The Church

Father Lavin began accumulating funds towards a new church in 1885. He started the fund with a donation of $500 of his own. He traveled the roads of the parish enlisting every family in his campaign to erect a worthy house of worship. Some of the donations were pathetically small, just a couple of dollars a year. Others, like Father Lavin’s, were spectacular for the times. Father Foley donated his nearly new buggy in lieu of cash. The vehicle had a value of over $100 or half a year’s wages for a working man. Every parish family was asked to pledge a special donation each year until enough money was accumulated. Mrs. Peter Farrell sold a yearling heifer and donated the price, while Margaret Farrell raised and sold a flock of turkeys as her contribution. As young men, John and Will Coady went to the shanty and worked all winter for $75 each. Upon their return from the lumber camp in the spring, they donated their entire winter’s earnings to the church fund. Every penny of every contribution was counted in Father Lavin’s meticulous accounts. By 1891, there was enough money to justify the construction of a new church with its dependent buildings.

In his report on Pakenham of May 27, 1891, Bishop Duhamel writes:

“The time has come to build a new Church, sacristy and presbytery. We order that plans should be asked (Bishop J.T. Duhamel) of a good architect. When they are drawn, they will be shown to us and if found suitable, tenders will be called for and the contract will be let so that the work of building may commence early this fall. We beg of the Sacred Heart of Jesus a special blessing on this work.”

In preparation for the new church, a new site was found on the bluff dominating Pakenham village. Father Lavin had previously bought up the corner lots of the site with the house on the corner of Dalkeith and Renfrew that had served as his rectory for years. Father Lavin purchased the rest of the block where the church and rectory now stand; six lots at the front for $500 in 1891 and, a year later, the other fourteen lots at the west side and rear for only $150. Originally he seems to have planned to put the cemetery on this land, or possibly a school. In any case, this wide expanse ensured the church building would stand proudly apart on extensive grounds, framed against its beautiful little grove to the rear.

The Plan

St. Peter Celestine strikes anyone familiar with the religious architecture of the Ottawa Valley as being from a quite different tradition. Most Catholic churches built in the Valley in the last century were in the Gothic-revival style reminiscent of the great cathedrals of medieval Europe. They are characterized by long, high naves lighted by tall pointed windows. St. John the Baptist in Perth is probably the finest local example of this style. By contrast, Pakenham is in the Classic style with round arches and smaller windows. Interior decoration is more important than the windows in this style, which accounts for the elaborate painting of the inside of St. Peter Celestine.

Why is our church so different from others in the area? The reason is probably that the building was designed by architects Roy & Gauthier of Montreal who had designed many churches all over Quebec in the preceding decade. In fact, St. Peter’s would look right at home in Quebec, whereas it is an unusual design for Eastern Ontario. Roy & Gauthier designs always incorporated a feature set at 45 degrees – in this case the Tower.

Architects Roy & Gauthier sent a preliminary submission to Father Lavin as early as 1889 and he discussed the final plans with them in July 1890. After the purchase of the site, the architects provided the final exterior plans and lists of materials required. These are impressive: 363 cords of cut stone, forty of rough stone for the foundations and four hundred yards of sand are a few of the elements mentioned.

In November, 1891, Father Lavin signed with Mr. L. Joseph Fauteux of Montreal for the construction of the church; Mr. Fauteux had built many churches in Montreal and area. Father Lavin paid out the first monies for construction in February, 1892; the first carload of cut stone arrived at Pakenham station from the Montreal Road quarries in April and the digging of the cellar began as soon as the ground thawed that year, so that laying of the foundation could begin in late May. James Arthur Nugent drew the first wagon load of stone to the church site.

St. Peter Celestine is in the Classic style traditional in the southern countries of Europe. The building is in the form of a cross, as is usual. The body of the church, the nave, is the base of the cross. Its arms are the two transepts where the side altars stand and the top of the cross is the sanctuary. The building, standing on foundation walls five feet thick, is one hundred and twenty six feet long and fifty feet wide. The ridgepole of the church is at sixty-two feet above the church floor while the cross on top of the tower is one hundred and thirty-eight feet above ground level.

