© GUARDIAN PHOTO BY SALLY COLE
Carmelle Doucette, left, and Marlene White are co-chairs of the 175th anniversary committee for St. Augustine’s Roman Catholic Church in Rustico. Celebrations begin Dec. 24 with midnight mass celebrated by Bishop Richard Grecco. Special music is planned.
Carmelle Doucette has a deep connection to St. Augustine’s Roman Catholic Church in Rustico.
She was baptized there and took her first communion there, attending mass with her family each week.
“My parents were devout Roman Catholics, so it was a big focus. I also attended the Rustico convent (school) where I was taught by the sisters of Notre Dame, so religion was a big part of our lives,” says Doucette.
Like many others, she went off-Island to find work after graduation, returning in 2006 to live and to reconnect with the friendship and fellowship of her home church once again.
“I’m very proud of our church,” says Doucette, who is one of the people co-chairing celebrations for the 175th anniversary of the Rustico place of worship.
Marlene White is the other. She began attending the church shortly after moving to the community six years ago.
“What I’ve learned since I’ve come here is that loyalty to the church and the Acadian culture is extremely strong in Rustico.... So I’m really excited about co-chairing the event,” says White, adding celebrations begin Dec. 24 with midnight mass, celebrated by Bishop Richard Grecco.
“This marks the 175th anniversary of the first mass being said in the church, which has been going since 1838. It’s an important occasion,” says White.
That night, there will be special music before the service.
“The singing should start around 11 p.m. We advise people to come early to get a good seat. Everyone is welcome,” says White.
To mark the anniversary, those in attendance will be given a little memento.
“Each person will receive a postcard showing the interior and exterior of the church and the nativity scene,” says White.
It’s the first of many activities that are being planned for the anniversary year.
“The committee has created a historical calendar for the church, made
possible through a P.E.I. 2014 grant.
“It has 47 photos and lots of information (about the parish) in it. So far, over 100 have been pre-ordered. It will go on sale beginning January 1,” says White, recognizing the parishioners who wrote a book about St. Augustine’s Church in 1988 for its 150th anniversary.
“A lot of information from the calendar is taken from that book, so we’re extremely grateful,” says White.
Other events include a variety concert in March, a lecture on the history and the architecture of the church by Reg Porter in June and a day of celebration in July.
“We’re also hoping to have a classical music event in August and an event with the Farmer’s Bank in October. Committee members are in the process of firming up dates and as soon as they do, the public will know. Then, we’ll be closing out the year with another midnight mass,” says White.
Doucette hopes that former parishioners will come out and share in the festivities.
“We started fundraising a couple of years ago to raise money to paint the interior of the church. We’ve also done other necessary repair work including the steeple and fixing the roof. Everything is being done to make it look absolutely at its best for December,” she says.
“Besides the preparation, we’re building up the enthusiasm,” she says.
One person who is adding to the growing momentum for the celebrations is the parish priest.
“In 175 years, well over 50,000 masses have been offered in St. Augustine’s parish church building. This anniversary is a spiritual time to reflect on the faith witness of the generations who have gone before us, the ongoing presence of Jesus Christ who draws us to the father and the challenge to live faithfully in the modern world,” says Father Frank Jay.
Doucette is well aware of this.
Her great-great-great-grandfather, Jean Doucet, was a spiritual pioneer worker in the community.
“From 1785 to 1790, there was no priest on the Island so he was granted permission to conduct baptisms and witness marriages throughout the Island,” says Doucette, adding that, over time, the spelling of the family name changed to what it is today.
So, for her, the anniversary is a personal celebration.
“I’m very grateful to our ancestors for having built such a wonderful place for us to worship,” she says.
AT A GLANCE
St. Augustine’s Roman Catholic Church fast facts
Construction on the church began in the fall of 1838, under the direction of Bishop Bernard MacDonald. The building is significant as the oldest parish church in the Diocese of Charlottetown.
It replaced two former churches, which had been built in 1795 and 1806.
The three tower bells were cast in London, England, and purchased during the tenure of Father Georges-Antoine Belcourt (1859-1869) who also founded the nearby Farmers’ Bank of Rustico in 1864.
An interior scene of the church was featured in a drawing by artist Robert Harris showing Acadian nuns at prayer.
Source: P.E.I. Heritage Advisory Committee Files, Historic Places