Above from left: Building Committee Chair Ron Cust, Project Manager Randy Darr, and Start Architects Principal Christopher Filipowycz share a moment of joy at information regarding the new designs. – Stephen Dafoe Photo
by Stephen Dafoe
Four years, five months, and 25 days after a fire destroyed the 113-year-old St. Jean Baptiste Church in Morinville, the bells will ring again on Christmas Day 2025. The Parish expects to break ground on a new church in May of 2024, with the church completed in time for Christmas the following year.
Parishioners and area residents got to look at the new place of worship on Thursday, Nov. 30, at an open house at St. Kateri Tekakwitha Academy.
St. Jean Baptiste Parish’s Father Trini Pinca said he is excited the project is moving forward, and the Parish will soon be able to return to a church from Ecole Notre Dame, where mass has occurred since the fire.
“This has been two years and a few months since we lost our church, and of course, it has been very challenging as a pastor, especially celebrating mass in a school,” Father Trini said. “They were in a church for years, and now it is in a gym. Seeing these plans moving forward, I’m excited, and I think most of our parishioners are in the same place; they are excited and hoping that our new church will come into reality.”
The design displayed during the open house incorporates input from the 382 Parish and community members who provided their thoughts in 2022.
“We have listened to what our parishioners have mentioned,” Trini said of the new designs. “Prior to the drawings and the plans, we made the survey, and we asked our parishioners what they wanted to see in our new church. The majority answered they wanted to see a traditional church. I think the reason for that is there is an attachment to the old church that we lost, and having a traditional style church is one way of honouring our ancestors of Morinville who have contributed all of their lives with their talents and their resources.”
Modern Church With A Traditional Look
Christopher Filipowicz of Start Architecture said incorporating the concepts into the design was not that difficult because of the strong desire to create a modern church in terms of its architecture, technology, and techniques but one that is traditional in its appearance, character, and spirit.
“It is very reminiscent of what it had been initially, which was the desire to begin with,” Filipowicz said. “From that perspective, the modern part of it more applies to the techniques and materials we are using, which are quite different from the original design. Otherwise, aesthetically, it is reminiscent in many aspects to what the original church was.”
The architects designed the new church in two phases: the naive or church proper and a welcome centre, an additional section for overflow and functions. Costs versus available funding will determine if both get built for 2025 or the church alone gets built.
At full build-out, the facility will be 8,500 square feet, 400 square feet smaller than the original church.
However, there will be some notable differences in scale and size.
Seating capacity in the naive is approximately 292 seats, 300 fewer than the 600 in the original church. When built, overflow in the welcoming centre would add another 200 seats to the church.
A folding petition separating the naive from the welcoming centre would give the church additional capacity and serve as a place to hold events, including wedding and funeral receptions and social functions. The phase two welcoming centre would also have a kitchen to support the various functions.
The Bells Will Ring Again
Building Committee Chair Ron Cust said the bells will ring from St. Jean Baptiste Church and be heard throughout town as they once were. He is pleased with the current design.
“What we really have is we’re building a new church, but we are using the past,” Cust said, adding the architects had brought nine designs for the project over time, which did not quite meet the mark. “Then he came with the one that is more what you see now, and we said, ‘Now, you’ve got it!’ It’s modern. The bells are open. We’re getting antique bells from Quebec that are going to be shipped here to replicate the [original] bells.
Another difference between the former and new church is in the steeple that will house those bells. The former steeple, which the church repaired in a significant renovation project a few years before the church’s destruction, stood at 101 feet. The new steeple tower will be 75 feet high but not connected to the church.
Cust said this is by design. “The bell tower has been separated from the church by an amount so that we can totally ring them. They’ll ring like the old ones.”
The Building Committee Chair went on to say that while the church loses some seating in the naive, they will, on completion, gain other things.
“We’ve got a meeting area that holds 30 people. We’ve got a children’s liturgy area. And we have an area dedicated to the choir and a chapel,” Cust said, noting he was happy to receive additional feedback from those who were both happy and unhappy with the design at the open house.
“The Parishioners have had presentations over the last year showing various aspects of the design as it evolved. In our survey, and along the way, they told us what they wanted, and we’ve complied with most of that. They received the unveiling of a very close to final concept on Thursday night.”
What remains to be determined is whether the Parish will build the welcoming centre now or later. The project was designed as two phases to avoid being caught by surprise and ensure that whatever is constructed now can be sustained now and into the future with existing parishioners.
Whatever is built, one of the critical things for those involved is that the bells of St. Jean Baptiste Church will ring again, and those coming home to Morinville will again see the steeple towering above the horizon.
“We’re designing it so the lights come up through the steeple. You’re going to see it for miles around again,” Cust said. “And you’re going to hear the bells. They’re not going to be clanging. They’re going to be ringing.”
Now that the designs are nearing final completion, the project will go out to tender this winter with an anticipated May 2024 start.
Cust said they are still raising additional funds, and those interested can contact him at 587-783-5134.
Plans and designs were on display during an open house for St. Jena Baptiste Church held at St. Kateri Tekakwitha Academy on Thursday, Nov. 30. – Stephen Dafoe Photo