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Celebrating a century of spirituality, community in Farm Point
By Tess Allen
Michael Dunlop's grandfather invested $25 in the church in Farm Point in 1916. With matching donations from three other villagers and the manpower of a handful more, John Dunlop helped erect the frame of the Chelsea church that has now been standing for 100 years.
It was a feat symbolic of the spirit of the tiny village of Farm Point itself. Before the construction of the little white chapel on St-Clément Road, later christened St-Clément Catholic Church, Farm Point residents had to travel all the way to Saint- Stephen's Church on Old Chelsea Road. In the wintertime, if the roads weren't plowed, sometimes that meant not attending services at all. It was around 1912 that a few industrious folks from West Hull - as the area was known at that time - decided this just wasn't acceptable anymore.
"Twenty-five dollars back then was a lot of money... but it was a way to give back to the church and to the community," said Michael Dunlop, now in his 60s, who would go on to serve the church as an alter boy at the age of eight. "The church was a very important part of their lives back then, a focal point for people to gather and to form a community. And that's basically what pushed things through in Farm Point."
It's this same spirit that's keeping the church alive all these years later, believes the president of the Parish Council, Robert Lafleur. As churches around the world close their doors, those of St-Clément are still wide open. While Lafleur attributes this partly to the relatively manageable expenses of a small chapel, he also credits a tight-knit community devoted to its success.
"It was really created through the will of the people and their perseverance... whether you come into Farm Point from the 105 or River Road, that's what you see. It's the CN Tower of Farm Point," said Lafleur, 62. "Churches today are having increased difficulties financially because of a lack of enrolment, but this little church with really very few parishioners left is still in the black and continues to do its job as a meeting point, a spiritual pivot of the local community."
It's certainly fit this bill over the course of Lafleur's own family history. From his parents' wedding in 1949, to his childhood service as an alter boy alongside Dunlop, to his own wedding decades later, the church has served as a backdrop for the major milestones in the lives of Lafleur and those who came before him.
"It just seemed like the natural thing to do," said Lafleur of his St-Clément Catholic Church wedding to Janet Watt in 1985. "It's always been a place where I can connect with my spirit, where I can think about the things that are important to me... so [the decision] was pretty organic. It was like, 'Of course we're going to get married there'."
While Lafleur admitted he might not put "a whole lot of money" on what might befall the church in the next 50 years, he considers its success over the last century to be a very promising - and not all too shocking - sign.
"Given the still very cohesive nature of the village and the people that live in it, I'm not surprised that [St-Clément Catholic Church] still exists," he said.
"Farm Point has always been its own little community, and the church has always been a big gathering point," added Dunlop. "It's still going. It's still moving."
St-Clément Catholic Church will celebrate its centennial on July 17 from 11 a.m. to noon with a special mass featuring La Messe Québecoise choir and musicians. While the chapel can fit 150 people, Lafleur said it looks "nice and comely" with 100.