Construction of the Church in progress, July, 1892 just after the laying of the cornerstone.

Contractor Fauteux brought with him his “clear-headed foreman, Mr. Dufresne” and a gang of experienced church-builders totalling 34 men. Local workers were hired through the summer and winter of 1892 and on into the summer of 1893 when the church was near enough finished to be used. Contractor Fauteux subcontracted the roofing to J.D. Lee of Arnprior, whose workman, John Knox, installed the galvanized iron. It is highly unlikely that this is the same John Knox that founded Presbyterianism in Scotland. Other local contractors built the chimneys and porches, while a well-known Montreal artist, Mr. Edouard Meloche, built and painted the elaborate pulpit and altars.

Laying the Cornerstone, July 31, 1892

The foundation of the new church was a very special event in a village parish of a century ago. The occasion obviously called for a high degree of ceremony, as the following excerpt from the Almonte Gazette indicates:

Sunday, July 31, 1892 will long be remembered by the Roman Catholics of this section of the country. It was on that day that His Grace Archbishop Duhamel of Ottawa laid the cornerstone of the beautiful Roman Catholic Church now in the course of erection. On Saturday evening, His Grace arrived here by the 5:30 train, accompanied by Very Reverend Canon Mitchell, Buckingham; Rev. W. Dequerre, the Archbishop’s Secretary; Rev. Father Champagne, Gatineau Point; Rev. Kiernan, Quyon; and were met here by Rev. Chaine, Arnprior; Rev. Devine, Osceola; Rev. Ryan, Mount St. Patrick and Rev. D. Lavin, P.P. of Pakenham. The members of the congregation turned out in force to meet their Bishop and to escort him to Father Lavin’s residence, where he was guest during his stay. On Sunday morning, the temperature was much more pleasant than it had been all the previous week. Well filled carriages of all descriptions fitted with well dressed people were seen in all directions wending their way towards Pakenham. Hotel yards and stables were filled to overflowing as were the commons and vacant lots.

At 5:00 a.m. Mass was celebrated by Father Lavin; at 7:00 a. m. His Grace celebrated Mass and a Solemn High Mass was sung by Father Chaine at 10 o’clock. Miss M. Harvey and her choir sung numerous hymns. At the conclusion of the service in the old church, a procession was formed, headed by the altar boys bearing both the silver and golden crucifix and tapers; 2nd, the choir in double file; 3rd, the ladies; 4th, His Grace and the clergy and last the gentlemen, in double file. His Grace was dressed in the full vestments of his office. Rev. Dequerre, the Archbishop’s secretary was M.C.; Canon Mitchell was deacon and Father Keirnan, sub-deacon at the ceremony of the laying of the stone. A substantial gallery encircled the inner walls while the basement had been cleared leaving room for 2 to 3 thousand people to see the ceremonies preparatory to the laying of the stone, and to hear His Grace’s sermon after the stone had been laid. Except for the laying of the stone, all the ceremonies took place on the ground floor, where, surrounded with evergreens decked with white roses, a pulpit and altar had been erected. From every scaffold and pole of the building waved a banner of Great Britain and young Canada’s infant flag. In the rear of the building was a platform where His Grace and the clergy took their seats. The ceremony then began. Many prayers were offered by the Archbishop. The choir sang the Litany of the Saints and Veni Creator Spiritus. At the appointed time, the Archbishop and clergy moved to the cornerstone, which is placed to the left of the main entrance of the church. Here he was presented by the contractor with a solid silver trowel bearing the inscription: “Presented to His Grace, J. T. Duhamel, D.D., Archbishop of Ottawa, by L.J. Fauteux, contractor. Used in laying the cornerstone of the Pakenham Roman Catholic Church, July 31, 1892”. The casket, which had already been prepared and hermetically sealed, contained the records of the parish, the contractor, etc and copies of the Catholic record, United Canada, Almonte Gazette, Arnprior Chronicle and Renfrew Journal. The cavity in the stone was in the form of an L and after His Grace had spread the mortar and declared the stone well and truly laid, holy water was sprinkled on it. Returning to the altar, the Litany of the Saints was intoned. The circuit of the foundation was then made by the clergy, His Grace blessing the walls of the building during the circuit. Prayers and psalms assigned to such occasions were recited, after which His Grace gave the sermon. He took for his text the 16th Chapter of St. Matthew, 18th and 19th verses, from which he preached a lengthy, able and eloquent sermon. He pronounced Pakenham parish the most liberal of the Diocese. At the conclusion of the sermon, the Archbishop granted the episcopal benediction to all present after which he invited all to go forward and strike the stone, reminding them that at the same time they would be expected to contribute something. The collection was evidently a liberal one as hardly a person passed that stone without striking it and depositing cash in the basket. The collection amounted to $1,003. Thus ended the ceremony. The hour was 1 p.m. The multitudes were then in humour for their dinner but the hotels of the place were unable to meet the demands, so great was the crush. It was a case of the first calling being the first served; those who were late had to be content with half a meal or none at all. The crowds then returned to their homes, not a single hitch having occurred in anyway throughout the proceedings. The 5:00 train steamed westward from Pakenham at 5:35 carrying with it the last of the visitors to the ceremony of the LAYING OF THE CORNERSTONE.

