History of Ste Anne Parish
Ste-Anne Church owes its distinction as the second largest parish in the Diocese of London to many individuals, not only the builders and first parishioners, but the priests and curates.
Our first pastors were missionaries attached to the Jusuit house at Sandwich. According to our church records the first entries were made in January of 1859 by Fr. Nicholas Point. Our records also indicate that our first communion and confirmation were celebrated by Father Boubat who was appointed in 1859. Both Father Point and Father Boubat were here for just a brief time.
Father Bayard, Mutard, and Wagner followed in rapid succession. Father Wagner was later appointed pastor of St. Alphonsus in Windsor and was the founder of Hotel Dieu Hospital.
The records of the parish are not clear with reference to the first mission house and priests’ residence, but we can establish that those buildings were in existence by the year 1860. The original church was closer to the intersection of Tecumseh Trail and Lesperance Line. It was a very simple structure 40’ x 20’ and was about 18’ high with a peaked roof covered with ash shingles. The framework was squared lumber and the sides were of upright yellow wood boards. There was only one entrance – a double door facing Tecumseh Trail. Inside at the rear of the building was a small altar superimposed by a wooden crucifix and no tabernacle. At the time if you wished to receive communion the priest would consecrate only the required Hosts.
An altar railing comprised of a long plank from side to side and the seats were plain benches without back or kneeling pads. The little church was moved in 1872 to the Séguin Farm to serve as a barn or hangar. The priests’ house was situated near the line between the church property and the Parish Tavern (the Soullière Inn). This was later moved to the rear of the old school, and then to Ste-Anne’s street.
In December 1860, our first pastor, Father Fauteux was appointed to serve as a resident priest. He purchased the first bell for the parish which was placed on a wooden frame at the intersection of Tecumseh and Lesperance. In 1871, Fr. Fauteux personally dug the foundation for the new church. Unfortunately funds were low and the people were not too enthused, so the project was delayed.
Our next “Curé” Father Andrieux completed the building of Ste-Anne’s. He devoted not only his organizing skills, but his physical strength to complete his dream by 1888.
Father Andrieux was also the teacher of “Plain Chant” to his young people. Upon forming a choir, he purchased a magnificent “Casavant” organ operated by a hand pump. Father Andrieux was transferred to Paincourt in early 1888.
Father Villeneuve came to Ste-Anne’s in 1888. He continued the work of his predecessor by having the interior of the church painted. In 1891, the steeple was completed. Father Villeneuve built at the rear of the church a small, plainly-constructed vestry. The corridor leading into the church was at the west, where the statue of Ste-Anne now stands. Father was always interested in a Catholic education and consequently built the first separate school in this district. It was said that the old part of St. Antoine School was paid from his own savings. Prior to 1893 the cemetery was unblessed and this did not please Fr. Villeneuve. So at his request, Msgr. O’Connor, third Bishop of London, came to Tecumseh to bless the land. In 1900 he had a convent built for the religious who devoted their talents to instruct catechism to the young. Fr. Villeneuve died in 1905.
From Tilbury came Father Pierre Langlois. His first task was to erect the present sacristy. There he celebrated Mass during the week, held meeting for his parish societies and kept the vestments and church equipment. Prior to his arrival, the church was heated by two large stoves – one on each side of the church. The church at the item was lit by gas lamps. In spite of objections, Father Langlois had steam heating installed and overhead electrical lamps. At the end of World War I he had the monument of the Sacred Heart erected in the church yard. The church walls were originally constructed of brick and mortar. The mortar was deteriorating with age and in order to save money he covered the bricks with cement resulting in the current look of the church.
