1911 - First Mass celebrated – Cook house of the Construction Company 1912 – St. Joseph’s Church began 1940 – Blessing of “Our Lady of the Angels” – Church in Westview 1952 – Land purchased on Popular Street 1956 – Letter received for permission to build church at Wildwood – to be called St. Gerard’s. Permission received to borrow $7500.00 Lot purchased for $1700.00 Church Blessed in 1957. 1959 – Correspondence between Archbishop Duke & Father Collins in regards to purchasing property and convent. Campaign to fund raise 1960 – Archbishop Johnson approves contract for building church - 1960 – Permission to obtain services of Sisters for teaching in the school 1961 – Assumption School opens 1961 – Total borrowings of parish $233,700.00
Between 1962 – 1974 – debt was paid down – Parish debt was paid in 1974.
Other key Activities with regards to building and repairs
1979 – Permission granted for repairs to Westview Church & School 1980 -1985 – Closing of St. Joseph’s Church 1977-1981 – Building of new Rectory 1982-1984 – Addition to Assumption school & Purchase of School bus
THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH OF ASSUMPTION
If all beginnings are hard, it is equally hard to describe the arduous and humble lives of early settlers in Powell River. Those good people had not only great courage and physical strength, but also a deep sense of their religious obligation.
But where did we gather to worship? Certainly not in any modern church, for we must not forget it was not unusual to see early settlers living in tents. So where did they worship? The mess hall with its usual clatter and clang of dishes often became a room of prayer and silence when Father McCullough called to say Mass.
By the year 1911, many humble homes were being built, and it was about this time that the Powell River Company built the first Catholic Church in the vicinity of where the old St. Joseph’s Church stands in the Townsite. It was a humble house of God but many came to worship.
Within a few years the number of Catholics who came to Powell River increased, so Father Van Wetten started a new church building, which was to eventually be St. Joseph’s. It was finished under the direction of Reverend J.B. MacDonald in 1916. The next Parish Priest was the pleasant Father Corley, who was succeeded by Father Leo Hobson in 1935. It was during Father Hobson’s time that the Sisters of Charity from St. John, New Brunswick were invited to come and open a Kindergarten.
During this time, many new homes were being built in Westview. A new church was needed and there were many willing and able hands. Father Bourrie was Pastor and so in 1940 on Joyce Avenue, “Our Lady of Angels” was built. It was later to become the Salvation Army Citadel. It was shortly after this that World War II broke out and several Priests from the Archdiocese of Vancouver were called to serve as chaplains. During these years, two zealous Oblate Fathers, Father McCullough and Father MacDonald looked after the spiritual needs of the Parish.
In 1947, Father Joseph McInerney who had been chaplain in the army was appointed Pastor in Powell River. During the next 11 years, Father McInerney guided and watched over the parish as it grew tremendously. Another church, St. Gerard’s was built in Wildwood in 1957. The Church still stands and is used by the Parish today.
It is worthy to note that Father Victor Gallo, a young boy who had grown up in Powell River, was ordained in 1947 and said his first Mass in St. Joseph’s Church on June 2, 1947. Father Gallo eventually came to serve us in Powell River from 1970 – 1978.
In November 1958, Reverend John Collins arrived as Pastor. Father Collins was so amazed at the large number of children in Wildwood, Cranberry, Powell River, and Westview and the overcrowded conditions at Our Lady of Angels. He began to plan a school, gymnasium and new church to be located in Westview. The new church and school were completed in 1961.
In 1961, six Nuns arrived from Malta, from the order of The Sisters of the Missionary of Jesus of Nazareth. They came across the ocean to teach in our new Catholic School. Two are still with us here in Powell River and help within the Parish Community.
It was at this same time that the Parish, which was originally named St. Joseph’s, was changed to the present, Church of the Assumption.
Other Pastors who shaped our Parish were Father Joseph O’Grady from 1967 – 1970 and Father Arthur Dickenson from 1978 – 1995. Father Dickenson, who was our Pastor for 17 years and to date was the longest serving Pastor for our Parish, saw many changes. He was seen often donned in work clothes and would labour alongside his parishioners at the many projects around the Parish. He was also known to encourage a deep and personal prayer and spiritual life that he himself practiced. He was instrumental in the building of St. Joseph’s Academy but due to his sudden death was unable to see the fruit of his labor.
