The damage from post-tropical storm Fiona to St. Martin of Tours Church in Cumberland, P.E.I. is evident as part of the roof was torn off. Photo by Carol Carragher

Repairs to historic P.E.I. church in motion

  • November 23, 2022

A distressing dispatch greeted the parishioners of St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church in Cumberland, P.E.I., in the days following the post-tropical storm Fiona’s devastation on Sept. 24. 

Long-time congregant Carol Carragher wrote that the initial message stated, “we lost our church.” 

“A majority of parishioners and folks who love our little church came to the parking lot and sat in their cars in disbelief or got out to just wander around and get a closer look at the damage,” said Carragher in an email to The Catholic Register. “It was such a shock to see our church that stood the test of time for 154 years was now in need of our help.”

The devastating storm ripped half the roof off on the right side of the building, which allowed the rain to pour into the church.

Carragher, other congregants and pastor Fr. Douglas MacDonald are keen to repair the building to ensure this church’s history extends well beyond its 154 years. 

Situated above the Northumberland Strait, St. Martins of Tours, crafted with red sandstone, is one of the houses of worship in the Atlantic province accorded recognition in the Canadian Register of Historic Places. Measuring 50 ft. in length and 26 ft. in width, it is reputedly the smallest stone church east of Quebec.

One of St. Martin of Tours’ neighbours noticed during the height of Fiona’s wrath that the steeple atop the church tower had become loose and was swaying throughout the storm. There was concern that the structure was going to blow right off the roof and drift into the wind. 

Fortunately, the steeple did not succumb during the deluge, but the brickwork supporting it is now so frayed that parish leadership made the safe decision to remove the steeple from the tower and rest it upon the lawn.In the days following the storm, a team applied plywood to the damaged roof and excavated the steeple.

“When the crane slowly raised the steeple of 6,300 lbs. off the tower to bring it to the ground there was silence,” wrote Carragher. “Most present felt relief as well as a sense of sadness on what was taking place.”

The doors of the church have remained closed since Fiona. 

Carragher, born a Murphy, said her Irish forbearers have a long history with the parish, reaching back to 1821 when her first ancestors came to the Cumberland area. Most of her ancestors are buried in the cemetery across the road from St. Martin of Tours.

“The stone for the church came from a quarry on a Murphy homestead a mile from the church. The size of the church and its stone structure shows a simpler time and the importance of a place to freely worship,” she said.

“Its peaceful country location and water view tells you something greater than us created this beautiful place.”   

Carragher has attended St. Martin of Tours all her life. Her three children completed the sacraments in this parish, and she has led its congregation in song for 35 years. 

Plans are in the works to replace the steeple, the brickwork where the steeple was removed and the part of the roof blown off by Fiona. The parish has already hired a company to remove the carpets and dehumidify the building. 

Insurance will help with the repairs, and a spaghetti dinner was being hosted on Nov. 26 by The Good Shepherd Pastoral Unit (St. Martin of Tours is a member parish). Carragher wrote that many people from across Canada and the United States have popped into the small stone church over the years, which could make it possible for a crowdfunding campaign to gain traction. 

For at least the upcoming winter season, St. Martin of Tours will remain closed. Given the high demand of construction companies on the island post-Fiona, it is unclear when the repairs will be complete, but there are hopes of the congregation opening the doors in the spring. 

Parishioners will likely attend services at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Cornwall, or St. Anne’s Parish in Emyvale in the interim.

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