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St. Jean Baptiste Church rebuild starts next May in Morinville

Final plans include salvaged cross, shortened steeple

St. Jean Baptiste Church will begin its resurrection in Morinville this coming May, town residents learned last week.

Dozens of Morinville-area residents were at St. Kateri Tekakwitha Academy in Morinville Nov. 30 for an open house on efforts to rebuild St. Jean Baptiste Church. The event featured illustrations of the proposed replacement church.

The original St. Jean Baptiste Church stood at the heart of Morinville for 114 years before it was destroyed by a fire in June 2021.

Church building committee chair Ron Cust said parishioners have spent the last two years raising funds and making plans for a replacement church. So far, the parish has raised some $375,000 to buy bells, pews, and other accessories, and lined up about $6.2 million in insurance money to cover construction.

“We’re not borrowing any money,” Cust said, and have designed the building so that it is affordable and will not require debt.

Smaller, modern

Cust said the committee surveyed 392 parishioners about what they wanted to see in the new building. The committee went through 15 drafts before settling on a final design, the plans for which Cust received Nov. 30.

“We’re ready to go to tender in the new year,” he said.

Like the original, the replacement church will have outside walls covered with red brick and white accents and grey metal (likely aluminum) roofing, with a tall bell tower and steeple over the front door.

Unlike the original, Cust said the new church will be level with the ground for wheelchair access. The building will also be 14 m further back from the street in order to comply with fire codes. A landscaped plaza will go in this 14 m space.

The church’s steeple will not be directly attached to the main building in order to prevent vibrational damage from the bells, Cust said. It will also be about 23 m high, compared to the original’s 31.

Cust said the church’s original bells were too damaged by the fire to stay in service, and will instead be used as a memorial to the old church. The steeple will instead sport century-old bells from a church in Quebec.

The new church consists of the church area plus an attached wing containing the meeting room, washrooms, and mechanical systems, Cust said.

The church area will be cross-shaped and have room for 292 people, down from the original’s 600. The choir and chapel will occupy two side areas at the back and flank the altar and stage area. High on the back wall in a stained glass window will be a cross built with timbers salvaged from the old church and built by parishioner Dan Blackburn and his grandson, both of whom are descendants of the people who cut those timbers more than a century ago.

Cust said the parish had hoped to import a replacement for the church’s 12-stop Casavant organ from Regina, but found it to be unaffordable. (There was also just one person in the parish who could actually play such an organ.) They’ve went with a more conventional organ in the choir area instead.

Cust said the parish hopes to hire artists to reproduce the murals that once graced the church’s interior and to import replacement stations of the cross from a different church in Quebec. They also hope to someday add an $1.1 million welcome hall to connect the church and meeting room areas and raise the church’s capacity to about 540.

Opens December 2025

Cust said the parish hopes to start construction on May 21, 2024, and to officially open the new building by Dec. 25, 2025.

While she said she will likely be shocked by the differences when she walks into the new church for the first time, Morinville resident Denise Touchette said she approved of its design.

“It would be nice to have the hall right away too, but we have to deal with reality.”

Morinville resident Gilbert Boddez said he was excited by the prospect of holding services in a church instead of a gym.

“It’s time we had a church.”

Questions on the church rebuild should go to Cust at 587-783-5134.

Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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