Photo- Marilyn Snedden
By Mary Cook, Mississippi Life EMC Jan 1992
St. Peter Celestine Roman Catholic Church in Pakenham stands as a testimony to a century of dedication by parishioners who have preserved its grandeur and its place in the community for 100 years. This year, it celebrates its centennial, virtually unchanged since the day it was dedicated and blessed in 1892.
One can almost sense the determination of the parish priest at the time, Father Dominic Lavin, as he set about to oversee the construction of St. Peter Celestine. He worked against the odds.
As well as tending to the spiritual and often the physical needs of about 200 families in the Pakenham and Fitzroy areas, he almost single-handedly oversaw the raising of the money to build the church. Parishioners sold produce, cows and one member sold her flock of turkeys to add to the coffers. Men worked in the bush, earning $75 for the entire winter, and then donating the full sum to the cause.
Father Levin cajoled and encouraged, and in the end he was able to oversee the opening of the church debt free.
He had raised $18,000, and when the cornerstone was blessed on July 31,1892, every piece of mortar, stone and wood had been paid for. There were no outstanding bills. The price included a six bed rectory. The doors were opened, and the church was debt free. The fact that there was nothing inside the magnificent structure was not a deterrent to the worshippers. There was no money left over for fancy pews, painted walls, and altar adornments.
It wasn’t until 1901 that the church finally was decorated inside. This time-span allowed the building to settle and when it came time to work on the interior, the building was solid on its foundations, and there was no shifting to mar the magnificent interior. Sadly, the beloved first priest of the new church died shortly after the dedication.
St. Peter Celestine sits atop a hill in the village of Pakenham, magnificent and mighty. And it isn’t only church members who say it is probably the most beautiful church in the Ottawa Valley. The interior has been completely restored, and yet the integrity of the original design has never been compromised. It remains the same as it was when a young Kathleen Noonan, now 97, sat in one of the pews and watched Montreal artists hand paint the angels. It is believed that they used the face of the young girl as their model. And many say the likeness is remarkable, so no one is refuting the legend.
Today, the same sense of dedication that built and saw the church grow over the past 100 years prevails amongst the parishioners. People like Corinne MacFarlane and Terry Currie who have spent most of a lifetime in the church community see St. Peter Celestine as a solid force in their lives. They have been babies baptized, then married, and finally buried from inside this magnificent church building. They have seen the membership wane and grow back up to where there are now about 170 dedicated families on the roll.
St. Peter Celestine goes into its second century as solid as it was the day it was built. Worth many more thousands today than it was when it was built 100 years ago, its value to the community cannot be measured in dollars and cents.
Father William Penney has read the proclamation declaring the commencement of Centennial Year and over the next few months the church will continue to mark this year of celebration with many events including a special Mass to be celebrated by Archbishop Marcel Gervais.
This commemoration year will be a memorial to those early pioneers who had a vision 100 years ago and who worked tirelessly to ensure that future generations would reap the benefits of their labours.
Fire broke out in the sacristy of St. Peter Celestine’s Church, Pakenham, around midnight, Tuesday, was quickly quenched by the fire brigade and men from the village who hastened to help when the parish priest, Rev. J. R. Murray rang the bells at 12.15 Wednesday morning. Father Murray discovered the incipient blaze when he crossed from his rectory to turn off a light which was burning in the sacristy of the church. It was fortunate that he did so because if he hadn’t there is no doubt the 65-year-old stone edifice would have been destroyed. He rangthe church bells as an alarm and the response was everything that could be expected. He says the damage is confined to the floor of that wing of the church and to some church vestments. Blame is attached to a space heater.