In memory of the Saint-Colomban Catholic Church


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At a time when churches and religious communities are not given enough attention, a local community has taken a step that will never be forgotten.

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Former St. Columban and area residents Tom Melady and Nancy Kane worked together for a year and a half to erect a five-foot (1.5 meter) wide by four-foot (1.2 meter) colorful sign high a few weeks ago. on the site of the former Roman Catholic St. Columban’s Church, a few hundred yards west of the existing school.

A brief dedication service is scheduled at the site on Sunday, August 7 at 2 p.m., a chance for former parishioners to fondly remember what was once the center of the community. Father Gordon Kennedy, the last priest to be ordained outside the community, must return and consecrate him.

“They at one time, no matter what church it was, were the linchpin of the community, and then from there weddings and baptisms took place, and were often the social center of the community. “, said Melady. “Historically, churches should be credited for being there. It’s really a tribute to our ancestors, to recognize what they put into not just this community, but any community.

“It was the social center of the community, not just spiritual,” Kane added.

Melady said the historical significance of the church being the only parish building established between Guelph and Goderich is noteworthy.

“It’s not just St. Columban, but historically it’s been that way in all the small rural communities and unfortunately those small communities are closing down,” he said. “That’s why we put the sign here, to commemorate a small community that was once historically important, socially significant and important to its development.”

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Today, on the site of the old church, which was built in 1911 after a fire destroyed it two years earlier, stands a car park south of the busy football pitches. The Diocese of London closed the church in 2005 and demolished it a year later. The site is now owned by the Municipality of Huron East, and they were very helpful in erecting the sign, the two men said.

“The church was such a dominant building back then,” said Melady, who now lives in Stratford, although he still owns a plot of land a stone’s throw from the village.

Kane, who married into a fifth-generation family, is interested in the genealogy and history of St. Columban and felt the sign was important. The Bayfield resident remains connected to the community and is happy to have helped mark its history.

“Having a historical record for future generations is important,” Kane said, noting that so far there has been no pointing to the site of the old church.

“We felt we had to acknowledge that,” she said.

In the late 1820s Irish immigrants arrived in the Huron Tract. They had deep religious faith and a determination to clear the land and cultivate. Missionary priests, who roamed the untracked forests and later the Huron Road, celebrated mass in homes and ministered to settlers in what became the first Catholic parish between Guelph and Goderich.

In 1840, a log church was built on the site of Lot 9, Concession 1 of McKillop Township. In 1858, it was replaced by a white Renaissance-style church with a 70-foot spire. In 1898, the thriving community known as Irishtown was renamed St. Columban in honor of the medieval Irish monk, chosen as the patron saint of the parish.

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When a fire destroyed the church in 1909, a new red brick building was built by the parishioners and inaugurated in 1911.

For 173 years these churches have served the community of St. Columban.

The bell and the cornerstone of the church as well as a plaque are located in the nearby Saint-Colomban cemetery.

Both Melady and Kane were happy with how the sign turned out, having originally had their eye on a blue provincial plate but being denied in January. From there they approached the Huron County Historical Society and tried to pass a plaque, but they looked at their options and they were small and not what they had imagined, so they went it alone.

The double-sided panel allowed them to include information about the entire community of St. Columban on the reverse, noting that although the church is gone, the impact of the church community on development of the southwestern Ontario region is significant.

The couple also secured a $1,000 grant from the Huron County Heritage Fund.

The sign, designed and produced by Artech Signs & Graphics in Seaforth, was installed by Pat Feeney. Tony Visser carried out the fabrication of the metal which included a cross.

The sign cost $4,000 and anyone wishing to contribute can contact St. Columban’s Cemetery Board and a tax receipt will be issued. If there are funds left, they will be donated to the Seaforth Food Bank.

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