Turning back the clock on Sacred Heart church in Placentia

Lee Everts editor@cbncompass.ca
Published on February 5, 2014

Sacred Heart church in Placentia has long been a distinguishing feature in the vista of what was known as the “Great Beach” of Placentia.

Photo by Lee Everts

Since it was first erected in the nineteenth century, Sacred Heart church in Placentia has not undergone any major construction — until now, that is.

Time had taken its toll on the iconic church, with its distinctive tower reaching nobly into the sky. The roof was leaking. Much of the wooden exterior had succumbed to wood rot, and the doors were rusted and decaying. It was time to act. Now or never.

And so, on Oct. 5, 2011, members of Our Lady of Angels Roman Catholic Parish met to discuss the challenges that lay ahead. Their church, one that had been envisioned and erected over a century earlier, was in desperate need of attention. To save their church was vital in terms of its enduring function as a place of worship. Equally important was the fact that Sacred Heart church had become a significant part of the built heritage of the Town of Placentia. It meant something to everyone.

Distinguishing feature

For much of its history, Placentia was characterized by the same types of buildings that could be found in most of the communities in Newfoundland and Labrador. Single storey rugged-looking houses and the well-known salt box house rimmed the roadways.

Nevertheless, in the latter part of the nineteenth century, the Placentia landscape changed dramatically. Take a look at the various photographs from the period and this change would be easy to see. It was at this time, beginning around 1886, when the Sacred Heart church was built. From that point, Sacred Heart church became a distinguishing feature in the vista of what was known as the “Great Beach” of Placentia.

From the time it was initially built, a moderate amount of changes have been made to the church. At the beginning of the twentieth century, a church bell was installed and some additional work was completed. Afterwards, in 1917, stained glass windows were installed. Later, around 1975, the church underwent a significant change to its interior.

Now, almost 40 years later, the sounds of hammers and other tools of the carpentry trade can yet again be heard as Sacred Heart undergoes its latest transformation.

The most recent efforts have been nothing but monumental in scale. In order to tackle the challenge, the parishioners formed a committee that would focus on the practical aspect of the construction. The restoration and renovations represented an immense set of challenges. They would require dedication, patience, commitment, as well as one other crucial ingredient — money.

Therefore, another committee had also been formed that would focus on the financial details of what needed to be done. The financial committee would organize and arrange the payments for the materials that were required by the construction committee.

Moreover, the parishioners had to set about raising the funds that would be necessary to reach their goal. A wide range of methods have been used such as hosting concerts, garden parties, or requesting donations “in the memory of" … certain individuals in order to purchase new windows.

Fixing the leaks

The parish has raised close to 70 per cent of the funding that has been needed. In this respect, the community at large could lend a hand with raising the money that has been required to undertake the restoration.

Eventually, there was enough money in the bank that would allow the parishioners to begin their renovations. The work began with the construction committee devising a well-planned course of action that consisted of a range of phases. For instance, Phase 1 would entail repairing the leaks in the building as this was considered to be of the highest priority. Following this work, the next phases involved addressing the rusted and decaying exterior doors, in addition to the substantial task of replacing the clapboard.

Perhaps it was not immediately apparent to residents as they walked or drove by the church that anything was taking place. It was quiet. However, in time, more equipment appeared and soon, the area around Sacred Heart church was bustling with activity. A “cherry-picker” was in place and men in hard-hats were sometimes precariously perched atop scaffolding.

Gradually, Sacred Heart church was re-emerging — the determined parishioners were turning back the clock. And on the days suffused by the sun, the white paint of the newly installed clapboard was radiant against the brilliant blue of the sky. The years of planning and fund-raising had been worth the time and effort. All’s well that ends well.

Although, this would not be the end. Not yet at least. While a considerable amount of work has been done, more awaits the parishioners. For instance, when the temperatures rise and spring and summer arrive later this year, work will again begin on the tower. Afterwards, more of the exterior clapboard will have to be removed and renewed.

Still, what is particularly commendable is that the members of Our Lady of Angels Roman Catholic Parish have already done what must have seemed impossible five years ago. It is something they have done together as the efforts to renovate and refurbish Sacred Heart church have been a truly collective effort.

Thus, with the ongoing help of the residents in the various communities of the Town of Placentia, parishioners will set about raising the $124,000 that is still required. To be sure, they’ve done it before. There is no doubt that they can do it again.

— Lee Everts is a freelance writer and photographer. She can be reached by email at the following: lee.everts@nf.sympatico.ca