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‘Getting the spirit back’

Darlene Taylor and Russ Oehmen hold tickets for an upcoming draw to a Blue Jays game. They are selling the tickets as a fundraiser for repairs at Our Lady of Lourdes.
Darlene Taylor and Russ Oehmen hold tickets for an upcoming draw to a Blue Jays game. They are selling the tickets as a fundraiser for repairs at Our Lady of Lourdes.

Our Lady of Lourdes church was scheduled to close in the fall of 2015.

Instead mass, meetings and even the occasional wedding are happening, a testament to a congregation determined to keep it open.

With declining church attendance in many parishes, financial strains, a shortage of priests and costly repairs needed for buildings, the Antigonish Diocese, which includes Pictou County, said in 2015 they would need to close the church. It was part of a larger review of churches in the area.

“The parishioners didn’t care for that very much,” said Russ Oehmen a member of the church and finance committee chair.

As a result an action committee was formed. In an effort spearheaded by the late Kathy Skoke Fortin and Darlene Taylor, parishioners made pledges of how much they would be willing to give to help pay off debt and repair the church. In addition, lawyer Roseanne Skoke took legal action to keep the church from closing.

Now, almost two years after first mention of the potential closure, parishioners are working together to make sure they don’t fall into the same position again. They’re also trying to grow the number of people attending.

“We’re getting the spirit back,” said Oehmen.

Oehmen said when the finance committee was formed to help get the financials in order and keep them on budget things had been in a bit of disarray. The church was $115,000 in debt at the end of 2015. In addition, they were staring at a capital budget plan for necessary repairs of about $250,000.

But with a little faith and the support of the parishioners, goals are being reached.

“We had a number of things that had to be fixed to make sure that the church could remain open,” Oehmen said. “We’re still working on a bunch of them, but I think the key ones initially have been done.”

The debt has now been reduced to $55,000 and about 40 per cent of the repairs and funding have been raised.

He credits the parishioners, Father John MacDougall, finance committee and fundraising committee members as well as the action committee for all working together to make it a success. The congregation has as a result a new confidence now in the future of the church.

“It’s all subject to the support of the parishioners and community as well. You can’t predict the future, but we can sort of say that the parish is very active now in fundraising and activity. We see people coming back to church – not in droves yet – but we hope that will happen as the activity increases.”

Taylor has been chairing the fundraising committee. They’ve held concerts, prize bingo and even a fiddle mass, which have all helped to raise funds for the capital campaign.

Those who pledged money have also followed through on their commitments.

While there is still much to do, looking at where they were and where they’ve come to, Taylor said it feels good they’re reaching their goal.

“Personally I think that it was a difficult time for our parish,” Taylor said adding that some people were confused and others didn’t want to be involved with controversy. Now that things have settled down, they are coming back to the church.

“I think they’re feeling really good about our future,” she said.

 

 

The to do list for Our Lady of Lourdes

 

Accomplished to date

• Beam work under the church has been fixed with proper beams and concrete footings

• New fibreglass oil tanks in all three buildings

• Glebe has been updated with new windows, doors and front entrance

• Renovations to church hall doorways to make the building more functional and watertight

 

Projects for 2017

• Fix windows in church

• Interior painting of church

 

Timeline

June 1, 2015 – Proposal announced that could see three churches close including Lourdes.

July 27, 2015 – Our Lady of Lourdes closure announced

Sept. 2, 2015 – Parishioners express sadness over impending closure

Oct. 27, 2015 – Roseanne Skoke takes legal action to keep church open

Nov. 16, 2015 – Diocese announces that Our Lady of Lourdes will stay open

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