A historic wooden church in Nova Scotia believed to be North America’s largest may have been saved from sale or demolition thanks to a $10-million donation. Église Sainte-Marie, in Church Point, N.S., hasn’t offered Sunday services since 2019 and needs extensive repairs. And after a deadline to raise the millions needed to fix it passed in 2022, the local Catholic archdiocese issued a request for proposals to sell or knock it down, CBC News reported.
So the news of the anonymous donation was a welcome surprise for a group that has been trying to raise money for the church’s restoration. The group has been working for several years now to raise the necessary funds, with little success.
“Our committee is overjoyed about this. It came out of the blue…” said Pierre Comeau, the president of Société Édifice Sainte-Marie de La Pointe.
But the generous gift comes with strings attached — Église Sainte-Marie needs to be an active church again.
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This past weekend, the archbishop of the Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth held meetings with members of the three nearby parishes (all within 10 minutes of Église Sainte-Marie) to discuss the anonymous donation and make a decision about accepting it. Comeau said “there was a strong majority consensus that we should accept this offer to repair the church.”
But the decision to accept the money is a lofty one. “The offer to restore and renew Église Sainte-Marie is a generous one, with conditions attached to it. While it is exciting to consider a significant, historic church building saved, Archbishop Dunn’s priority is the pastoral care of the community entrusted to his care, said Aurea Sadi, communications and project lead at the Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth. “If the offer…is accepted the community must determine how that impacts the use of the other church buildings in the area,” said Sadi.
There are many plans for using the money. The building needs significant repairs, Comeau said. The first project they hope to take on is repairing the roof. Given the age of the building and its size, this will be a large project. Before any work can begin, structural studies will need to be done to determine the scope of the work and the costs. This will allow the church to know if the donation will cover the costs of the repairs and maintenance. The province also considers Église Sainte-Marie a heritage site, so there are certain limitations on what kind of work can happen, or example, they cannot make any changes to the outside of the building.
Église Sainte-Marie was built in the shape of a cross and is one of the largest wooden buildings in North America, measuring 56.4 metres tall, not including the cross.
Comeau said that once the diocese has finalized an agreement with the donor, “being an eternal optimist, I would hope that some work would start later on this summer.”
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The church is technically still active, Comeau said, as it hasn’t been deconsecrated. He also anticipates that parishioners will return to in-person services fairly regularly once the church reopens.
Église Sainte-Marie is also home to a small museum with a variety of religious artifacts. Pre-COVID-19, many American tourists came to visit, said Comeau. The hope is that the museum will reopen as well once repairs are complete on the church itself. But making the church active again goes beyond doing repairs and reopening the doors.
“…If the physical needs of the church building are provided for, how will the community work to grow a healthy, vibrant, parish family and truly make Sainte-Marie an active church?” Sadi said.
This donation will likely mean big changes for the community, but Comeau said “the community response has been overwhelmingly positive.”
Meredith Poirier is an intern at Broadview.
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