Archbishop Duhamel placed the construction of St. Peter Celestine under the special protection of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Ed Meloche of Montreal donated money to buy a statue of the Sacred Heart and Father Lavin bought the magnificent cast-iron statue that stands over the main entrance, forty feet above ground-level. Weighing near half a ton, it was coated in gold leaf and was imported from Paris, France for its installation in June of 1893. In October of the same year the bell and cross were removed from the old church on Victoria Street and installed in the new building.

Older parishioners must have felt quite mixed in their feelings, to leave the old wooden church in the valley for the new stone building on the hill. The old church was erected by people who had fled the terrible Irish famine only half a dozen years before its construction. Men and women knelt in its pews who had seen the wild Laird of McNab stalking through the muddy streets of Pakenham at the head of his gang of henchmen, and who had seen the night sky red with the fires of burning churches and halls. Now the elegant new church raised its spire as a symbol of a new, more settled life for the people and parish of Pakenham.

Finishing the Church

Father Lavin took no rest once the church was fit to use. The good priest and his parishioners continued to lavish gifts on the new church in a remarkable way. Father Lavin purchased the two cast-iron angel fonts who continue to dispense holy water at the door of the church. At the same period parishioners and ex-parishioners donated the Stations of the Cross. Father Lavin wanted these built directly into the walls of the church but the architects advised strongly against it due to the probability of frost damage passing through the walls in winter. As a result, Father Lavin bought the massive gold frames we see today. The Stations were originally painted in brilliant colours but these became chipped and faded by the 1960’s so the original paint was covered in monochromatic brown and white. This has been replaced by brilliant colours in the recent restoration

As you walk around the church and look at the Stations, you are looking at the individual donations of Father Lavin and certain parishioners and also of John Foley of Duluth, Minnesota, a son of the parish. Near the pulpit you can see the little organ given to Father Lavin by Michael Armand.

Work continued on the interior of the new church for another decade. Local carpenters built the existing pews out of local wood; oak, pine and tamarack. John Dolan, Owen Colton, Thomas Needham, Steven Delisle and Eugene Sullivan were carpenters who built the interior. They got their materials, virgin wood from the Old Forest, at prices from $1.50 a cord for pine up to $2.75 a cord for oak. Their handiwork can still be admired in the pews today.

