QU’APPELLE, Sask. — Parishioners of Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church in Qu’Appelle, Sask., a community 55 km east of Regina, realized that their church needed major repairs, which they could not afford. They requested permission from Archbishop Donald Bolen to close the church. Hearing of their plans, parishioners of St. Peter’s Anglican Church invited their Catholic neighbours to worship there.
In an emotional goodbye, chair of the Immaculate Conception pastoral council Chad Geis, speaking from the ambo, said they had exhausted all efforts to secure the quarter-million dollars required to bring the building up to code and their failure sealed the fate of the building. He said that, with all that has happened, the church is saying in her own secret way, “I have done my Catholic duty, I have loved and served the Lord but after 110 years, let me go in peace.” Geis then asked for a moment of silence.
Former Pastor Emil Kutarna said that, when he heard Immaculate Conception was to be closed, he had to return. He read a poem he had composed for the occasion. It recounted the life and memories of the church and ended with, “Goodbye old friend; you have served us well. Faithful to the end, to the last toll of the bell.”
“We are most appreciative of the Anglican Diocese of Qu’Appelle, and especially St. Peter’s Anglican Church, for inviting us and allowing us to continue practising our faith at their church,” Regina Archbishop Donald Bolen said to the congregation. “So, we mark our sorrow and a new beginning.”
The archbishop began his homily with a reflection on the Gospel and the readings of the day: Jesus joins the apostles on the road to Emmaus. He remarked on how the apostles were devastated at Jesus’ death, “perhaps much like how you might feel this evening, leaving this beautiful Immaculate Conception Church.”
The apostles didn’t recognize Jesus because they were focused on the past. “You will remember the eucharistic celebrations, homilies, baptisms and how the community was formed. Jesus did reveal himself to the apostles and walked with them, as he will continue to walk with you,” he said. “The closure of this church does not close your mission as disciples of Christ.”
He then proceeded with the ritual of de-commissioning the building as a church, ending with the removal of the altar stone. Parishioners then left the building and processed up the street to St. Peter’s Church as the Immaculate Conception bell tolled for the last time.
Archdeacon Catherine Harper, on behalf of the Diocese of Qu’Appelle, greeted everyone as they entered St. Peter’s. “Welcome home,” she said as people found their places in the pews.
Bolen again thanked the Diocese of Qu’Appelle for their generous offer to share their church: “It’s hard to imagine a community that could have been more welcoming to a Roman Catholic parish whose building is no longer sustainable. We are incredibly grateful.”
He went on to say that it was hard to imagine how an Anglican church of the name St. Peter could be a more inviting name for a Roman Catholic community, which prompted laughter from the pews. Bolen encouraged the two congregations to seek appropriate ways to grow together in unity and mission, as Anglicans and Catholics have sought responsible ways to grow together on an international level.
St. Peter’s Church was the original cathedral for the Anglican Diocese of Qu’Appelle. In 1944 that title was transferred to St. Paul’s Cathedral in Regina.
Although Immaculate Conception is no longer a church, some issues remain. Geis is concerned about finding storage space for articles to be removed from the building and used for services for the Catholic community now sharing St. Peter’s. Artwork, including two frescoes on the wall behind the altar, are to be removed. Some articles will be placed with other churches, as per past practise, or will be assigned to the archdiocesan archives.