A 20 year building vision – that’s what they had.
Sometime around 1905 someone among the parishioners at Sacred Heart Parish in Lebret, Saskatchewan, had an idea to build a stone church. They had a wooden chapel already, but they felt something more enduring was needed. (Their instincts were good – the historic wooden chapel was burned by the Ku Klux Klan.)
My great-grandfather, Napoleon Pilon, was a part of that church. He was a farmer in the region, one of many staunch Roman Catholic believers there. The farmers were an integral part of the vision because for the next twenty years, from 1905 to 1925, they brought field stones from their farms to the building site.
For twenty years that pile of stone grew higher and heavier. Finally, in 1925, the priest of the time, Father Le Coq, looked at it, looked at the men, and said, “Its time.” And they began to build.
With the foundation being laid for twenty years, it took only an extra two to actually erect the building there today – inside dome 38 feet high; ground level to the top of the cross 122 feet high; 145 feet long by 55 to 70 feet wide.
The building is imposing, and the inside is still beautiful and preserved pretty much in its original state – complete with Tyndall stone, from our old neighbourhood in Manitoba. (An architect has said it would cost something in the neighbourhood of $40,000,000 to build the church today.)
When I think of it I am impressed by the foresight of the men – and women too, no doubt – who conceived the idea and worked to bring it to fruition during those twenty years of toiling on the soil, digging those big stones out of the ground, hauling them who knows how far. My great-grandfather among them, they were not deterred by the passing of time, or the seeming lack of progress, or the worshiping in a place that wasn’t yet their spiritual home.
I learned all of this from our visit to Balcarres, when we took a small detour to Lebret so I could check out the cemetery where some of my family are buried (including Great-Grandpa, and Thomas Kavanagh, the first white homesteader and grain farmer in Saskatchewan, and a great-something uncle of mine). The church was closed when we arrived (they had celebrated mass earlier in the day), but there was a sign that told us to call “Bruno” if we wanted a tour.
Bruno turned out to be a marvelous tour guide and raconteur, and we enjoyed listening to him tell the story of the Qu’Appelle Valley, the town of Lebret, and the church. My favorite part was when he was relating the story of the building of the church, and Bruno quoted the words uttered by the priest, “Men – its time.”
A call to arms, a call to worship, a call to work. In the fullness of time. Twenty years in the making.