This evening at 7 pm the bells of Fernie’s Holy Family Church and Sparwood’s St Michael’s Catholic Church rang loud and in solidarity to thank our health care workers, grocery store staff, delivery truck drivers and other essential front line workers for their efforts and sacrifices.
Across Canada communities have been honouring front line workers during this pandemic in various ways. In Fernie the community is coming together to support one another while still social distancing – it was evident by the sparse turnout.
John Pallone, pictured with wife Sue, rang Fernie’s church bell long and loud. We can expect to hear these bells ring again in unison as the Covid-19 crisis deepens in our small Rocky Mountain towns.
For over a hundred years, the bell of the landmark catholic church in Fernie was rung to celebrate worship, weddings and funerals. As a community bell, ringing of the bell marked the end of World War II, celebrated the passing of the Olympic torch through Fernie in 2010 and with 100 tolls, the 100th anniversary of the end of the great war in 2018.
During this challenging time the gentle sound of the church bell assured families gratitude to each other, and everyone prioritized our health, safety and well-being.
Holy Family Parish History
The beginning of Holy Family can be traced to 1896 when Fr. John Welsh, OMI attached to St. Eugene’s mission of Cranbrook was sent to the Fernie area to administer to the spiritual needs of the railway and the mineworkers, a large proportion of whom were Catholic.
Construction of a church began in the same year, to be completed the following June. While the building was in progress, Fr. Welsh shared a tent with the Levasseur family.
The church was dedicated to the Holy Family because of the devoteoness of the Cape Breton families who arrived in the spring of 1897. They pledged a day’s pay per month.
The first resident pastor, Fr. Meleux, assisted by Fr. Meissner, fluent in six languages, succeeded in forming a cohesive parish in a population comprising many ethnic groups.
Fr. Welch’s church, located at the corner of 3rd Ave. and 5th St, survived the first fire of 1904 but was destroyed in the conflagration of 1908, during the tenure of Fr. Tavernier. A provisional frame building located at the site of the present Family Center, served as the church between 1908 and 1912.
A football field purchased as a hospital site in 1902 by Fr. Meleux and his assistant, Fr. McKinnon was chosen as the location of the present Holy Family Church. Plans for the new church were developed by Fr. Travernier (1905-1910) and his church committees.
The church was built during the tenure of Fr. Michels (1910-1919). His appeal for volunteers during a lengthy strike in 1911, met with a generous response. The cornerstone was laid in the fall of 1911, and the church was dedicated on November 10, 1912, with Fr. Ruaux celebrating the first Mass.
Mr. R. Kerr, a local builder, was the contractor. Local church groups and individuals throughout B.C. provided funds for constriction.
Romanesque in style, the church has a total seating capacity of 500. The ash pews came from Ontario, the original organ from Germany, and the stained glass windows, installed at a cost of $200 each, from France. The donors reflect the cosmopolitan composition of the congregation. The stained glass window in the tower depicts the institution of the Eucharist. The rose window above the entrance displays the coat of arms of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate whose members served this parish from its beginnings until 1930 when the diocesan clergy assumed charge.
A special tribute is due to the sisters of St Joseph who arrived in 1922 from Newark, New Jersey, to take charge of the Holy Family School. They served the parish in this capacity until 1956, when the Parish school was closed. Subsequent to its closure, the school was used as a parish center until the Fernie Family Centre was built in 1988.