Bishop Ronald Fabbro in front of Our Lady of the Assumption church in Windsor. Photo by Ron Stang.

Historic Assumption church in Windsor to re-open permanently

By  Ron Stang, Catholic Register Special
  • August 19, 2019

WINDSOR, Ont. -- Our Lady of Assumption Church, the “mother church” in southwestern Ontario and oldest parish west of Montreal, will reopen Sept. 8.

The 177-year-old church, part of a parish dating to the early 1800s and a mission originally founded by French settlers, has been closed five years and there were fears it may never re-open due to severe structural deterioration.

But, appropriately on the date of the feast of the Assumption Aug. 15, Diocese of London Bishop Ronald Fabbro said Mass and told parishioners at the church’s chapel that Our Lady of Assumption Church will indeed re-open permanently. That fulfills a dream of not just the Catholic community but many in Windsor because of the church’s historic and iconic landmark status.

“For me the feast of the Assumption of Mary has always been a feast of hope,” the bishop told reporters after the Mass.  “And I think coming back into the church will bring a lot of hope to people who have been our supporters for so many years here at Assumption.”

The announcement also came on the 17th anniversary of Fabbro being ordained as bishop.

The re-opening follows the completion of phase one of the church’s latest restoration effort, which saw a new roof built, asbestos removed and a new heating system being installed.

“The ceiling and the structure of the roof has been inspected, it has been found to be safe and secure,” said Paul Mullins, a lawyer who has donated his time to oversee the restoration effort.

The next phase of restoration will include the ceiling plaster and murals.

Over the past several years Assumption’s Masses had been moved to Holy Name of Mary Church, several blocks sway on the city’s west side, but not all parishioners were happy with the move. That church’s hall will still be used, at least for the time being.

The next phase of restoration is scheduled for spring but Mullins said $2.25 million will still be needed for that work. The church has been relying on donations, including $1 million from the diocese and $150,000 from a copper shingle roof campaign; donors contributed $250 each and had their names put on each of the shingles.

The church and diocese earlier this summer were disappointed after a major would-be donor, local businessman Al Quesnel, withdrew a $5-million offer because a similar contribution could not be raised in the community.

“It would have been nice if we had had some of (that donation) coming here, but that’s certainly not going to prevent us from moving forward,” Mullins said.

The lawyer said he is talking with other potential large donors.

“I’m hopeful that when they’ve seen the progress that we’ve made that they will decide that this is a worthy place for them to spend some of their money.”

This is the third major fundraising campaign for the church over more than 10 years.

Two previous campaigns collapsed over allegations of financial mismanagement and questions about the credibility of a couple of major donors.

Church officials have admitted that those failures have made other would be donors leery. But with tangible evidence that this third campaign is meeting with success, there’s hope that that attitude can be turned around.

“We have a lot of work more to do but I think what’s hopeful is that coming back to the church will be a sign that we’re committed to this and that we’re going to be working hard to raise the funds in the different phases ahead of us,” Fabbro said.

The church’s re-opening could also bolster the institution both among Catholics and the community as a whole.

“I’m also now seeing the resurgence of hope and energy and willingness to be involved not just in the restoration project but in our outreach to the community,” Jean Beneteau, Assumption’s pastoral minister said.

(Stang is a freelance writer in Windsor, Ont.)

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