In 1927 Ste-Anne’s hosted the Diocesan Eucharistic Congress. By coincidence, the congress date was set by Bishop Fallon for the 28th day of July, two days after the feast of Ste-Anne. Father wanted things to be perfect and complete. He therefore purchased three new bells, built a plaza in front of the church where mass would be celebrated in open air, and had the Calvary monument built in the cemetery. His appeal was well received. On the 17th day of July the blessing and dedication of the bells Pierre, Paul, and Ste-Anne took place. Bishop Fallon delegated Bishop Limoges for the ceremony. Following the celebration people were allowed to ring the bells installed on tripods in front of the main altar. (The bells are tuned to a major chord). The next afternoon, old and young were asked to pull the cables bringing the bells to the belfry. Following the instillation the bells were pealed.
The benediction of Calvary Cemetery took place on July 24th, 1927. On July 26 on the Feast of Ste. Anne one would believe to be at Ste-Anne de Beaupré. Masses and communion were continually said conferred. No less than 5,000 communions were given for the pilgrimage Masses.
On July 28th Bishop Fallon was the celebrant in an open air Mass for the Eucharistic Congress. It was followed by a procession of the Blessed Sacrament down Lesperance Road to the cemetery where a solemn benediction was given by the bishop, then back to the church via Ste-Anne Street for the closing of the congress. Many public officials took part in the ceremony.
A few years later Fr. Langlois felt it necessary to have the church and sacristy renovated and to purchase a new organ. This work started in 1930 and terminated in 1931. When all was done, Ste-Anne’s Tecumseh was thought to be the “nicest church in the diocese.” In 1932 Fr. Langlois was elevated to the rank of Monsignor in recognition for his services to the Church. In 1933 he requested his retirement which was granted. He died in 1940 at the age of 81, and was buried near the Calvary monument in St. Anne Cemetery.
In 1933 Father Gilbert Pitre, a native of Tecumseh was appointed pastor to Ste Anne’s. With the world depression happening, he called upon various societies to lend a hand to meet the numerous financial obligations from the renovations and improvements. Fr. Pitre dreamed for a High School but parish funds were lacking. The Second World War came which brought uncertainty, causing him to shelve his plans. He managed however to pay for the church obligations. Another blow was a fire at the rectory causing considerable damage. Funds were needed to rebuild and obtained to renovate the rectory. The church records were put in order so that demands for documentary evidence could be found. The church records were now business like and efficient. At his own expense and with the goodwill of the Ursulines, he founded Ste-Anne’s High School in 1946. Classes were held in the St. Jean-Baptiste Hall, in the sacristy and in the school. In 1953 Father Pitre was elevated to the rank of Monsignor. Soon after, he again returned to his vision to enlarge the school. His efforts resulted in the building of St. Anthony School. His next ambition was a parish hall. The School Board saught leadership of Monsignor Pirtre to build St. Pius X School. Finally he asked for a replacement and retired to Hotel Dieu where he died. His remains are with the predecessors in the Ste Anne’s cemetery.
For a few months, Father Paul Charbonneau and Gerald Freker administered the parish and were happy to seek the advice of a native son Fr. Victor Renaud.
In June 1958 Father Charles Lanoue (a former curate) was named Pastor. He foresaw the difficult struggles ahead for the clergy so he invited and diligently prepared 100 boys to serve at mass and other religious ceremonies. The altar boys formed an imposing sight dressed in black cassocks and white surplice. The unusual financial burdens for the 60’s weighed heavily on his shoulders and he consequently asked for a move in January 1970. His assistants were: Fr. P. Schiller (’58-62’), E. Forton (’58-63’), Leo Beaune (’63-65’), Rene Giroux (’62-68’), Ron Paquette (’65-70’), and Richard Adam (’69-71).
