EMAIL mj.morris@live.ca


Friday, December 18, 2009

Sacred Heart parish celebrates 90th anniversary in present church on Christmas Eve, while "Joyeux Noel" and "Merry Christmas" rang out on Chapleau streets

When members of Chapleau's Roman Catholic community attend midnight mass on Christmas Eve this year, they will be celebrating the 90th anniversary of the present Sacred Heart Church. The mass in 1919 was celebrated by Father Romeo Gascon.

According to an article by Father Albert Burns SJ, a Chapleau native who was an altar boy at the December 24, 1919 Midnight Mass, the first church was built in 1885, on the site of what is today Collins Hardware. This church had become too small, and a larger one was built in 1891 with its final touch in 1898 on the site of the present church. Unfortunately it was destroyed by fire on December 18, 1918 just before Christmas. The new church was built by Mgr Roméo Gascon, Pastor at that time. The first Mass was Midnight Mass December 24, 1919.

Father Burns added, quoting from a book by Gemma Gagnon that the Jesuit Fathers on October 19th 1911, transferred the parish to a zealous priest, who had been two years pastor of Cochrane, Father Roméo Gascon. Later made Mgr Gascon, he was pastor 47 years in Chapleau. He died on January 25th 1958.

À mes nombreux amis catholiques habitant et originaires de Chapleau, je désire transmettre mes plus sincères félicitations à l'occasion du 90e anniversaire de l'église actuelle de la Paroisse Sacré-Coeur. Pendant ma jeunesse j'ai eu l'honneur d'assister à la Messe de Minuit en votre église avec mon bon ami Louis Fortin et sa famille. Je me souviens d'une année où je faisais la navette entre votre église et celle de l'église anglicane St. John's pour pouvoir assister aux deux célébrations. À l'époque la messe était célébrée en latin et je me rappelle comme si c'était hier de la chorale qui chantait l'Adeste Fideles (O Come all Ye Faithful.) Tout au long de ces 90 années, vous êtes restés fidèles à la mission de votre église et à la communauté dans son ensemble. Je me compte plus riche du fait d'avoir connu plusieurs d'entre vous. Merci.

To my many Roman Catholic friends in and from Chapleau, I extend my most sincere congratulations to you on the 90th anniversary of the present Sacred Heart Church. As a young person in Chapleau I was privileged to attend Midnight Mass at Christmas in your church with my good friend Louis Fortin and members of his family. One year I ran between your church and St. John's Anglican Church to attend both services. The Mass was celebrated in Latin at that time, and I still vividly recall the choir singing Adestes Fideles (O Come all Ye Faithful.) For 90 years, you have been faithful to the work of your present church and the wider community. My life was made better from knowing so many of you. Thank you.

My aunt, Marion (Morris) Kennedy who died in 2007 once sent me a piece of writing she had done which captured Christmas at St. John's Anglican Church. when she was a child growing up in Chapleau. Aunt Marion wrote in part: "The bellows were worked by boys given the honour in a cupboard below the organ. There was many a tale of the organist wildly pumping the footpedals and calling for air. The boys carved or wrote their initials on the walls - one set belonging to the brother of the narrator (my father James E. Morris), and in times of refurbishing the church the initials were always left as is.

"At one of the Christmas services, a young girl sat with her mother (my grandmother, Lil (Mulligan) Morris), third pew from the chancel steps and below the pulpit, watching through her fingers, the parishioners partaking the Holy Communion Rite. So many came forward and at the end of the procession one native gentleman came slowly up the aisle on moccasined feet -- one could feel the pain,

"He was helped up the chancel steps by a choir member to the waiting respectful minister holding chalice and bread. The repast over. the gentleman made his way slowly back to his pew. The choir and congregation in awe, joined in humble reunion. As the church members exited, Christmas greetings were exchanged quietly. Everyone was moved by the devotion and faith of the native gentleman who had walked a long distance to attend." Aunt Marion added that she recalled this particular service every Christmas thereafter no matter where she was living.

