A Brief History of Our Lady of Mercy - Sarnia, Ontario

In 1827 the first Jesuit missionary priests arrived in the Sarnia-Lambton area. Masses were often celebrated in the homes of local Roman Catholics.

1840, the first Roman Catholic church in Sarnia was built on the present day site of Our Lady of Mercy. It was a mission church named St. Michael's. The land and all the lumber required to build St. Michael's was donated by a "Gentleman Protestant" named George Durand. His wife was a practicing Catholic and his benevolent gesture was done to honour her. The parcel of land was the entire city block bordered by London Road, Christina Street, Durand Street and Fleming Street. As a mission, St. Michael's was served by travelling Jesuit priests.

By 1856, Sarnia's Roman Catholic population had grown sizable enough to warrant having their own parish with a full time dedicated priest. At this time, the first Our Lady of Mercy church was constructed on this same site, facing London Road. The old St. Michael's mission was left standing and served as the rectory. The church property also served as the Catholic cemetery.

In 1877, work began to build the present-day Our Lady of Mercy Church. It took three years to complete. During this time the old Our Lady of Mercy church was torn down. The original pews were saved and re-used in the new church.

The church cornerstone was laid on June 9, 1878 and is inscribed in Latin. Translated into English it reads, "This is the house of God, firmly constructed in 1878".

The present Our Lady of Mercy Church was officially blessed on February 1, 1880. The first Mass was celebrated by Bishop Walsh.

At a height of 168 feet, Our Lady of Mercy was one of the tallest structures in the Sarnia area for decades. The steeple could be seen for miles out on Lake Huron. This earned her the nick-name "Our Lady of Good Hope". Interesting to note; the copper cross at the top of the steeple is nearly 9 feet tall.

Our Lady of Mercy seating capacity is approx. 600 people. The church proper measures 100' x 52' with an additional 28' at either transept. Original cost to build O.L.M. was $20, 000. Of that cost, 10% ($2000) represented the value of the stained glass windows. In today's dollars, it is estimated that Our Lady of Mercy would cost in excess of $22,000,000 to build.

O.L.M. contains 37 stained glass windows. Todays replacement value is approx. $500-$600 per square foot. Replacing the 3 largest windows would cost in excess of $400,000.

Fact: Most of Ontario's architecturally impressive churches were built in the last quarter of the 19th century (1875-1900). St. Peter's Basilica in London, ON was built in this same time period for $100, 000 (5 times the cost of O.L.M.)

Shortly after opening the new Our Lady of Mercy Church, the cemetery was moved and graves relocated to the present location on Michigan Avenue.

In 1888 Our Lady of Mercy School was opened on the church property. In 1943, it was destroyed by a fire and replaced with the present day (former school) building in 1944.

In 1945 the original parish hall was destroyed by fire and not rebuilt again until 1956.

In 1893 The original O.L.M. rectory, a beautiful Queen Anne-style Victorian home was built. It served as the primary residence for Our Lady of Mercy priests until 1965 when it was torn down and replaced by the current rectory.

The bell at O.L.M. is from the original Our Lady of Mercy Church. It was manufactured in 1864 by the Meneeley Bell Foundry in West Troy, New York. It weighs approx. 2000 lbs and was recently restored after a critical part (the cast iron yoke) snapped allowing the 3 foot wide bell to fall onto it's cribbing. In May 2016, the bell received a new high strength steel yoke, A-frame cradles and a 6.5 foot diameter steel bell wheel. These parts were all designed and fabricated by Sandrin Services in Sarnia. Historical records claim that the bell could be heard from up to 4 miles away.

Over the lifespan of Our Lady of Mercy, there have been two convents on the property. The Sisters of the Holy Name were active here until their convent was closed in 1975. The Sisters of St. Joseph were active here until 1977.

In 2008, Our Lady of Mercy Church underwent an extensive and necessary restoration. This included structural and framing work in the attic, bell tower and West facade. The cost of this project was approx. $1.5 million. At that time over 1000 bricks were replaced, motor joints were repointed and brick faces were cleaned. The original painted exterior woodwork was removed, surfaces were blue-skinned and new replicated architectural moldings, custom made of maintenance free lead-coat copper were installed.

In 2016, the restoration work continues at Our Lady of Mercy, mostly with smaller interior projects. We are hoping to start the second phase of exterior brick work and finish installing lead-coat copper moldings, but with all projects of this size, fund raising is essential and takes time.

Thank you for visiting and may you always feel welcomed at Our Lady of Mercy Church.