Terrace church has a rich history

Local Catholic parish Sacred Heart celebrates 100 years strong

  • Sun Jun 7th, 2015 2:00pm
  • News

The First Sacred Heart church in Terrace

Sacred Heart Parish is celebrating its 100th year by acknowledging the interesting history that made the church what it is today.

The roots of the church can be traced all the way back to the Klondike gold rush which drew two particular people to the region – Olier Besner and Madame Artaud  – who individually sought their fame and fortune.

But it wasn’t the Yukon where the couple met. Instead it was Prince Rupert and that’s where they were married in 1908 and where they were prominent within the Catholic community.

Before the marriage, Artaud had built the Old Knox Hotel and the New Knox Hotel, the latter notable landmark that visitors saw when they arrived by steamer.

In 1915, she bought property in Terrace and later donated it for the first Catholic church on Lakelse Ave. where the modern day Skeena Mall is located.

The name Sacred Heart came at the request of the Ladies Auxiliary of Extension of Toronto, who had sent $500 towards the cost of the church, vestments, linen, and an altar.

In 1923 under direction of Father Allard of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) the bell tower was erected. The parish grew quickly and in 1930, Besner donated five more acres of land.  In 1936, Father Champagne built a small school next door. It was later converted to a rectory in 1940 by Father Fabre. A 40-foot extension was built onto the church in 1951-52 by the Knights of Columbus with Grand Knight Henry Fortin directing the work.

Father Mohan directed the opening of an eight-room school in the fall of 1959 and he named the school Veritas, the Latin word for truth.

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto arrived and took charge of the new school that same year and a convent was built in 1960. For many years, the sisters staffed the school along with the Frontier Apostles, who had come to northern B.C. from all over the world to build and staff Catholic schools.

The sisters left the diocese in 1988. The Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) were here from 1917 to 1994.

Sacred Heart Parish expanded as the population grew and the downtown changed. In 1972, the church property was sold and part of the school and the convent were relocated from Lakelse Ave. to the church property on a large piece of land on Straume Ave.

A group was interested in moving the old church and preserving it, but since it was built in several different sections, it would have been extremely difficult to move and so a new church was built. Portions of the new church have since been renovated.

Sacred Heart Parish will mark its centenary this Friday, June 12, with a thanksgiving mass. It’ll be followed by a reception and a farewell for Father Terry Brock who is leaving. A barbecue and fair will be held Sunday 12:30 at the church.

High enrollment at school

Veritas Catholic School was started by the Sacred Heart Parish in 1959.

It was originally an eight-classroom building located beside the church in the place where the Skeena Mall now resides.

In 1973, the school buildings were moved to their present-day location on Straume and the gymnasium and office building were added.

In its early days, the school hosted kindergarten to Grade 12 for catholic children in Terrace, but in the 1980s – a time when many Catholic families in Terrace moved out of town for economic reasons – the school started accepting non-Catholic children as well. Veritas was then, for many years, a kindergarten to grade seven school.

In 2013, a Grade 8 class was added to the school followed by a Grade 9 class in 2014.

“Our school is very much in demand,” said the school’s principal Dave Crawley, citing the overwhelming number applications for kindergarten the school receives each year.

In fact, more than 50 per cent of the students who attend the school of over 200 students are non-Catholic.

Veritas offers the full BC curriculum as well as shop classes, foods, sewing, and mandatory band for older grades. There has also been a mandatory first aid program introduced recently to certify all students.

Veritas raises money through tuition fees, the Sacred Heart Parish, and the Knights of Columbus to finance additions to the school.

Students maintain their connection with the neighbouring parish every morning through prayer and once a month by attending mass in the church.

“We are on the cusp of big changes,” explained Crawley of Veritas’ success. “We are looking at a possible expansion in the next five years.”

Catholic Women’s League

The Catholic Women’s League in Terrace was started 69 years ago on April 5, 1946. It is the local chapter of the Catholic Women’s League of Canada which dates back to 1920. The three women who were instrumental in bringing the league to Terrace were the president Mrs. J. Spitzel, the secretary Mrs. J. Gordon, and the spiritual advisor Father N. Racette.

Sometime in the first few years, the church rectory caught fire and destroyed all the archives that were stored in the basement. The early history of the league in Terrace has thus been compiled through some of the early members’ memories.

The objective of the league was to promote and strengthen the Catholic community in Terrace. They did this through hosting weddings, funerals, baby showers, bazaars and New Year’s Eve dances. They also hosted regular bingo tournaments with the Knights of Columbus through which they raised money for the building of Veritas Catholic School in 1959. All these events were hosted at the Sacred Heart Hall which has since burned down.

“The comradery is very special for all these dedicated women,” said the current President Rachel Cote in summing up the impact of the league. The Catholic Women’s League is still going strong and continues to support Terrace’s Catholic community.

The Knights of Columbus

The Knights of Columbus, a male charitable organization, formed a Terrace branch on May 20, 1961. The local branch of the global fraternity with over 1.8 million members worldwide began with only 47 members, but has since grown to have an active membership of 112 Catholic men.

The Knights of Columbus organization began in Connecticut in 1882 when Father Michael J. McGivney started the organization as a statement of the Catholic faith in the name of its patron Christopher Columbus.

The council in Terrace became known as the Father Andrew Allison OMI (Oblates of Mary Immaculate) Council 5149 in the 1980s after Father Allison’s death in a canoeing accident on the Stikine River.

Father Allison moved the church and the school to their present location on Straume Ave. in the early 1970s.

The Terrace chapter raises money for various causes in Terrace since it began over five decades ago. In the past, the Knights of Columbus have been involved with raising money for the Terrace Churches Food Bank and the R.E.M. Lee Hospital Foundation and has donated $15,000 towards the Terrace Sportsplex project and $17,000 towards the senior citizen housing complex. They were also prime initial organizers of the Pacific Northwest Music Festival and continue to be the largest sponsor of the event today.

Recently, the Knights of Columbus has brought the Special Olympics to Terrace, a   cause that the national society is very involved with. They also distribute unclaimed lottery money from the BC Lotteries Foundation to various charities in Terrace.

The Knights of Columbus maintains their dedication to the Sacred Heart Parish church through monthly pancake breakfasts, support for Veritas school, and volunteer labour for the upkeep of the church and the school.

“Our past Brother Knights have left us with tradition and legacy that has kept our council motivated and vibrant,” said Grand Knight Gaulter Rego.

“Fraternity, Charity, Unity, and Patriotism is our motto and we try our best to live by those four words.”