SACRED HEART PARISH CENTENNIAL 1912 – 2012 by Bill Downey
The early history of Sacred Heart Parish takes place in a community of where there is no electricity, or running water, no phones, no cars, no sidewalks, only a couple of stores, a restaurant, a post office; all on dirt roads.
From 1906 to 1910 Fr. O’Dwyer travelled from Winnipeg occasionally to celebrate Mass in Sioux Lookout. Them in 1910 the parish in Kenora began to serve Sioux Lookout as a mission and Fr. O’Dwyer came once a month to offer Mass in the restaurant. In 1912 a small group of Catholics built Sacred Heart Church, a structure that measured 50 by 34 ft.
In April 1913, Fr. E Planet, OMI, became the first resident priest. The early history of the parish has few surviving pictures. The church bell, made in France arrived and was installed in 1913. The bell which cost $210. was decorated with the Oblate emblem and the inscription ‘E. Planet, ptre, omi,1913′.
In 1914 the parishioners were petitioning the Archbishop of St. Boniface for a “resident English-speaking priest” and in 1915 the parish welcomed Fr. Lambert, the first resident diocesan Priest. At that time there were 47 Catholic families residing in Sioux Lookout.
On May 24, 1915 the ladies of the parish sold baked goods and soft drinks to raise funds for the church. In 1917, at the age of 14, Germaine Bower became the first church organist. (In 1992 Germaine celebrated her 75th year as Church organist!) During the flu epidemic of 1918, Fr. Lambert turned the rectory into a hospital and saved many lives.
On July 29th, 1918, His Excellency Archbishop Belliveau made his first Pastoral Visit and administered 18 Confirmations. In January , 1921 Fr. R. Brodeur arrived in Sioux Lookout. In 1926 he laid down the first stone of Sacred Heart School and completed the construction the same year. Fr. Brodeur left Sioux Lookout in 1927 and later became Bishop of Alexandria.
Fr. Brodeur travelled to Toronto in 1926 and knocked on the door of Loretto Abbey. He wanted four teaching Sisters for the school he was about to build. When he enumerated the conditions they would have to face: a home in an old rectory, streets with no sidewalks, no running water, a small town of some 2000 people in the bush and 1000 miles from their first neighbour sisters, Sister Superior was not inclined to help. Fr. Brodeur convinced her of the good things that would happen, and Sister met with her council and promised four Sisters for Sioux Lookout. So Fr. Brodeur had his school and the Sisters of Loretto served there until 1940, when the Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions succeeded them and served the school until 1971.
From 1915 to 1945 the responsibilities of supporting a separate school, church maintenance, and providing services to missions (Hudson, Ignace, Superior Junction, Dinorwic) were often too demanding for one priest. The Roman Catholic complex, consisting of Sacred Heart Church, a rectory, a convent, and Sacred Heart Separate School, was situated on King Street.
As well as the missions, the lumber camps in the area became a problem for Sacred Heart Parish. The pastors were unable to provide religious services on a frequent and regular basis to the missions or lumber camps. To travel to Ignace, 145 km away, on a regular basis required an automobile and all the time and expense that came with it. Working in the lumber camps there was a significant group of devout Lithuanian Roman Catholics. They could only be visited rarely by the Pastor.
Fr. Brunet, the Sacred Heart Pastor from 1941 to 1948, was killed at a level crossing accident in Manitoba, October 13, 1948. He had been instrumental in organizing the Knights of Columbus, and on November 14, 1948 the Knights of Columbus received it’s charter, taking the name, Fr. Brunet Council.
In 1948, the Archbishop of St. Boniface obtained Fr. Luigi Amadio from the Consolata Missionaries as Pastor of Sacred Heart. In the space of these years Fr. Amadio made significant renovations to the parish church, and, at the request of his Bishop, helped organize a chapter of the Catholic Women’s League. Father Amadio had to travel to Hudson and Ignace, in addition to providing services for American Servicemen stationed at the radar scanning station. Fr. Amadio stayed until September 1955 and the parish went back to the Fort William Diocese.