The Blessing of the Church

The official transfer of the congregation from the old church to the new took place in December, 1893. Once again Archbishop Duhamel officiated along with five visiting priests, friends of Father Lavin. The Almonte Gazette reported the event:

Sunday, December 17, 1893 was a day which will be remembered by the Roman Catholics of Pakenham as a red letter day in the history of their church, as on that day His Grace Archbishop Duhamel blessed and set apart to the glory of God the magnificent new sanctuary, which they had erected. By 9 o’clock, the clouds had given way to the sun and from all parts of the Township people came driving in to attend the opening service. Their numbers were augmented by those who had come by rail the previous day. On July 31st, 1892, the cornerstone had been laid and from that date until last Saturday, the work of construction went steadily on without a single hitch or accident taken place.

On Saturday morning last, His Grace accompanied by his secretary, arrived on the 9 a.m. train and was met at the station by Rev. Lavin and a number of laity. They proceeded to the residence of Father Lavin, whose guest, the Archbishop was during his stay. At 7 a.m. Sunday, the tolling of the bell summoned worshipers for the last time to the old church where low mass was celebrated by Rev. Fathers Dowdall, Devine and other priests, after which Archbishop Duhamel also celebrated Mass, which brought the services in the old church to a close. The final service will never be forgotten by many who had so often knelt at its altar rail.

The clergy who took part in the service were Rev. Dowdall, Eganville; Rev. Devine, Osceola; Rev. Chaine, Arnprior; Rev. Kiernan, Quyon; Rev. Brunette, Ottawa and Rev. Lavin, Pakenham. At the appointed time, the Archbishop, accompanied by the clergy proceeded to the main entrance of the church outside the building, standing turned towards it. The Archbishop said the appropriate prayers and sprinkled it. The choir chanted a psalm, the clergy meantime turning towards the right. They proceeded around the exterior of the building, His Grace sprinkling the walls above and below with holy water. The service of blessing the interior was similar, after which the Archbishop repeated prayers from the 51st psalm. Throughout the service the musical part was led by Miss M. Harvey, was ably rendered by the choir. After the blessing, Rev. Devine celebrated High Mass after which Rev. Dowdall preached an eloquent sermon, for which he is noted. He informed the congregation that a debt of nearly $5,000 was still against the building, which would prevent the full consecration. His Grace then rose and thanked the congregation for their great liberality and said the Parish of Pakenham was the model one of his Diocese. The Litany of the Saints was said by the clergy, the choir responding. The Archbishop blessed the congregation and brought the morning service to a close. At 4:30 p.m. His Grace preached an eloquent sermon after which the ceremony of the Stations of the Cross was celebrated by His Grace, followed by Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.

It is the sincere prayer of all here that the reverend incumbent, Father Lavin, may live long to enjoy the beautiful church and house which has cost him so much thought and labour.

The move from the old church to the new was completed at the end of 1893. Father Lavin sold off the lots the old church occupied that same year. In 1894 the Pakenham Agricultural Society purchased the former church and moved it to the south end of the village where it continued in use as a Community Hall until the early 1960’s. The present author remembers it well, a big, drafty old building, its floor welted by a century of use.

Father Lavin completed the exterior of the church by planting trees on the property. The spruce trees around the church came as saplings from the farm of Bill Ryan in 1895. Two gentlemen named Fishendon and Delisle planted the trees while James Stanton erected a cedar fence around the church grounds, all at wages of a dollar a day.

Decorating the Church

Father Lavin postponed the interior decoration of the church for four years, waiting for the structure to finish settling. In 1897 contractor Fauteux and workmen returned to Pakenham where they re-pointed the stone and made good the interior plaster as required.

Since 1890, Father Lavin had been receiving proposals from church decorator François-Édouard Meloche (“Ed Meloche”) of Montreal, who sought the contract for St. Peter Celestine. Meloche had been in the business for fifteen years. A former employee of Meloche, Toussaint-Xénephon Renaud (“T-X Renaud”), had set up as an independent church decorator and among his first contracts was St. James Church in Eganville. Renaud’s work delighted Father Dowdall and the latter recommended Renaud very highly to Father Lavin. Renaud sought the contract for Pakenham as early as 1897, but Father Lavin waited until he was sure the building was completely settled.

