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Rollo Bay Catholic church closing

Rev. Jim Willick stands outside of St. Alexis' Church in Rollo Bay, which is closing on Aug. 9, 2015.
Rev. Jim Willick stands outside of St. Alexis' Church in Rollo Bay, which is closing on Aug. 9, 2015.

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SOURIS - He was the defender of the poor and the downtrodden, but a church named in his honour will soon cease to be.

Another stunning example of Island church architecture is leaving the fold and the bishop will hold a special mass Sunday at the de-consecration at St. Alexis' Church in Rollo Bay.

The roadside place of worship, with its beautiful windows and wooden spire, will no longer be a church due to declining attendance and weakening finances.

"It has lovely acoustics and it's a beautiful building, but all the parishioners of the five parishes I serve voted to close this one down,'' said Father Jim Willick. "It's really been a subject of closure for the past 10 years because there are so many other churches in close proximity."

The William Critchlow Harris-inspired church has only operated in the summer months for the past few years after the furnace conked out and the repair bill tallied up to $75,000.

Winter closures led to further deterioration of the building bringing on the appearance of mold and a leaky roof, which prompted a plebiscite seeking opinions.

"The majority said close it down and parishioners could attend other area churches,'' said Willick, noting St. Mary's in Souris is a five-minute drive. "It's just a case of less people and less attending."

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE ABOUT THE CHURCH'S HISTORY

The priest, who handles five parishes, estimated only 40 per cent of Catholics engage in regular church visits, and St. Alexis usually saw about 80 to 100 per Sunday. The church, built in the 1930s, seats about 400.

Parishioners were given four choices: tear it down; put it up for sale; transfer ownership to a community organization or watch it fall down.

"Actually we do have some interest from a group that would like to turn it into something like Indian River and provide music and events," said Willick. "So we can explore that interest and wait for more information or get a demolition estimate."

Repairs are in the $250,000 range, but parishioner Judy Chaisson, wife of the late musician Lemmie Chaisson, is hopeful something good will come.

"It's too beautiful to tear down, and many parishioners would like to see it as a museum or cultural centre someday,'' she said. "There are just too many warm memories."

Ironically, the last funeral held at St. Alexis was for celebrated fiddler and Rollo Bay Fiddle Festival promoter Peter Chaisson just a few weeks ago.

"That day it was packed and while everyone was sad of course, it felt like this would be the last celebration at St. Alexis," said Willick.

SOURIS - He was the defender of the poor and the downtrodden, but a church named in his honour will soon cease to be.

Another stunning example of Island church architecture is leaving the fold and the bishop will hold a special mass Sunday at the de-consecration at St. Alexis' Church in Rollo Bay.

The roadside place of worship, with its beautiful windows and wooden spire, will no longer be a church due to declining attendance and weakening finances.

"It has lovely acoustics and it's a beautiful building, but all the parishioners of the five parishes I serve voted to close this one down,'' said Father Jim Willick. "It's really been a subject of closure for the past 10 years because there are so many other churches in close proximity."

The William Critchlow Harris-inspired church has only operated in the summer months for the past few years after the furnace conked out and the repair bill tallied up to $75,000.

Winter closures led to further deterioration of the building bringing on the appearance of mold and a leaky roof, which prompted a plebiscite seeking opinions.

"The majority said close it down and parishioners could attend other area churches,'' said Willick, noting St. Mary's in Souris is a five-minute drive. "It's just a case of less people and less attending."

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE ABOUT THE CHURCH'S HISTORY

The priest, who handles five parishes, estimated only 40 per cent of Catholics engage in regular church visits, and St. Alexis usually saw about 80 to 100 per Sunday. The church, built in the 1930s, seats about 400.

Parishioners were given four choices: tear it down; put it up for sale; transfer ownership to a community organization or watch it fall down.

"Actually we do have some interest from a group that would like to turn it into something like Indian River and provide music and events," said Willick. "So we can explore that interest and wait for more information or get a demolition estimate."

Repairs are in the $250,000 range, but parishioner Judy Chaisson, wife of the late musician Lemmie Chaisson, is hopeful something good will come.

"It's too beautiful to tear down, and many parishioners would like to see it as a museum or cultural centre someday,'' she said. "There are just too many warm memories."

Ironically, the last funeral held at St. Alexis was for celebrated fiddler and Rollo Bay Fiddle Festival promoter Peter Chaisson just a few weeks ago.

"That day it was packed and while everyone was sad of course, it felt like this would be the last celebration at St. Alexis," said Willick.

In just a few more years, the Rollo Bay church bell will celebrate a 300th birthday. The bell was discovered when a farmer in St. Peter’s was plowing his field in 1870 and something went “thud”.

Historian and parishioner Judy Chaisson, who has written a children’s book about it, says the bell was discovered by the farmer after being buried in the ground during the Acadian deportations of 1758.

The 292-year-old bell was given to St. Alexis parish and is a symbol of Acadian culture.

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