“Anytime I went there I always felt at home.”
That’s the way Ignatius Lee describes what it was like to attend services at the old St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church in Woody Point.
“It was a beautiful building,” he said and later added “it’s still beautiful.”
The old Gothic revival-style church was built in 1875 on Bailey’s Point.
Somewhere around 1890 it was cut in three pieces and hauled down on the ice in winter and pulled about two kilometres down to Woody Point, pulled up over the hill where it still sits, and put back together.
The church’s rich history has even earned it a designation as a Registered Heritage Structure by the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador.
It hasn’t been used for services in some time now, but has recently found new life as the home for Gros Morne Summer Music.
Lee, 77, was born in Winterhouse Brook and his family has a strong connection to St. Patrick’s.
“My father, he had a lot to do with that old church,” said Lee.
Joseph Lee served mass there for 19 years as an altar boy and was once told by Father Walter Brennan that he was going to be hard to replace.
Back in the 1920s and 30s, Lee said he’s been told the church had a large congregation.
“Before my lifetime they had priests stationed there,” he said. The last full-time priest left the area in 1931.
“And I guess they more or less used it every once and a while when the priest would come.”
But even before that the congregation at St. Patrick’s had started to decline.
“The Catholic people I guess were moving to Corner Brook,” said Lee. “The mill was started. And a lot of people moved out of here and they never had enough to support it.”
Lee was born in 1937 and recalls services still being held at the church as a child.
“We used it once in a while when the priest would come from up the coast or from Corner Brook by boat. Back then was no road here,” he said.
When he was eight or nine he remembers a midnight mass in the church which had no electricity.
“It was kind of cold, but he (the priest) had the midnight mass anyway,” Lee said.
Lee said St. Patrick’s closed up for a long time after that and church was held in the school.
Lee moved out of the area when he was in his 20s and went to Ontario. That’s where he married his wife Gladys and together they retired to Glenburnie in 1997.
While he now attends the new St. Patrick’s Church in Winterhouse Brook where services are held once a month, he has found himself back at the old church more than once.
After returning home he said Roman Catholic sisters stationed in St. Paul’s would hold services in the area.
“And they wanted to have church in the church instead of the school,” he said.
In 2000 a celebration took place at St. Patrick’s to mark its 125th anniversary.
Lee said over the years the building has been restored a few times, but the biggest change to it has been seen over the past year since Gros Morne Summer Music started work on it.
“They’ve got it all changed now,” said Lee of outside of the building which has been added on to.
“It still looks good even with the stuff that they’ve got put on it,” he said.
But inside he said things are much the same.
“The ceiling and the choir (area), it’s all intact.”
One thing that hasn’t been changed by the renovations are the acoustics in the building which Lee describes as “marvelous.”
From church to concert hall
It’s those acoustics that drew Gros Morne Summer Music to the church.
In 2005 Gros Morne Summer Music held a chamber music concert in the church.
“After about four bars of music everybody just drew back,” said Catherine Hicks, treasurer with the festival board. “It was like the church was an instrument.”
In 2007, the festival purchased the church and thus began what turned out to be a lengthy process to get it where it is today.
Hicks said a feasibility study, including and architectural study, was completed to help determine what needed to be done there.
Electricity had to be hooked up, water and sewer service installed and the building had to be made accessible.
The festival acquired funding from the provincial department of Innovation, Business and Rural Development and the federal Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and in June 2013 construction started.
“We knew that we had a lot of changes, but we didn’t want to disturb the main interior body of the church which produced the beautiful acoustics, but also was visually gorgeous,” said Hicks.
The pews and altar have been removed but some of the handcrafted detail can still be seen.
The only disappointment in the process has been in needing to change the outside appearance of the building.
A plan to construct a green room, washroom and recording spaces behind the building had to change when the contractor struck bedrock. To carry on would require blasting and Hicks said the church could not withstand that. So, instead they built on.
The work is now completed and the festival held its first event in the building, now known simply as St. Pat’s on July 3 when the British Columbia Boys Choir performed.
Hicks said that event also served as kind of a test to see if, with all they’d done, the acoustics held up.
She’s happy to report it did.
The official opening of St. Pat’s will take place on Friday with a barbecue to welcome the town to visit the church from 4 to 6 p.m. and a concert by Peter Barrett at 8 p.m.