English French
There is interesting documentation concerning St Peter Celestine Church in Pakenham, an Irish parish in the diocese of Ottawa. Toussaint-Xénophon Renaud wrote a letter on July 16, 1897 to parish priest Dominique-Joseph Lavin, while he was on the Saint-Alphonse-de-Liguori construction site in Hawkesbury (pp.59-60). There was an exchange of letters between the parish priest and the decorator. The contract was not granted to the solicitor until three years later, in 1900. Renaud, then on the Saint-Augustin des Deux-Montagnes construction site, inquired about Reverend Lavin’s decision in a new letter: Au sujet de l’Église St. Peter Celestine de Pakenham, paroisse irlandaise du diocèse d’Ottawa, il existe une intéressante documentation. On se souvient de la lettre que Renaud écrivit le 16 juillet 1897 au curé Dominique-Joseph Lavin, alors qu’il était sur le chantier de Saint-Alphonse-de-Liguori à Hawkesbury. Il y cut un échange de lettres entre le curé et le décorateur. Le contrat ne fut accordé au solliciteur que trois ans plus tard, en 1900. Renaud, alors sur le chantier de Saint-Augustin des Deux-Montagnes, s’enquiert de la décision du révérend Lavin par une nouvelle lettre:


Saint Augustin August 26, 1900
To Reverend Lavin
Reverend Sir,
Have you had the decorations made for your church? If not, I would suggest that you do it this winter because I have three churches and I was quite happy to have your trust. I could do your work at very exceptional prices and in any genres. If you like the dark genre, I could paint your church in the colours of the Church of the Jesuits of Montreal or Fournier-Ville. And if you like the pale colours, you could come and see the Church of St Augustin where I am currently working. As far as the artistic work of the paintings is concerned, I have just secured the services of an artist who has just arrived from Europe and also an old German painter named Laranze who offered his services when I had paintings to do. The latter is the painter that François-Édouard Meloche generally employs. Finally, Reverend Sir, not only I am certain that you would be satisfied with my work, but I would manage to do it to your tastes and obligations.
T.-X. Renaud
Saint Augustin. 26 aout 1900
Au Revd. Monsieur Lavin.
Reverend Monsieur, avez-vous fait faire les decorations de votre Église. Si non je vienderais vous proposer de le faire cette hiver car jai trois Églises d’entreprises et jétais asez heureux d’avoir votre confience. Je pourais faire vos travaux a des prix tout a fait exceptionnell. et en n’importe qu’elle genre, si vous aimiez le genre foncé. je pourais vous faire votre Église dans les teintes de l’Église des Jésuites de Montreal ou Fournier-Ville [ici un mot illisible] et si vous aimiez les teinte pâle, vous pouriez venir voir l’Église de St. Augustin que je suis a faire actuellement. Pour ce qui concerne I’ouvrage Artistique des tableaux je viens de massurer les services d’un Artiste qui vient darriver d’Europe. et aussi d’un vieux peintre Allemant du nom de Laranze qui ma offertses cervices quant jaurais des tableau a faire. ce dernier est le peintre que Meloche emploie generallement. Enfin. Reverend Monsieur, non seulement je suis certain que je vous donnerais satisfaction mats je mangagerais a le faire a votre gouts, votre obligé
T.-X. Renaud
Toussaint-Xénophon Renaud
Church decorator, painter
François-Édouard Meloche
Muralist, teacher, architect