Bishop Jennings appealed to the Oblates to assume responsibilities of the 1,196 Roman Catholics in Sioux Lookout and the associated missions. The Oblates assigned two of their most capable and dedicated priests to Sacred Heart Parish. Bishop Jennings had the parish canonically erected on April 25, 1955, and it covered an area of 3200 sq. km., with a widely dispersed congregation united physically by the CNR, CPR and Trans Canada Highway on which were situated the various communities to be served by the Oblates – English River, Ignace, Dinorwic, Fowler, Robinson, Superior Junction, Richan, and Sioux Lookout. Fr. Dennis Shea, OMI, instituted a weekly Wednesday evening Mass and often both Sunday Masses were so well attended that some people had to stand outside the church doors.
While Fr. Shea looked after the Sunday Masses at Sacred Heart, his associate, Fr. Brennan, OMI, travelled to Hudson on alternate Sundays and in the afternoon to Wabigoon, where Mass was celebrated in the community hall. On the first and third Sundays, Fr. Brennan travelled 145 km to Ignace and tried his best to bring increasing numbers of the eighty Catholic families to Sunday Masses.
The success of the Oblate priests in Sioux Lookout manifested itself in plans to build a new church in 1963. In that year property on King Street was acquired, fund raising began in 1965, and by October 1967 the parish had engaged the services of an architect to design a church that would accommodate 400 people and meet all the requirements of the new liturgy that emanated from Vatican II. The promise of a new church energized and united all members of the parish in the two years preceding it’s official opening and dedication.
1969 Dedication and Blessing of the new Sacred Heart Church
On Sunday, September 21, at 5:00pm, clergy, parishioners and friends assembled outside the new entrance of Sacred Heart Church for the official Blessing and Dedication Ceremony. Bishop E.Q. Jennings attended by our new assistant priests, Fr. R. Beruard, OMI, and Fr. J. McCart, OMI led the procession into the church. Sr. Mary Paul led the choir singing “Sacred Heart of Jesus, Font of Love”.
Fr. Pruner, OMI, Parish Priest, welcomed the congregation and offered his thanks to everyone who had helped in any way with the completion of the new church. Bishop Jennings introduced the former Pastors of Sacred Heart Church – Msgr. Bellevance from Norwood , Manitoba; Fr. Poitras from St. Vital, MB; Fr. Shea, OMI, from Shubenacadie, NS; Fr. Davis, OMI, from Fort William, and Fr. Takach, OMI, from Montreal. He also mentioned Fr. Brodeur who had been here in 1921 and had since become Bishop of Aleandria.
Canon Lundy, Rector of St. Mary’s Anglican Church delivered the Scripture Reading and congratulated the church assembly on the design and structure of the new church. Rev. N. McIntosh of St. Andrew’s United Church delivered the Prayer of the Faithful.
The Dedication ceremony concluded with Mrs. L. Toppozini leading the congregation singing “Thank You Lord”, with Mrs. G. Bower as organist.
The Catholic Women’s League served supper to visiting Clergy and Sisiters at the Knights of Columbus Hall. In the evening a reception was held there. Mayor Arnold Beebe welcomed everyone and introduced the Sisters of St. Joseph from the Lakehead, Nipigon, and Red Rock. The Singing Sisters entertained and Brother Robertson, an Oblate from Fort William presented a magical half hour. Lunch was served by the C.W.L. and the Catholic Youth Organization.
The new Church houses 340 people with extra room for 84 seats. The exterior is brown brick with a 48 ft. high tower. The many clear glass windows make the church bright and cheery.
75 Years Anniversary Celebration, October 24, 1987
“Good Memories” were the order of the evening when the parish of Sacred Heart celebrated 75 years on Oct. 24, 1987. Former Oblate pastors, Fr. D. Pruner and Fr. J. Rademaker joined Bishop John O’Mara, new Pastor Fr. Francis Pudicherry and a host of other priests in a celebration of the Eucharist. At a dinner at the Knights of Columbus Hall later that evening, Jim Carroll, MC, for the evening, told the story of the parish and invited guests to bring greetings and share memories. Several former pastors spoke highly of the parish. On behalf of the Oblate Community, Fr. Rademaker and Fr. Pruner presented an anniversary plaque which read in part: “In appreciation to all the members of the parishes who have journeyed with us.”
Head table guests brought greetings from other places, other churches, and other organizations. Ministers expressed gratitude for the improved spirit of sharing among Christian churches.
In his homily, Bishop O’Mara spoke of the call to love that is symbolized by the heart, and reflected on devotion to the Sacred Heart. He noted that each one of us is to share that love – “to make this community the community of love, the community that’s not only dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, but the community that makes real for the people of Sioux Lookout and of our Diocese and of our world what the love of Christ is all about.”