Fr. Eugène LaRocque took office as Pastor in January 1970. He made a thorough study of the High School finances and agreed to keep the school open at all costs. He also divided the parish into zones so that more people could benefit from a closer contact by key persons. He was supported by his assistants: Fr. Ron Paquette (’65-’70), Fr. Richard Adam (’69-71), Fr. Leo Larivière (1971), Fr. Marcel Leboeuf (’70-’80), Fr. Don Theriault (’71-’74), Fr. Robert Champagne (’74-’78), and Fr. Felix Bezaire (’73-’80), who carried their share of responsibility. During Fr. LaRocque’s tenure, the installation of a lighting scheme was added to illuminate the church steeple. In 1971 a complex chiming system imported from France was installed. In 1973 the Parish Council complied with the Vatican II request “that the interior of church be restored to emphasize the altar of sacrifice and give prominence to the Blessed Sacrament.” Project ’73 was underway. The church was completely redecorated. The Lesperance Road entrance was replaced by a large structure that included a wheel-chair ramp. Four stained glass windows were installed to complete the window project started by Father Langlois. Original clock openings in the belfry were fitted with three large clocks. The steam system, now quite inadequate, was scrapped to install an efficient air circulating gas-fired furnace. The finishing touches were accelerated in the summer of 1974 in time for the consecration of Father LaRocque as Bishop for the Diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall.
In 1974, Father Laurent Poisson accepted to be pastor of this large parish. As soon as the parish finances improved, he installed the air conditioning system for the church and a separate one for the chapel. His associate pastors included Fr. Felix Bezaire (’73-’80) and Fr. Robert Champagne (’74-’78), Fr. Ken Bondy (’78-’85). While he still loved the parish he welcomed the change to a smaller parish (St. Gregory the Great) in 1981.
Father Lionel Bélanger became pastor in 1981. He allowed committees more room for decision making. He also agreed to allow a lay pastoral assistant to be part of the Pastoral Team. Sr. Antoinette Janisse was appointed for one year, and she proved to be an excellent choice. Father Bélanger’s assistant, following Fr. Bob Remark’s change in July of ’84 was Father Jim Drouillard. Fr. Bélanger’s Assistant Pastors also included Fr. Ken Bondy, Fr. Dwayne Adam, Fr. Terence Runstedler, Fr. Paul Rocheleau.
Father Larry Brunet was appointed pastor of Ste-Anne from June 1989 to August 2002. His Asscociate Pastors that worked with him at Ste-Anne’s are as follows: June 1989 to June 1993 Fr. Rick Hurdle, June 1993 to June 1996 Fr. Dennis Howard, June 1996 to June 1998 Fr. Murray Watson, June 1998 to August 2002 Fr. John Johnson. The Church Renovations were discussed and the planning began in 1991 and were completed in January 1995. The demolition of the old rectory took place in the summer of 1999. The new rectory and office building were finished in the year 2000. Fr. Larry left Ste-Anne the summer of 2002 and was assigned Pastor of Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Essex.
Father Robert Couture became Pastor of Ste-Anne’s on August 7, 2002. Father Robert’s Associate Pastors have included: Fr. Ray Lawhead (2002-2004), Fr. Matthew Bedard (2004-2006), Fr. Louis Angyal (2006-2009) and Fr. Mike Graham (2009-2011). At Father Robert’s request, the parish purchased a home on St. Anne’s Street in December 2004 with the intent to remove the house in order to open another access to our parking lot. This project was completed in June 2006. In the summer of 2007 the parish renovated its beloved chapel, a space that had been untouched for nearly thirty years. In the spring of 2007, an engineering report was commissioned to examine the bell tower and more specifically the wood rot underneath the structure. In October 2007, that structure was deemed unsafe. On October 22nd the Church as well as Lesperance Road was closed to remove the belfry and spire as well as the four bells. On Monday, October 29th before thousands of spectators, the structure was safely lowered to the ground and placed on the front lawn of the church where it remains to date. During that same month, full fledged fund-raising campaign began. The community remains optimistic that the belfry, spire and bells will one day be returned to its rightful place on top of the tower. Throughout 2008 and 2009 Ste-Anne’s has been refurbishing its beautiful stained glass windows in anticipation of the 150th Anniversary Celebration in October 2009.