St. Alphonsus Liguori Roman Catholic Church in Callander has been an integral part of the community for the past 125 years, serving the people since December 10, 1893.
This Sunday, December 9th, the parish will wrap up its 125th-anniversary celebrations with a 5 p.m. mass celebrated by Bishop Marcel Damphousse.
“The History of a Diocese in Northern Ontario” gives a brief overview of some of the people and events connected to the church in the early years, including a devastating wind storm which happened on Good Friday, 1913, strong enough to demolish the building.
The church was rebuilt in time to celebrate Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, that same year.
Over its lengthy history, an addition has been built, the interior of the church has undergone significant renovations, and the size of the congregation has fluctuated.
As a parishioner for the past 45 years, Maureen Carriere has witnessed some of those changes.
“For the longest while, we had a senior population. In the early ’90s you looked out and everybody had grey hair but now we have a vibrant congregation,” said Carriere.
“We have really upbeat music which is awesome, and we have lots of families with little children. I think more people are reconnecting with their faith, so there is real hope for the church.”
There was a time when parishioners struggled without a permanent priest.
“We had the Deacons and Diocesan Order of Women doing communion services, and the priests would get here whenever they could.”
There is a feeling of belonging that keeps Carriere coming back.
“It is home. It really is. People here are warm, generous, and life-giving.”
Father Daniele Muscolino took over as pastor to both St. Alphonsus and Holy Name of Jesus parishes back in August.
He says there is a real sense of family and community about the church.
“More so than I think any other parish in our area because people take pride in this building because they live in the community, they’ve grown up in the community. They take pride in the Catholic church which when I first came here was really inspiring to me,” said Muscolino.
“You walk in and the place is sparkling, and it has that holy sense to it. They keep the place full during the week and on weekends with prayer. It has that small-town church feel. They just come and take care of their own church, and that is why it looks like it does today.”
The first event was a recent open-house, where the doors were opened in the hope of getting people to pop by and discover what lies beyond the brick and mortar.
“We hope to make people feel like this is someplace they would like to be. This is such a beautiful little spot that we have now. I have pictures of weddings over the years, and to see the changes to the sanctuary over the years is incredible. And we want people to see this as a welcoming place to come,” said parishioner Heather Busch.
The highlight for her has been gathering more bits of history for the archives.
“I just love hearing stories and seeing pictures. I have a photo of a wedding, a marriage certificate from 1934 that was given to me at the open house from a woman whose parents were married here. I just love gathering information.”
Mignonne Del Guidice has been a parishioner since 1978.
“It is just friendly and warm. In fact, I have lived in North Bay for the last seven years, and we still come back to this parish. It is a beautiful atmosphere,” said Del Guidice.
“I think it is wonderful that we are celebrating 125 years. All our children came here when they were young. They were confirmed at this church, and my grandchildren were baptized from this church. And we had one daughter that was married from this church as well.”
A sign of the times, the church now has a website and Facebook page.