Stories of construction of Our Lady of Mercy Historic Church still alive

Frank Gale
Published on August 30, 2014
Our Lady of Mercy Historic Church was built a century ago in Port au Port East.
Star photo by Frank Gale

After a full century, stories about the building of Our Lady of Mercy Historic Church are still being bandied about.

But that’s not strange when you have a structure with such historic significance.

Two seniors who live in Port au Port East and whose fathers both volunteered their time in relation to the construction of the church tell stories they heard as young people.

Eleven years was the time required for the construction of the church because of the desire to have a debt-free structure upon its completion. Every able-bodied man or boy old enough to cut wood would dedicate one week of work each year to the church project.

Sylvia Crocker, who is now 81 years of age, remembers her dad Stan O’Quinn talking of some of his contributions towards the church. In addition to putting up the cross on top of the church, one of his other duties was picking up and delivering items that came in by train to Stephenville Crossing.

She said her father, who was born in 1900 and was 18 years old at the time, would make the trip on horse and buggy. During one particular stint he was going back and forth picking up the “stations of the cross” for the church.

These were made of carrara marble and framed with travertine marble and imported from Italy, so it was important cargo.

Crocker said on a particular trip to pick up one of the stations of the cross, Reverend James Joy, the parish priest at the time who was overseeing the church project, decided to go along for the ride to Stephenville Crossing.

She said as her dad told the story, on the way back the horse stopped at a drinking establishment along the way and wouldn’t move despite some coaxing.

“Dad thought it was really funny that he was busted by the horse; however, Father Joy was satisfied to let him go of a beer,” Crocker said.

She said she’s not sure if the priest joined him or not.

In addition to her father’s involvement in helping out with the church, it’s special to her because her parents, Stan and Josephine (nee Parsons) were married there, she and her late husband Joe Crocker, were married there and her daughter Leanne married Dwayne Decker there. That couple now lives in Norwood, Ont.

Stan Lafitte remembers his dad Tom Lafitte talking about how he was involved with working on Our Lady of Mercy Church doing various types of work that required carpentry skills.

He said he often heard his father talk about Henry Felix, a resident of the area who was working close to the top of the structure and suddenly fell.

His dad said Father Joy, seeing the accident, raised his hands toward heaven as the man fell to the ground and to the astonishment of his fellow workers when they reached Felix, he was uninjured.

Though he grew up in Port au Port East, Our Lady of Mercy Church in Port au Port West was where he attended church services for a large part of his life as it was much later that St. Thomas Aquinas Parish was established.

He remembers the long walk to church many times and going to sit in pew #30, which was where their family had bought a half a pew, since there were only five members in their family. Someone else had bought the other half.

“In those days you couldn’t go into somebody else’s pew,” Lafitte said.

He remembers the church as always being a very nice place and is pleased to see that it has survived through the years to its Centennial celebration this weekend.

The celebrations include a benefit concert on Saturday at 8 p.m.; and a Centennial Mass on Sunday at 5 p.m., followed by a social in the nearby Our Lady of Mercy Gym.