St. Alphonsus Church
COMMUNITY STAVES OFF CHURCH DEMOLITION BY DIOCESE
The survival of St. Alphonsus Church depends on the community’s fundraising abilities and a Diocese willing to support their efforts.
Why it matters
Described as one of Cape Breton’s most scenic churches, St. Alphonsus Roman Catholic Church sits high on a grassy hilltop overlooking the entrance to Sydney harbour. Since its construction in 1916, its twin spires have served as a landmark from both land and sea. The Atlantic Pilotage Authority of Sydney paid for the construction of one of the spires, and harbour pilots have been using the church for navigational bearings and guidance into the harbour ever since.
Known as “the Stone Church,” it was erected to replace a previous building lost to fire, and continues to stand watch over the graveyard where members of the parish, formed in 1853, are buried.
Why it’s endangered
The Diocese of Antigonish closed the church in 2007 when it was determined that structural repairs would cost more than $600,000. After seven more years of neglect, further decay is evident: a broken bell tower window is allowing water infiltration and access to pigeons, and pieces of the façades are falling onto the grass.
Last February, the Diocese put out a tender call for demolition, which also included St. Joseph’s Church in New Victoria and St. Agnes’ Church in New Waterford.
Where things stand
In March, the Diocese agreed to hold off on the demolition of St. Alphonsus to consider a last-minute proposal brought forward by the Stone Church Restoration Society. The community group would like to see the building restored and converted into a community/tourism facility. Their goal is to purchase the church, which has been valued at $43,000, and begin work to stabilize the building. An estimated $300,000 will need to be raised.
In May, Bishop Brian Dunn confirmed that a decree deconsecrating all three churches was in place. A second group, The Save St. Alphonsus Church in Victoria Mines Coalition, which wants to see the church reopen as a parish, has sent a letter of appeal.
Meanwhile, the Stone Church Restoration Society has organized public meetings, and social media and fundraising campaigns are under way. The Diocese agreed to delay its decision on the church’s future until the end of October to allow the Society more time to develop a business plan. The Cape Breton Regional Municipality recently agreed to accept donations of $500 or more on behalf of the Society while it awaits charitable status. As of June 2014, over $6,000 has been raised.
With purchasing and stabilization/restoration costs estimated at $300,000, much fundraising work still needs to be done.
Update 2015: In September 2015, the Diocese of Antigonish accepted the Stone Church Restoration Society’s offer to purchase the church for $40,000. As part of the agreement, the Stone Church Restoration Society will make a non-refundable deposit of $7,500. A second payment of $12,500 is due by January, followed by two more payments of $10,000 in 2016. The deed will be granted after the first $20,000 has been paid. To date, approximately $13,000 has been raised.
Location: Victoria Mines, NS
Top 10 Endangered Places List: 2014
Status: Positive outlook