English French
St Peter Celestine Church owes its architecture to Victor Roy and Louis-Zephirin Gauthier, who relied on contractor Louis-Joseph Fauteux in 1893. Rare fact: the facade of the church has only two entrances, one on each side of the bell tower. Father Lavin requested a facade simulating the bow of a ship. You won’t find this original architecture anywhere else. The name of this parish was chosen in memory of Pope Celestine I who, in the 5th century, sent Saint Patrick to evangelize Ireland. St. Peter Celestine doit son architecture à Victor Roy et Louis-Zephirin Gauthier qui s’en remettent dès 1893 à l’entrepreneur Louis-Joseph Fauteux. Fait rare: la façade de l’église n’a que deux entrées, une de chaque côté du clocher. Le curé Lavin aurait exigé une façade simulant la proue d’où navire, d’ou cette originalité architecturale qu’on ne rencontre nulle part ailleurs. Le nom de cette paroisse fut choisi en souvenir du pape Célestin Ier qui, au ve siècle, envoya saint Patrick évangéliser l’Irlande.
Arriving at St Peter Celestine with his team in April, T.-X. Renaud hires employees on site. In August, the scaffolding is taken down and the interior beauty of the church amazes the parishioners. Additional works included, the total costs reach a total of $2812. Arrivé a St. Peter Celestine avec son équipe en avril, T.-X. Renaud engage des employés sur place. En août, on défait les échafaudages et la beauté intérieure de l’église émerveille les paroissiens. Travaux supplémentaires inclus, l’ensemble des coûts atteint un total de 2812$.
Father Lavin chooses decor in shades of ivory, blue, aqua green and pink, except for the rich imitation of marble columns. In the vault of the nave, above the stained glass windows, we can admire an octagonal motif in trompe-l’œil surrounding a floral ornament. Enriched with wine-coloured lines, the neo-romanesque architecture underlines the intensity and the curves which create the illusion of arches, moldings and pillars. The ornamentation of the three altars and the pulpit is, however, by Edouard Meloche, who requested the decoration contract in 1893. The delicacy of the high altar is underlined by abundant gilding. Le curé Lavin choisit une décoration dans les tons ivoire, bleu, vert aqua et rosé, sauf pour la riche imitation de marbre des colonnes. Pour la première fois, dans la voûte de la nef, au-dessus des vitraux, on admire un motif octogonal en trompe-l’œil cernant un ornement fleuri, d’où l’heureuse dynamique composant l’ensemble. Enrichie de filets d’un rouge lie-de-vin, l’architecture néo-romane souligne l’intensité et les courbures créent l’illusion d’arches, de moulures et de piliers. L’ornementation des trois autels et de la chaire est cependant d’Édouard Meloche qui avait sollicité le contrat de décoration en 1893. La délicatesse du maître-autel est soulignée par d’abondantes dorures.
The chancel contains four large paintings by Renaud. To the left of the high altar, The Resurrection and The Annunciation, and on the right, The Nativity and The Ascension. A charming detail is that the faces of the six angels in the arch of the sanctuary are the portraits of six little girls from the parish whom the artist had posed in the church itself. The church in Pakenham is the only one decorated by Renaud that has a sanctuary with steps and risers decorated with stencil motifs. Le choeur contient quatre grands tableaux de Renaud. À gauche du maitre-autel, La Résurrection et L’Annonciation; à droite, La Nativité et L’Ascension. Détail charmant, les visages des six anges dans les cartouches ornant l’arche du sanctuaire sont les portraits de six petites filles de la paroisse que l’artiste a fait poser dans l’église meme. Exclusivité: l’eglise de Pakenham est la seule décorée par Renaud possédant un sanctuaire aux marches et contremarches ornées de motifs au pochoir!
All the interior elements are intact, including the pulpit in its original place. Reverend Lavin wanted it to have the shape of a chalice. Even the harmonium dates from 1893. The parishioners of St Peter Celestine knew how to resist the winds of change of the 1960s. Just before the 100th anniversary of the church, the interior of the church was restored, thus preserving T.-X. Renaud’s work. The decorator Stanislaw Dusko, of Polish origin, was the master restorer. Tous les éléments intérieurs sont intacts, y compris la chaire à sa place d’origine (le curé Lavin à tenu a ce qu’elle ait la forme d’un calice). Même l’harmonium (I’église n’a jamais eu d’orgue) date de 1893. Les paroissiens de St. Peter Celestine ont su résister au vent de changement des années 1960. Bien plus, à la veille du centenaire, on a precédé a une restauration du temple dans les règles de l’art, préservant ainsi l’ceuvre de T.-X. Renaud. Le decorateur Stanislaw Dusko, d’origine polonaise, en fut le maître d’œuvre.
St Peter Celestine Church remains one of the most perfect examples of the conservation of a work by Renaud. Everything has been preserved, with the exception of the Stations of the Cross, which was repainted several years ago and restored in 1992 according to the original colours of the artist. Another feature is the Pakenham Bridge which was built in 1901, and restored in 1984, spans the Mississippi River. It is the only stone bridge with five arches in North America. St. Peter Celestine demeure un des plus parfaits exemples de conservation d’une œuvre de Renaud. Tout y a été préservé, à l’exception du chemin de croix, repeint il y a plusieurs années mais restauré en 1992 selon les teintes originales de 1’artiste.
Autre particularité: le pont de Pakenham, construit en 1901 (restauré en 1984), enjambe la rivière Mississippi. C’est le seul pont de pierre à cinq arches en Amerique du Nord!.

