SHESHEGWANING—A special decommissioning service was held for the long standing St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Sheshegwaning First Nation this past Sunday.
“As we join together today, on one hand this is a sad occasion as we are closing this church,” said Father Tony Baranowski at the decommissioning service, “but we are grateful to all the people that have been here throughout all the years and the many events that have taken place here.”
Father Baranowski introduced Bishop Marcel Damphousse to undertake the decommissioning of the church. He mentioned as well, “this is the first time we’ve had the bishop in the church or a bishop in Sheshegwaning.”
Christine Endanawas, secretary of the church, had rung the bell welcoming all the many people in attendance prior to the start of the service, and the opening hymn had been led by guitarist-singer Lawrence Megwanaee
Ms. Endanawas explained, “in the late 1890s the first Anglican church was built in the community (which had two steeples) and in 1912 it was remodeled and the two steeples were turned into one. Then in 1914 construction of a church made of cement was initiated. And in 1967 the Anglican church was abandoned.”
“In 1975 the first Catholic church was tore down, and in the same year Father Bordeau, along with carpenters and other members of the community, rebuilt this church (the former Anglican church),” said Ms. Endanawas.
In recent years the Sheshegwaning Band had the steeple on the church taken down, with concerns on the weight it put on the roof in the winter. Ms. Endanawas also noted that six years ago the church bell was put back up beside the church.
“We had permission from the chief and council (Sheshegwaning) to use the community complex to hold services which we have carried out since June 17, 2018,” continued Ms. Endanawas.
“We are hoping for a new building if we can get funding in place,” said Ms. Endanawas. The other option is use of space to be expanded to Sheshegwaning Community Complex. “Chief and council has already given approval for expansion to the complex, and we have asked for an enclosure—some space to be included for the church use.”
“I hope they can find a place for us in the building,” said Ms. Endanawas. “It would be nice to have space in the expanded community centre instead of having to fundraise for a new building.”
“This church building has been a nice place for us, and we’ve had it for quite a while now,” said Ms. Endanawas, noting that the present building is being closed because of mould and leaks.
“This is not really a joyous occasion as we come together today,” said Bishop Damphousse. “It is very important to understand that we are closing a building, not your parish community. This building had been unsafe for use by members of the community.”
However, “you still need to continue to come together for the Father to provide services and your spiritual needs continue to be met,” said Bishop Damphousse. “There have been many generations of people who have gathered here for services—blessings, births, weddings and deaths over the years.”
“Wherever you gather in the future, you will have the spirit and grace of God with you,” continued Bishop Damphousse. “I’m grateful for Father Tony for conducting the services for years here and I hope he will continue for many, many more years.”
“In closing, the church has a ritual that we do for thanksgiving, and as we leave a place of worship we thank God for all the blessings and praise you for your life and faith,” said Bishop Damphousse, blessing those items in the church such as the crosses on the wall, and other items within the church and all those who have had first communion, been part of weddings, funerals and other services and events at the church as well as the clergy that have served at this table. He concluded the service with a final blessing.
“I would like to thank the bishop for attending this service here today,” said Father Baranowski. “And to all those people who are here from parishes around the Island, M’Chigeeng, Gore Bay, Meldrum Bay, Silver Water, Birch Island.”
Bishop Damphousse indicated he would return for the opening of the new church building in the community.
For the past few months the congregation has been holding church services the first and third Sunday of every month in the community centre.