By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – One doesn’t have to drive too far into town to catch a glimpse of the steeple rising above St. Jean Baptiste Church in downtown Morinville. But residents and visitors could soon be deprived of that iconic view if significant funds are not raised to save it. The historic steeple is in need of approximately $500,000 in restoration work to save it from loss to water rot.
“There is significant damage by water inside the steeple as well as other parts of the church, mainly the north roof,” said Father Ignacy Warius, adding examination by engineers determined the steeple should first be stabilized to prevent wind sway from letting more water inside the historic spire. “We did so three years ago and that stopped that water coming in a big part, but there’s still that problem because of the areas where the roof meets the brick.”
The parish has raised approximately $155,000 for the restoration project thus far. Much of that was spent on the initial engineering study and stabilization work done three years ago. St. Jean Baptiste Parish is left with $60,000 towards the half million in repair work needed to save the steeple.
St. Jean Baptiste Church was, according to the Musee Morinville Museum’s timeline, recognized an Alberta historical resource Nov. 17, 1974. Father Georges H. Primeau was instrumental in making that historical recognition a reality, something the community rallied behind four decades ago with considerable excitement. The Alberta Register of Historic Places lists the church as receiving its designation Nov. 20, 1979. Thirty-three years later, the steeple of that historic place could soon be gone, eradicating a significant part of what the Alberta Register regards as “one of the most elaborate and ornate Roman Catholic churches in Alberta, and [one that] is reminiscent of French-Canadian architecture.”
Parish member Jan Maslyk said the matter of restoring the steeple is no simple task because the historical designation prevents just anyone from working on the building. “As an Alberta historical site we have a duty to maintain the site according to the standards of the province,” Maslyk said. “With that honour comes an obligation.”
But without the financial resources, Morinville’s historical resource could look a little less spectacular and tower a lot lower above the heart of the downtown area.
The parish has the opportunity to apply for a Western Diversification Grant, a federal program that is available to a maximum of $250,000. The parish is hoping for success in the grant but will need to raise the other half before the November deadline.
Father Warius said there is a strong chance the parish will get the grant because the project meets the grant criteria: the building is of significant importance to the town and encourages tourism.
Maslyk said the nature of the grant presents a challenge for the parish in raising the necessary funds to secure the grant because no in-kind contributions to the cause will be considered. “This presents a challenge because normally with grants you can use the in-kind component of labour and that raises a lot of funds that way,” she said. “Now we have to go straight on cash.”
With $60,000 set aside and $250,000 in the offering through the federal grant, the parish needs to raise $190,000 by the November deadline for the grant application.
People for the Steeple
The federal grant is a key component of ensuring the steeple is preserved for the church, the town, the community and the province. Although some additional grants may be available through the province, they are outside the realm of possibility for St. Jean Baptiste Parish because the funds in those grants are derived from gambling proceeds, a situation that creates a philosophical and faith-based obstacle to applying for them.
St. Jean Baptiste Church has about 300 members and donations have been coming in regularly from parish members. It is that money which has been used for the $15,000 engineering study and for the $80,000 already spent on stabilizing the steeple.
Their own internal fundraising efforts continue unabated; however, they are hoping the community, understanding the historical significance of the church steeple to the community’s history and heritage, will step forward to help with the raising of funds.
The parish has kicked off their People for the Steeple campaign in the hopes residents and those who live outside the community who value the history the steeple recalls will get the parish to the number needed to secure the matching-dollar grant.
They have established a People for the Steeple account at Servus Credit Union on 100 Avenue in Morinville. People may simply make their donation to any teller in care of that account. However, those wishing to receive a tax receipt for the donation would need to make their cheques payable to the St. Jean Baptiste Parish. Those cheques may be taken to the church rectory, next door to the church or taken to the RBC bank where the parish has its main accounts.
The parish is hoping to be able to accept donations to the cause via Paypal within a couple of weeks, allowing those outside of Morinville easier access to helping.
Above: Water damage inside the steeple of St. Jean Baptiste Church can be seen in this submitted engineering photo.