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Blessed Sacrament and St. Agnes Parish History

Blessed Sacrament Parish History
(Picture to the right side of the page is the alter in the parish before the fire)

The Catholics on the north side of the Thames River in Chatham and area were served by St. Joseph’s prior to the establishment of Blessed Sacrament Parish on 30 October 1921. Its pastor, Father Ralph Hubert Dignan (1921-1929), offered the parish’s first Mass in "The Pines" chapel. The Malcomson estate, originally the home of Hugh Malcomson, a former mayor of Chatham and proprietor of The New York House on King Street West, was purchased. The Italianate style, mid-1870s’ home, at 145 Victoria Avenue, with its centre tower and double entrance doors with decorative pressed metal hoods over the windows, was converted into a rectory. On the property, the firm of Benjamin Blonde built a church "along modern lines," but the facade was of Medieval French Gothic style. The rose window was the work of master carpenter David Hamon, a native of the Isle of Guernsey. On the morning of 4 February 1923, Blessed Sacrament was officially opened and blessed by Bishop Fallon, and in the evening he administered the sacrament of confirmation here for the first time.

Father Dignan, elected bishop of the diocese of Sault Ste. Marie on 22 December 1934, was succeeded at Blessed Sacrament by Father Joseph N. Campeau (1929-1939), who in turn was succeeded by Father G.J. Labelle (1939-1946). During the pastorship of Father V.W. Walsh (1946-1958), the northwestern part of the parish was detached to form St. Agnes Parish. It was while Monsignor John Uyen (1958-1967) was pastor that a fire completely destroyed the interior of the church on 6 January 1964. Chatham architect, Joseph Storey, and Rambush of Canada, liturgical designers, were commissioned to carry out the necessary repairs, producing a more unified space, which focused on the sanctuary and its liturgical functions. Over the next 18 months, Mass was celebrated in the church basement.

Monsignor Uyen was succeeded by Fathers Charles "Charlie" Campbell (1967-1980) and Joseph "Joe" Padelt (1980-1996). During the pastorate of Father James M. "Jim" Williams (1996-2001), Blessed Sacrament was the host, March 5-7, 2000, of the first National Catholic Parish Mission, broadcast nationally on the Vision Television Network. Bishop Paul Andre Durocher, auxiliary bishop of the diocese of Sault Ste. Marie, led the mission which was filmed entirely in the church. Among those who participated in this mission were Michael Burgess, star of Les Miserables, Juno Award winner Natalie MacMaster, renowned violinist from Cape Breton, and Adele Kozak of the Vancouver Opera Company.

Father Jan Burcyk, CSMA, (2001-2002), of the Michaelite Fathers, succeeded Father "Tiny" Williams, and was in turn succeeded in 2002 by Father Joseph J. "Joe" Nevett (2002-2008) who ministered to more than 1,300 families in a parish which prides itself on the tremendous faith and support of its people. 

On 30 June 2008 Blessed Sacrament Parish was clustered with St. Agnes Parish and Father Daniel Bombardier (2008-2015) was appointed Pastor of Blessed Sacrament and St. Agnes Parish Cluster.  On 16 July 2009 Blessed Sacrament Parish Office was re-located to the St. Agnes Site.  On 2 July 2015 Father James “Jim” Higgins (2015-) was appointed Administrator of Blessed Sacrament and St. Agnes Parish Cluster.  While Father Higgins was on Sabbatical Father John Sharp (2016) was appointed Interim Pastor to the Parish Cluster from January-June.  Father Jim Higgins, upon his return from Sabbatical, continues to serve the vibrant Blessed Sacrament and St. Agnes Parish Cluster.

Of special interest at Blessed Sacrament are the church grounds which are known for their colourful show of beauty and originality. Over the years the parish has won many landscaping awards from various clubs. The origins of the distinct features of the grounds may be traced back to the pair of ginkgo trees, mementos of the Malcomsons’ tour of the Orient about 1900, on the front lawn. These trees have been identified as the largest and among the oldest of their species on the continent.

History of Blessed Sacrament Parish, March 9, 2017 - Lynda Cadotte

St. Agnes Parish History
(Picture to the right side of the page is Breaking Ground at St. Agnes Parish with Bishop John C. Cody)

St. Agnes parish was established by Bishop John C. Cody in July 1957 to relieve the overcrowding at Blessed Sacrament Church.  Rev. Douglas F. Boyer was the first pastor.  The first Mass was held in the Pines Chapel on Grand Avenue July 14, 1957.   The boundaries of the parish were the Thames River on the south, St. Clair St. on the east, the 11th concession of Dover on the north and Bear Line on the west.  Land on Croyden St. was purchased from Mrs. Mary Genevieve Fidler for $2.00 in October of 1957.  A private home at 241 Grand Avenue West was purchased as a rectory and chapel, the property immediately behind being the site of the new church.  The Rt. Rev. A.E. O’Donnell, Dean of Kent, along with Father Boyer participated in the sod turning for the new church Feb. 20, 1958.  The cost of the building was $115,500.  The first Mass was held in the building in August of 1958.  Bishop Cody blessed the new St. Agnes Church November 23, 1958.

The first baptism recorded in the  St. Agnes Parish Register was October 20, 1957. The first marriage was February 15, 1958.  The first funeral was June 13, 1958.

Father Girard replaced Father Boyer in 1959.  The parish continued to grow.  In the nine years he was pastor of St. Agnes, Father Morand encouraged the parishioners to pay off the debt.  Once the parish was free of debt,  plans were made for renovations.  Stained glass windows were installed under the guidance of Father Bagatto, who came to St. Agnes in 1974.  Memorial plates beneath the windows testify to the generosity of parishioners. 

Father Hurley became the pastor in 1979.  The parish and the parish team continued to expand requiring a new rectory/office, a larger church, air exchange and air conditioning and meeting rooms and nursery in the basement.  Construction began in the Spring of 1981 and was almost completed by the end of the year.  The old rectory was demolished.  St. Agnes was in debt for $500,000.  St. Agnes Knights of Columbus Council #8739 received it’s charter on May 2, 1984.  During Father John Sharp’s one-year stay the parking lot was paved.

During Father Al Momney ministry a Vision Statement was developed by the Pastoral Council.  In 1992 a new music system was installed with organ, key board and speakers.
Father Mel MacIssac became pastor in 1995.  In 1997 St. Agnes celebrated being debt free.  The parish acquired an FM system for those who have difficulty hearing.  An elevator was installed in 1998. 
Signing for the deaf at one of the Masses each weekend as been a practice at St. Agnes since the early 1980's. 
Under Father Andrew Kowalczyk’s ministry, renovations to the kitchen in the basement were completed in 2002 in time for the parish to host delegates to World Youth Day in Toronto.  A number of youth from Nunavut along with their bishop, priests and sisters and delegates from Mexico were accommodated within the parish.  Presently a soup kitchen makes use of the kitchen facilities once a week.

Father Terrence R. McNamara (2005 -06) succeeded Father Kowalczyk on 30 June 2005, the same year in which a Wellness Ministry was initiated.  With 1,000 registered families, St. Agnes is described as "a vibrant and active parish striving to meet the needs of all."

On 30 June 2008 Blessed Sacrament Parish was clustered with St. Agnes Parish and Father Daniel Bombardier was appointed Pastor of Blessed Sacrament & St. Agnes Parish Cluster. On 16 July 2009 Blessed Sacrament Parish Office was re-located to the St. Agnes Site.

St. Agnes History compiled by Diane French, July 2007 and the Diocese of London Archives