This summer, St. James Major Catholic Church celebrated its 25 years. This article was featured in the Frontenac News.
By 1963 the parishioners of St. James Major Catholic Church were well aware that the small church they attended every week in Sharbot Lake was not big enough for their needs.
With a capacity of 60, there were often over 100 people in attendance and in the summer time there were many more.
As some of the parishioners from back then recall, services were often held in less sacred spaces in the summer time.
“We held services in the high school auditorium, the township hall and even the beer store parking lot on the highway,” recalled long-time parishioners, Marg DesRoche and Theresa Ferguson, when they were interviewed for a video that was recently made about St. James Major.
When services were held in the church there were often people on the outside looking in. The church was also unheated, so it was cold in winter and hot in the summer. It also had no fire exit.
All of these flaws were well recognized by the early 1960s, and that was when the congregation spent around $2,500 to purchase a 2.5 acre lot on Highway 38 just north of the village for a new church. The lot where the small church was located was too small to even put in a septic system, never mind build a larger church.
Purchasing the lot was a first step, but unfortunately there was no mechanism available to the local parish to start the second step.
As Marcel Giroux, another long-time parish member, said in the video, the bishop and the church administration had to be convinced about the kind of church that would fit for Sharbot Lake
“There were complications dealing with the diocese and their expectations that took a long time to overcome,” Giroux said.
In 1988 all that changed, thanks to a bit of inside information. Archbishop Spence, who was originally from Perth, did not like crowded spaces. Knowing that, the Sharbot Lake parish invited him to a service, and with 100 people crammed into the 60-person church, “He realized in a more direct way that we needed a new church. So they let us come up with our own design to build a church that we would be able to afford,” said Giroux.
One of the members of the building committee that was struck was Doreen Onfrichuk. She knew of a family who were in the midst of building a cottage on Sharbot Lake when a family member died, and they were no longer interested in finishing the cottage. The family was willing to sell the property for $50,000 and the church community was willing to pitch in and finish it.
The parish went to the archbishop's office, which had said it would support the project, asking for a loan of $50,000 to buy the property, which was agreed to.
They then began selling tickets for $100 each for a draw with the cottage as the prize, which would have been worth about $100,000 in those days. They sold 2,400 tickets, and once the loan from the archbishop’s office was paid off and the cottage was paid for, the building project had the seed money it needed to get underway.
“We kept on fundraising while were starting to build, and we were getting a lot of support from the people who came to our church, but also from people who attended other churches as well. Everyone thought it was a worthwhile project,” said Giroux.
The ground-breaking ceremony for the new church took place in 1990 and the church was built by 1991. The total cost of the new St. James Major, with a capacity of over 300 in the sanctuary and a large hall with kitchen facilities on the lower level, was over $600,000.
The parish ended up with a mortgage for $169,000, which was set up for 25 years, but just through normal church operations and without any specific fund raising campaign, it was paid off within nine years.
Twenty-five years later, St. James Major has become a fixture in the region, not only as a center for Catholic worship for permanent and seasonal residents, but also as an education center, thanks to St. James School, which is located on the property.
It has also been the site of musical events, including a summer concert series in the 1990s, and concerts by Tafelmusik and the Barra McNeils, to name a few. The hall has been the location for weddings, fundraisers, and family gatherings - just about every kind of community event. It also serves as a gym for the St. James Major School and is the location for the annual Strawberry Moon Festival.