I recall Christmas Eve in Chapleau so well as citizens of all denominations would meet and greet each other as they went to and from their respective churches. It was usually a bitterly cold clear night with the temperature at times reaching minus 50 below, the smoke from chimneys going straight up to the heavens, lots and lots of snow, and everyone bundled up in their Christmas finery. But people greeted each and the sounds of "Merry Christmas" and "Joyeux Noel" could be heard from all sections of the town as people took time from their other festivities to attend church.

Vince Crichton shared his memory of a Christmas Eve celebration he attended after attending St. John's midnight service. Vince recalled many of us attending "Reveillon" at the Aberdeen Street home of Mr. and Mrs. Willy Fortin, invited there by Louis, their eldest son. Vince doesn't remember all those who attended and neither do I, but he noted: "I know this much there were folks there from the Anglican Church, the United and the Roman Catholic – what was so great was that even though we were from different denominations, we were all friends." Indeed we were Vince and we still are about 50 years later. (Wow, I had to pause for a moment and do the math on that one. Imagine 50 years have gone by.)Muriele Fortin, one of Louis Fortin's sisters was in touch with me by email and shared her memories of Reveillon and visits by her grandfather who would come to Chapleau for Christmas from his home in Dorion, Quebec.

She wrote: "Reveillon was the label attached to the feast which took place after midnight mass. In true French Canadian custom Mom would have cretons, tourtieres, shortbread, Christmas cake and plenty other goodies on which we would gorge after mass. This was usually followed by the opening of the gifts. My favorite memories were of my grandpa's Christmas visit from Dorion Quebec. He traveled by train (he had a 50 year gold pass) to spend the holidays with us. As crowded as our house was with eight children we would convert the main floor den into a temporary bedroom for him. When the smell of his cigar permeated the house, we knew papere Sauve was with us. His bag of goodies included many sweets for us kids. However, it was later in life that I discovered he also 'imported' goods that attracted my Dad's brothers and other cronies to the house in great numbers. It seems Papere's 98% proof Alcool was the main attraction.

"Christmas was a time of feasting on many traditional French Canadian goodies and my mother was a super cook. Our home was popular with our friends just to get a whiff of the fresh baked goods that permeated our busy home."

Indeed your mother was a "super cook" and I so much enjoyed becoming part of your family for Reveillon and on so many other occasions throughout the year. . Attending Reveillon was one of those great examples of the things that bring us together are much more lasting than those which divide us.

Larry "Ton" Comte also shared some of his Christmas holiday memories. "A lot of memories come out of the days in Chapleau. One of my family memories was that at our house we always had Christmas Dinner with our grandparents (Mr. and Mrs. Alf Comte) who lived next door to us. After dinner we always had friends that came and visited as well as we would make the rounds and visit our relatives, our friends at their homes. I would end up with you guys, or at Joey Steen's, or at Shmo's or at Norman Wright's. We always hung around as a gang. "

Ton also recalled New Year' activities. "New Year's was always special at our grandparents. After New Year's dinner friends would come over and we would have entertainment. My grandfather (Alf) on the violin, Mr. (Herb) Lucas on the mouth organ, my aunt Julie on the piano. Louis Nunner and Joe Serre (who my dad taught guitar) would pop in. It was a great evening."

James Thibault shared memories of New Year's. " I remember my parents handing over the house (53 Devonshire) to my brothers (Rick & Ron) and I for an Annual New Year's Eve Party. My mother would help us select and prepare a menu for the evening and then leave us so that they could attend their own celebrations This was a tradition from 1972 to 1980. We kept a guest book at the door for each Party and the last year that it was held at our House there were 136 signatures. The following year we moved it to the Recreation Centre because it got just too large for the house. "

Thanks so much to all who took the time to share some of their memories of Christmas and New Year's in Chapleau from years gone by but not forgotten. To all readers, my very best wishes for Christmas and 2010 as we start the second decade of the 21st century. God bless.

This article appears in the December 19, 2001 edition of the Chapleau Express as my Chapleau Moments column. Thanks to Helene Pineau for doing the translation into French.

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Michael J Morris

Michael J Morris
MJ with Buckwheat (1989-2009) Photo by Leo Ouimet


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