From left: Mayor Paul Krauskopf, Gary Chen (Heritage Conservation Advisor), Diocese of St. Paul Bishop Paul Terrio, Westlock-St. Paul MP Brian Storseth, Simonne Chevalier, and Father Ignacy Warius pose outside St. Jean Baptiste Church after the funding announcement Tuesday afternoon. – Stephen Dafoe Photo
By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – It was a big day for Father Ignacy Warius and members of St. Jean Baptiste Parish Tuesday afternoon. After several months of sitting on pins and needles waiting to hear about a grant to save the historic steeple, Westlock-St. Paul Member of Parliament Brian Storseth arrived at the church with the good news the federal government had approved their grant request. The church will receive $250,000 through a Western Diversification Grant, a federal program that is available to a maximum of $250,000. Storseth confirmed the grant on behalf of the Honourable Lynne Yelich, Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification.
Last fall the church was faced with the plight of raising approximately $500,000 for restoration work to save the steeple from loss to water rot. The parish had raised approximately $155,000 for the restoration project but much of that was spent on the initial engineering study and stabilization work done three years prior. St. Jean Baptiste Parish was left with $60,000 towards the half million in repair work needed to save the steeple. They were also left with less than seven weeks to hit the $250,000 needed to qualify for the matching dollar Western Diversification Grant. The church turned to the community through their People for the Steeple campaign, an initiative that received strong support inside the 300-member parish as well as outside in the community at large. The campaign took the parish from their $60,000 start to $343,538.97 by the Nov. 15, 2012 deadline.
Storseth said Tuesday when he first heard about the plight of the church he did not hold out much hope for the grant being successful because of the short timeframe to raise the matching dollars. “Quite frankly there was no money put up to match the government funds,” Storseth said. “I couldn’t see how this was possibly going to work. The one thing I definitely underestimated was the enthusiasm and the community spirit that this community has in it – that it was able to put together such a fundraising drive in such a short period of time.”
Simmone Chevalier, who undertook the task of working on the grant application with the parish’s finance committee, was thrilled with Tuesday’s announcement.
“I am really, really happy that we received the full amount of money because without it we couldn’t have done the whole project. And once you put things on hold they don’t seem to get done the way they should have,” Chevalier said. “This is going to allow us to do it the proper way.”
Mayor Paul Krauskopf, who served as emcee at the announcement Tuesday, was both pleased with the news and pleased with the community coming together once again. “I’m overwhelmed,” the mayor said. “I’m ecstatic about how people in this community got together and raised that money,” he said, adding he believed the community’s enthusiasm to save the building helped force the government’s hand to also support the project. “It showed these [Morinville] people are serious.” Krauskopf said the community recognized the value of the building to Morinville’s history and came together to support the initiative.
Father Ignacy Warius was also a little overwhelmed with the funding announcement. “I’m glad to hear the news that we got today,” he said. “It makes us excited and happy because we are looking forward to the work that we’re going to embrace over the next year.”
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Scaffolding will soon rise above the Morinville skyline to meet the historic steeple, allowing workers to begin the process of staving off the rot and preserving the tower at the centre of the community. Father Warius said engineers and architects are already working on the plans for the restoration project and that work could begin as early as April.