Archbishop mourns loss of historic church in Alberta, Canada, destroyed by arson

 

The loss of St. Bernard’s Church in Grouard, Alberta, Canada, on May 22, 2023, makes a sad moment for those with memories of the church, said Grouard-McLennan Archbishop Gerard Pettipas. Two men have been arrested in connection with the fire. / Credit: Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan photo/B.C. Catholic

Vancouver, Canada, May 25, 2023 / 12:15 pm (CNA).

The archbishop of Grouard-McLennan in Northern Alberta, Canada, says he is saddened but “not overcome” by the loss of a 121-year-old church to arson.

Archbishop Gérard Pettipas, CSsR, released a statement Tuesday, May 23, following the May 22 fire that destroyed the historic St. Bernard Catholic Church.

Pettipas said the church was “irreparably destroyed” and marks “a sad moment for the many people who have fond memories of this church. Frequent Masses, baptisms, funerals, confirmations, and confessions took place between these walls, which are now charred and rendered as rubbish.”

The interior of St. Bernard’s Church in Grouard, Alberta, Canada, after it was destroyed by fire on May 22, 2023. Credit: Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan photo/B.C. Catholic
The interior of St. Bernard’s Church in Grouard, Alberta, Canada, after it was destroyed by fire on May 22, 2023. Credit: Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan photo/B.C. Catholic

Royal Canadian Mounted Police have charged two men in connection with the fire: High Prairie, Alberta, residents Kenneth Ferguson, 56, and Gerald Capot, 50, are both charged with break and enter to commit theft as well as arson.

The two will appear in court in High Prairie on May 29.

St. Bernard’s Church, built in 1902, served as the first cathedral in the Diocese of Grouard in Canada. Credit: Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan photo/B.C. Catholic
St. Bernard’s Church, built in 1902, served as the first cathedral in the Diocese of Grouard in Canada. Credit: Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan photo/B.C. Catholic

In his statement, the archbishop said St. Bernard was “a place of immense historical significance.”

“It was not only a monument to the past but [also] a vital part of the present and a building our diocese has been trying to restore, little by little, to its original beauty,” he said.

Saying he greatly mourned the loss of the church and regretted “the incident that led to its destruction,” the archbishop said: “I am not overcome by this loss. Nobody lost their life in this fire.”

Archbishop Gérard Pettipas celebrates Mass at St. Bernard’s in Alberta, Canada, in 2021. Credit: Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan photo/B.C. Catholic
Archbishop Gérard Pettipas celebrates Mass at St. Bernard’s in Alberta, Canada, in 2021. Credit: Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan photo/B.C. Catholic

Although a church was destroyed, he said, “the Church — church with a capital C — will never be destroyed. The people of God, the body of Christ, lives on. A building is lost to the flames, but the flames of faith kindled there are not. The good news of Jesus Christ is as present and alive as ever.”

The archdiocese said the church was the diocese’s first cathedral, built when the episcopal vicar of Athabasca, Bishop Emile Grouard, chose Lesser Slave Lake Post as the seat of his diocese.

Grouard, a skilled artist, painted the mural that was displayed behind the altar.

In 1942 the vicariate was transferred to McLennan, where the current cathedral was completed in 1945.

More than 50 Catholic churches in Canada have been vandalized or burned down since the announcement in 2021 that graves had apparently been found near a former residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia.

The Catholic Civil Rights League of Canada maintains a Church Attacks Database at ccrl.ca cataloging attacks against Catholic churches in Canada ranging from the breaking of stained-glass windows to acts of desecration and church burnings.

This story originally appeared on May 24, 2023, in The BC Catholic, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Vancouver, Canada. It is used here on CNA with permission.


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