullins told The Register that since the campaign launch a year ago there has been widespread support for the campaign with donations large and small coming in and from donors. Assumption is an historic civic landmark whose supporters transcend religious faiths.

The largest contribution to date has been $500,000 from the Windsor-based Toldo Foundation. There has also been “a very significant commitment” of $250,000 from an immigrant family from India whom Mullins said wanted to show gratitude for their new lives in Canada. And, in wake of Quesnel’s withdrawal, a non-parishioner committed $100,000, someone whom Mullins described as supporting the church “on its own account and not because of the matching (funds).”

He also pointed to the success of a recent initiative to buy cooper shingles for the church’s new roof.

More than 400 shingles have been purchased at $250 per shingle by donors who will have their names attached to them. Mullins said the campaign is also applying for various levels of government funding. 

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