Father Bruce-John Hamilton served in Powell River, first as an assistant with Father Dickenson from 1987-1990 and then as Pastor from 1995 to 2010. Father Hamilton was a part of many renovations and spiritual additions to our Parish along with being instrumental in the building of our new Parish Hall. Seeing the pews refinished and the sanctuary renovated were priorities for Father when he arrived back in Powell River. Parish groups such as the Charismatic prayer group and Youth Ministry were successful groups under his leadership. During the Great Jubilee Year, a bell was installed into the steeple of Assumption Church - a project Father Hamilton saw as a project to give both beauty and history to our parish. More recently Father Hamilton became immersed in the building of our Parish Centre: something that was a Parish dream for many years. With its completion and blessing in January 2008, now many Parish groups and parishioners enjoy the privilege of using the Parish Hall for meetings, funeral receptions, weddings, fundraising events, school programs and many other activities.
Many families have been a part of our Parish community, which has now grown to over 500 families active in long time events such as the Christmas bazaar, Bingo, and Parish Missions. Groups like the CWL and Knights of Columbus are an integral part of parish life and of course our Catholic school continues to be a vibrant centre for learning to be a true witness of Christ.
We continue to be a strong community of faith and when future generations pause to look back upon the first beginnings, may they be able to praise God for His blessings and His generous outpouring of Divine Grace upon us in these initial endeavors and for all those clergy who helped to build our Parish.
MISSIONS OF CHURCH OF THE ASSUMPTION
First Nations People of Sliammon, Sacred Heart Church
In 1875, the Oblate Missionary (Father Chaleuse) made the first visit to Sliammon. In approximately 1880, the people left Sliammon for Squirrel Cove. At that time, another group started a reserve at Old Church House on Sonora Island. The Priest (Father Chaleuse or his successor) supervised the building of the Church at Old Church House.
A few years later a great wind struck the reserve, wiping out the houses and the church. The Reserve was moved directly across the water to Church House, where a small, sheltered harbour protected the boats. Although the terrain was rather steep, this is where the houses were built. The Church was completed in 1915 while Father Francis De Coccola was in Powell River and the Church was closed in 1979.
After the great wind destroyed the settlement at Old Church House, some families moved back to the present Sliammon and a Church was built. This Church was destroyed by fire on Easter Sunday, 1918. All that remained of the Catholic Church at Sliammon after the disastrous fire was the statue of the Sacred Heart. It was rebuilt shortly after and remains there to this day.
A Little History About The Missionary Sisters of Jesus Of Nazareth
The Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of Jesus of Nazareth was founded in Malta, Europe in 1931, by Miss Guseppina Curmi. The aim of the Congregation is to work with children, young girls, the old and the sick, and also to help in the mission lands.
The Congregation in Malta has a home for the elderly, a hostel for troubled young girls and three daycare centres to help single mothers while they work.
In 1961 Father Collins, the pastor of Powell River, had just finished building Assumption School, but he could not find Sisters to staff the school. On Sundays he would ask his congregation to pray to Our Lady so that he could find Sisters.
A Maltese gentleman, Mr. Joe Formosa, told Father Collins to write to the Archbishop of Malta, who then passed the letter to Bishop Galea, who was the director of the congregation of the Missionary Sisters of Jesus of Nazareth, who then sent it to Superior General, who in turn accepted the request and so prepared to send the Sisters to Powell River.
After a long and tiresome trip the Missionary Sisters of Jesus of Nazareth arrived in Canada on October 7th 1961. On October 9th was Thanksgiving Day and the sisters were treated with a Thanksgiving Dinner prepared by the C.W.L. Ladies.
On October 10th the first six sisters started teaching at the newly built Assumption School. The school consisted of seven classes, from Grade One to Grade Seven. The first year there were 240 students in the school 48 of which were in Grade One in Sister Agostina’s classroom. In the coming years the number of students kept on increasing. The second year Grade One had 54 students. By the third year there were over 300 students in the school. The sisters worked in the school for the minimum salary of $50.00 each per month.
For the first few years there were no supplies or any kind of equipment at the school, except for text books, a spirit duplicating machine, a film projector and an enlarging machine which is still in use to this day at the school. To put stickers on the student work the sisters would cut small pictures from old Christmas cards or used Christmas wrapping papers.
Every morning when the bell rang for the students to enter the school, the children would walk down the hallway to their classrooms singing a hymn to Our Lady, ( Hail Holy Queen the Ocean Star) led by Father John Collins on the P.A.system.
Sister Petronilla worked tirelessly to improve the school. She would go to Vancouver whenever she could to visit other schools and see what was needed for the benefit of the students and then find a way to get the funds to buy it. It took a lot of hard work and many sacrifices on the part of the sisters to make the school what it is today.
At the present time we are two sisters, retired from the teaching profession, teaching C.C.D. and doing parish work.