T-X Renaud arrived from Montreal and set to work in March. He engaged a number of local labourers to speed the work, among them PJ. Moynihan and Eugene Sullivan. The crew finished their work in August at a cost of just over $2,800, leaving the interior substantially as we see it today.

St. Peter Celestine Church was Consecrated by Archbishop J.F. Duhamel in October of 1901. The church building is no longer “worldly” but divine. This also signifies that the Church is free from debt. One notes the small plaques depicting an encircled cross, on each pillar.

Father Lavin tried to get the name of the parish changed at this time. It had originally been St. Celestine Parish in honour of Pope Celestinus who sent Patrick to convert the pagan Irish. The name was changed to St. Peter Celestine in the 1870’s. The new patron was a medieval pope with no connection to Ireland. This displeased Father Lavin, but he could not persuade the diocesan authorities to revert to the original name, nor would they allow a change to “St. Patrick’s”.

Because of the relative obscurity of our parish’s patron saint, Father Lavin had a hard time finding a picture of the saint to serve as a model for the mural painters. In the end, the idea of having murals of St. Patrick and St. Peter Celestine in the altar arches was abandoned and Father Lavin settled upon pictures of the Nativity, the Resurrection, the Ascension and St. Patrick. With the purchase of matching statues of St. Peter Celestine and St Patrick for mounting in the south transept, Father Lavin finally gave up on procuring a picture of the Apostle of Ireland. Instead he had painted the Annunciation we see today.


T. Carli Company of Montreal were major purveyors of religious art at the time and through the generosity of parishioners, the Carlis provided statues of St. Anthony of Padua and of St. Anne teaching the Virgin which were set up on either side of the sanctuary in 1901. Finally Father Lavin purchased the large copy of Michelangelo’s Pieta to stand in the right transept as a balance to the mass of the pulpit on the other side. (In later years this was eventually moved near the entrance to make room for a choir near the sanctuary).


The statues of St. Patrick and St. Peter Celestine occupied pedestals on the wall in the south transept until St. Patrick came down with a crash in the fifties. Afterward St. Peter Celestine was removed to the north transept and the wall pedestals were taken down, leaving the painted arches empty where the two saints had stood, although the marks of their pedestals remained clearly visible for years.

The interior of St. Peter Celestine has been painted and the windows have been designed to hold a mass of Christian symbolism that can occupy the mind for minutes or decades depending on the contemplative powers of the viewer. Starting with the watchful eye of the Trinity in the vestibule, the decorations are centered on the theme of the suffering and death of Christ. Decoration will be dealt with in a separate section of this web site.

Pakenham parish is very fortunate that the church has been maintained in its original state over a century. The building we see is nearly exactly the building consecrated by Archbishop Duhamel in 1901. All around us, churches were stripped and “modernized” during the changes following the Second Vatican Council in 1963. Mercifully, St. Peter Celestine was spared, and now offers a unique opportunity for people to see the fervent belief of our ancestors in its full artistic expression.

© 1992 (text) Terence Currie – Used with permission