‘A big part of us’: Beloved St. Bernard Church set to be deconsecrated

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Louise LeBlanc grew up in the small community of St. Bernard, Nova Scotia, and remembers how the grand Gothic church was the pride of the Acadian community and central to many milestones in her family.

“My sisters and brothers got married in church,” she said. “My little brothers and sisters were baptized in this church. It was really part of us.”

With a dwindling population, declining attendance and a building in need of extensive repairs, those community traditions will come to an end on Sunday when the historic church is deconsecrated.

The purpose of the desecration is to make the building unusable as a church or for secular use.

LeBlanc said she expects a flood of memories on Sunday.

“I’m definitely going to look at where our pew was in the church and where my whole family sat thinking, you know, it’s the passage of time,” she said.

Louise LeBlanc grew up around the church and says it was an important part of her family’s life. (Denise LeBlanc)

“I think for us, as Acadians, we don’t want to see the church go, but we’re also very realistic and understand that there’s no way a community of our size can make it work. the church.”

The idea for the church was conceived by local Edouard LeBlanc, who became parish priest in 1907.

The top of the Gothic ceiling culminates at 21.5 meters above the ground. (Vernon Ramesar/CBC)

According to Louise LeBlanc, the parish priest had the “grand” idea of ​​building a church that resembles European churches and that has the community behind it.

The foundation stone for the structure was laid in 1910 and the community spent the next 32 years completing it.

A church booklet says over 8,000 blocks of granite were hauled by oxen from Shelburne to the site over 20 years and cut with hand tools.

The imposing building is 65 meters long, 28 meters wide at the transept, and the top of the Gothic ceiling rises 21.5 meters above the ground.

The imposing structure was completed in 1942 after 32 years of work by members of the Acadian community. (Vernon Ramesar/CBC)

Despite the building’s ancient appearance, the walls are supported by steel beams and what appears to be a stone ceiling is actually plaster over wire mesh.

“I guess there’s such a sense of pride in this church…because people built it,” LeBlanc said.

“My grandfathers who were fishermen, who were farmers and stuff, they actually came and did the masonry work and, and the hard blood and sweat and tears to build this church.”

At its height, LeBlanc said there were two weekend masses with over a thousand people in attendance for each. By the time COVID-19 hit, she said about 35 people attended the weekend mass.

In the years immediately before the pandemic, masses were held in the basement because it became too expensive to heat the entire building, LeBlanc said.

She told CBC Radio Information morning Friday that the small congregation simply could not afford the heating and repairs needed to keep the church running.

Today, there are areas where the plaster covering the battens that make up the roof crumbles when water seeps into the structure.

Water seeps into the roof and damages the plaster ceiling. (Vernon Ramesar/CBC)

LeBlanc said it would cost millions to restore the church to its original glory, and the decision was made after consultation with the Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth.

Describing the church as a “centrepiece of the community”, the Reverend Robert Doyle, Deacon of the Archdiocese of Halifax, said it was a sad day and the desecration of the church was not a easy decision.

Doyle said there would be a liturgy that locals could attend. In the end, people will leave and the doors will close.

“Any religious items that can be removed will be removed,” Doyle said.

Acadian flags were prominently displayed inside the church. (Vernon Ramesar/CBC)

“The altar itself would not necessarily be removed during the liturgy, but shortly afterwards it would be removed from the church or destroyed. If it is a fixed element, it will be destroyed so that it can no longer be used.”

He said sacred objects like statues will be removed.

LeBlanc accepts the fate of the church.

You cannot consider the church as the religion,” she said. “The church is a building. Just bring your religion to this church.

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