WCR PHOTO | VIRGINIA BATTISTE
The stained glass windows of the refurbished church had to be cleaned with a toothbrush.
WCR PHOTO | VIRGINIA BATTISTE
Bishop Fred Henry and Luella Wojcik delight in the church's restoration.
Smiles and tears wreathed the faces of parishioners and visitors as the congregation of St. Francis de Sales Parish, High River, celebrated the re-dedication of their building restored following flooding seven months earlier.
"Walking into the church today, takes your breath away, considering what has been experienced over the past few months," said Bishop Frederick Henry at the Jan. 25 Mass, the day following the feast of the parish's patron saint.
In his homily, Henry acknowledged the great suffering, trauma and darkness that had been experienced by the congregation.
Yet, he said, paradoxically, in the midst of that darkness, there was also great compassion, generosity, hope and resiliency shown by the lives of the parishioners and the volunteers who stepped up to help in the time of need.
Henry drew several comparisons linking the rebuilt church to the characteristics to be desired for the parishioners as the people of God. He compared the new foundation and floor to faith which is to be the foundation upon which their lives are built. The roof is to remind them of charity which is to cover everything else.
"Looking up to the roof is to be a constant reminder to grow in love of God and love of neighbour as a parish community."
"It is good to be home," said Father Ed Hospet, St. Francis de Sales pastor, as he thanked the volunteers and workmen who had worked hard to bring the project to the point where the parish could again worship in its building.
Hospet acknowledged they would still be rebuilding for some time, but as a people of hope, they would continue to work together to rebuild the parish and its building.
In the end, he said with a smile, this has answered his prayers. Renovations he had desired to make in the building will all be accomplished with the rebuilding, which makes the devastation of the flood a hidden blessing.
Maj Wojcik, a member of the pastoral council, finance committee and in charge of minor maintenance prior to the flooding, spent countless hours dealing with the insurance adjuster and contractor and overseeing volunteer involvement.
Wojcik said he was overwhelmed by the workmen's dedication and attention to detail.
"There was black mold behind the sanctuary wall, so it had to be taken down. All the stained glass windows had to be removed. They cleaned both sides of them with a toothbrush, reframed and reinstalled them."
According to Wojcik's wife, Luella, during the recovery and restoration of the church, the crucified Christ remained suspended above the altar area, maintaining God's presence in the church throughout the restoration.
The Wojciks were emotional when asked what the day meant for them. They could only say they were glad they had the time to do all they had done.
Looking at the way the church looks today, Gord Sherley is awed by what transpired in the past few months.
"Everything about it, the organization, the paperwork, the reporting, the recording, has been a miracle. It is a different place between when I arrived four years ago, and what I have seen happen in the past six to eight months. It's nothing short of miraculous."
In the aftermath of the flooding, parishioner Offie Arca says she has seen the community grow closer together.
"Before, people didn't know anybody else. They said, 'Hi,' and 'Bye,' but now people have opened up to each other. You can ask people to help with things in the church, and everybody just pitches in. Before, it was hard to get people to do things.
"We are closer now. We have more respect for each other. We are more helpful. We listen."
Martin and Lynda Cullen, who experienced flood damage to both their home and Martin's place of business, admitted they were too preoccupied with their own flood recovery issues to help with the restoration of St. Francis de Sales.
Still, they are glad to be back in the church building, and feel a call to greater involvement in the parish.
"Today is the first time I cried," Lynda says. "You don't realize until the church is gone, that the school, or meeting in the park, can't do it. We need the church building. It has given me a new hope. I see a need to get myself more committed and involved."
Said Martin: "You find out what faith is. Looking around, you realize a lot of people have lost something, and some have lost everything, yet here they are."
Newly-elected High River mayor, Craig Snodgrass, who was in attendance, said of the rebuild project at St. Francis de Sales, "It's better than it was before the flood."
He says this is the model for all of High River and that things happening in the community are bringing life back to it.
Not unlike St. Francis de Sales, upgrades are happening to homes and businesses that wouldn't have happened without the flood, Snodgrass said. There is a sense of optimism and hope reflected in the parish and the town.
"We are beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel. The event (flood) brought us together. So many people stepped up and now the whole town is totally engaged."