VAUGHAN, ONT. (CCN) — Bishop Mark Hagemoen’s plea for $300,000 to help rebuild a demolished church in Fort Simpson, N.W.T., was answered by about 500 donors who attended the annual Taste of Heaven gala fundraiser and banquet.
Sacred Heart Church, in the Diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith, was declared structurally unsound and then razed three years ago. With insufficient funds to rebuild a modern church, the community has been operating without its central place of worship.
A replacement church will cost about $1.25 million. Despite valiant efforts, parishioners have only been able to raise about $600,000. That’s where Catholic Missions In Canada comes in.
It heeded the bishop’s call for help and designated his rebuilding project as the main beneficiary of the Taste of Heaven event, held on April 28 in Vaughan.
The fundraising dinner, organized by Catholic Missions In Canada, raised almost $300,000 after expenses. The bulk of the funds will go toward Sacred Heart.
Another $5,000 will be used to paint the exterior of St. Anne’s Mission Church in the Diocese of Nelson and $17,000 will go to the St. Michael’s Mission in Ross River, Yukon.
“It is part of our mandate to assist our mission dioceses with the rebuilding of sacred structures such as the church in Fort Simpson,” said Kathleen Ancker, director of national development for Catholic Missions In Canada. Catholic Missions supports 17 mission dioceses.
For a northern diocese like Mackenzie-Fort Smith, most of its money comes from outside its catchment area.
“Raising money is a big challenge,” said Hagemoen. “We don’t have the ability on our own to raise all that we need. Money is hard to come by in the North.”
A new church is essential to the life of the community, the bishop said.
“The church is not only a place to gather for worship but it is also a place of safety and blessing,” he said. “When the church is present the Aboriginal people have told me over and over again that (they) feel blessed and (they) feel safe. It is important to (them) that it is there.”
Since the church closed in 2013, the same year Hagemoen arrived as bishop, the community has gathered in the local elementary school for services and the sacraments. But that temporary solution is unsatisfactory as Sacred Heart serves not only Fort Simpson but five neighbouring communities.
“Many of the families and many of the elders are saying that we need a church,” he said. “It is so important because it is the site in the North where St. John Paul II visited in 1987. That visit still means a lot to the Aboriginal people to this day. “There is a real need to build this church.”
The bishop said the new church will be “the first of its kind in the North.” Rather than being constructed by the community under supervision of religious leaders, the project has been contracted out to professional contractors, resulting in higher costs.
“We are building it the way buildings are built in the south of Canada and we have to administer the project very tightly,” he said.
Christian Lecce, a medical student at Western University who attended the Taste of Heaven event, said he understands the importance of a well-maintained church.
“Every person in Canada, and across the world, should have access to the Catholic faith and establishments that offer that,” said the 20-year-old.
“Anything that benefits that should be supported.”
In addition to fundraising, Taste of Heaven organizers presented Felician Sister Celeste Goulet the St. Joseph Award in recognition of her more than three decades of work with the First Nations in northern Canada.
Goulet, from Guelph, Ont., called the award “an honour for the whole (Felician) community.”
She moved to Tulita, N.W.T., in 1973 at the age of 32 and, with a background in early childhood education, founded a school that continues to educate Dene children.