Fort Simpson Receiving a New Church

After a long and arduous journey, Sacred Heart Church in Fort Simpson, N.W.T., is rising again.

By Andrew Ehrkamp, Catholic Register Special

 The old church, nearly 90 years old and beyond repair, was demolished five years ago.

A new $1.3-million church will open its doors next month — thanks to support from the Archdiocese of Edmonton and the Diocese of Hamilton, as well as donations from the local community, private donors and Catholic Missions In Canada.

The new church will open Sept. 17, the 30th anniversary of the papal visit of St. John Paul II to Fort Simpson. The village is located about 500 kilometres west of Yellowknife.

“There’s a lot of excitement for a lot of reasons,” said Bishop Mark Hagemoen of the Diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith. “Getting a church back on the site is really important to the community.”

Sacred Heart Church is the focal point of Fort Simpson, a community of 1,200 that is the regional centre for the Dehcho region and its largely Dene communities.

“The church is really the centre of the community,” said Fr. Joe Daley, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish. “I’ve had some comments such as ‘The church is really coming along good’ and ‘We’re excited.’

“It’s a very good feeling.”

Parishioners have been attending Mass in a school gym since 2012, when the old church — built in 1923 — was demolished.

“Many in the parish community were worried that the church would collapse on them,” Daley said.

Daley said “the parish never had much money” but did manage to raise $300,000 “which is a lot for this community.”

“Bishop Hagemoen really picked it up,” Daley said. “He immediately encouraged everyone. This is happening largely because of him.”

The Diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith approached the Archdiocese of Edmonton and the Diocese of Hamilton, and both were eager to help.

“We’re excited to help in such a concrete way,” said Connie Lunde, director of development for the Archdiocese of Edmonton. “For the people of the North, this is more than just a building.”

Hagemoen said any major construction project in the North has its own challenges, including additional costs, distance and terrain.

The new Sacred Heart Church will include an apartment for the parish priest and another that will be rented to generate income. The parish is still trying to figure out what will happen to the steeple which was saved from the old church building. The plan is to have it placed on a concrete base.

“People were concerned because the steeple is a significant part of the church,” Daley said. “It’s a very good blend of the past and the future.”

Hagemoen said it’s “unexpected, and providential” that the new church will open on the anniversary of the papal visit. Recently Fort Simpson residents erected a teepee mega-structure made of cedar logs above the site where St. John Paul II celebrated Mass in 1987.

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