"For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."
- Matthew 18:20
Parishioners gather outside the doors on the morning of June 9, 2019, to enter into, for the first time, Ste. Bernadette Parish.
Ste. Bernadette Parish is the designated bilingual Catholic parish in the community of Elliot Lake, Ontario, consecrated June 3, 2019, under the decree of Marcel Damphousse, the Bishop of Sault Ste. Marie, and through the guidance of its pastor, Father Anthony Man-Son-Hing.
The amalgamation of the community's english and french parishes, Our Lady of Fatima and Paroisse Sainte-Marie, Ste. Bernadette Parish stands as a testimony to the solidarity and unity of the community, the Catholic church, and the Holy Spirit.
Our Patron Saint
The patron saint of Elliot Lake's Catholic Church is Saint Bernadette.
Bernadette Soubirous was the first-born daughter of François and Louise Soubirous. She had eight brothers and sisters. Her father was a miller by trade, but her family was not rich. As a toddler, Bernadette contracted cholera – an infection of the lower intestine that often causes diarrhea, vomiting and muscle cramps. She also suffered from severe asthma. Like Jairus, I am sure that Bernadette’s parents often prayed for Bernadette, asking God to come and lay his hands on her so that she may be made well and live.
Saint Bernadette’s life provides us with an example of the goodness of our God who though he was rich ... for our sakes became poor so that by his poverty, we might be made rich (2 Cor 8:9). The physical poverty experienced by the Soubirous family did not stop them from loving one another. Even in her own frailty, Bernadette learned about God who made himself poor so that he could be close to us. What a wonderful image, what consolation she must have found in knowing that he was always close to her. We too can find comfort in this knowledge: our God made himself poor so that he could come close to us.
None of us might ever have heard about Bernadette and her family except for the great gift that God granted to her: the grace of seeing a young lady who Bernadette herself only ever referred to as aquero (a word which means: that). In total, she saw the lady seventeen times, but it was only on the sixteenth of these visits that the lady told her: I am the Immaculate Conception.
Bernadette eventually moved to Nevers, where she entered the Sisters of Charity. Her incorrupt body (Wis 2:23) still lies in the chapel of the Motherhouse of her Order.
From Father Anthony Man-Son-Hing's July 1, 2018, reflection on his blog "An Attitude for Gratitude"...
The story of the Catholic church in the community of Elliot Lake has two beginnings, Our Lady of Fatima Parish and Paroisse Sainte-Marie, and one blessed ending, Ste. Bernadette Parish.
Our Lady of Fatima Parish
Our Lady of Fatima Parish was consecrated in the July of 1957, under the guidance of His Excellency, Ralph Hubert Dignan, and the founding pastor, Father Raymond Farrell, to serve the Catholics who came to work in this upstart mining town. Elliot Lake prospered and became a vital community as a result of the discovery of uranium: an essential element in the development of atomic and nuclear energy and weaponry. This tremendous potential for death and destruction resulted in the hope and prayer of our founding fathers that the uranium mined in Elliot Lake would never be used to promote destruction, but rather always be utilized in the quest for production and advancement. The church was therefore placed under the protection of Our Lady of Fatima as a visible sign of the commitment to preserving peace in our world.
The church, with its bell tower and hall, were erected through the donations of the mining companies and the gifts of the time and talent generously offered by the parishioners. After working long hours in the mines, many people would come to the site after their shifts to help construct the first church. Such generosity and innovation continued through the years; in 1994, new stained glass windows were designed by parishioner Lillian Albert and created by local artist Jacque Grummet, and in 2005, the Blahey family returned the original bell to the parish and a new bell tower was constructed to house it.
From 1957 to its closing in 2018, Our Lady of Fatima Parish, a welcoming community of faith, animated by the caring and giving spirit, had always clearly recognized its role as the People of God.
The Paroisse Sainte-Marie was birthed two-fold. Original construction began in the late 1950s to meet the needs of the Catholic population in this booming mining town. During this time, the basement structure, which would come to be the Salle au rendezvous, was completed. Unfortunately, Elliot Lake's economy began to decline once the United States refused to renew its mining contracts with the local uranium mine. This halted the construction of the church. A roof was erected over the finished basement hall, and the resilient French Catholic community congregated there for mass until the early 1980s. With uranium prices augmenting exponentially during the energy crisis of the 1970s and a renewed interest in Elliot Lake, the task of completing the church recommenced under the guidance of the then pastor, Father Jean-Marie Payment. Paroisse Sainte-Marie was officially completed and opened in 1982, and proudly remained the gathering place for the French Catholic community in Elliot Lake for 61 years until its closing in 2019.
“Even if you recognize that it’s something that has been coming, it’s like the death of a part of the community. Such an experience is always sad. It take a lot of work; it take a lot of work, but I think in the long run its for the good of the whole community.”
- Rev. Anthony Man-Son-Hing
(Read full article here)
“It doesn’t matter what church we pray in, as long as we Catholics continue to pray. All under one roof, separate for language barriers, it doesn’t matter. We’re a family.”
- Lisa Lamontagne
(Read full article here)
The decision to close a church, let alone two churches, is a distinctly difficult one, but it was one that Marcel Damphousse, Bishop of the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie, had to make.
This decision I am announcing is a very difficult one to make. It’s mine to make as the Bishop. I wish I didn’t have that decision to make but as the Bishop, it is mine and the last thing a Bishop wants to do is close down a church. We had to choose between two beautiful parishes. We don’t have the means to keep both
- Bishop Marcel Damphousse
(Read full article here)
After taking into consideration the many presentations put forth by the parishioners of Elliot Lake on behalf of their elected churches and the needs of these faithful, and consulting the Council of Priests of the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie on February 19-20, 2019, Bishop Marcel Damphousse decreed that Our Lady of Fatima Parish and Paroisse Sainte Marie would be canonically modified as of June 3, 2019.
This modification would be in the form of extinctive union, which would allow for the merging of the two churches to form Ste. Bernadette Parish.
Bishop Marcel Damphousse listed in his decree the reasons for closing Our Lady of Fatima Parish and Paroisse Sainte-Marie: the decline of active parishioners in Elliot Lake. The combined attendance of Sunday Mass for both parishes dropped significantly since 2010 by 50%; the number of Catholics in the city falling from approximately 4850 to 3000. This decline in parishioners impacted the the churches' ability to fill committees and ministries, affecting their parish life and outreach in the community. This also had a direct effect on the revenues that the churches were able to generate, resulting in insufficient financial resources to operate and upkeep two establishments.
With two distinct churches amalgamating into one, a singular location had to be chosen. As part of Bishop Marcel Damphousse's decree, he announced that Our Lady of Fatima church would be the new location for the combined parishes. This location was the more prudent choice as the building was smaller and more affordable, and better able to accommodate elderly parishioners.