Church of St. Louis: a regional reflection is launched

HERITAGE. Closed to the public for two years, can the church of Saint-Louis-de-Gonzague be renovated or transformed? If not, should it be sold?

This topic was on the menu of a day of reflection, held last Friday, May 20 in the Etcheminoise locality. This activity led by the MRC des Etchemins brought together 25 people, including many elected officials.

Local development officer at the MRC des Etchemins, Mathieu Baillargeon points out that this meeting allowed the participants to discover the uniqueness of this building built in 1961 after a fire destroyed the old church of Saint-Louis. The mandate to design it had been entrusted to the architect Jean-Marie Roy de Saint-Léon-de-Standon, a specialist in modern architecture who has been associated with the construction of many churches of this kind in Quebec. However, the one in Saint-Louis is one of the few in Chaudière-Appalaches.

« What we wanted was to present to the elected officials the unique aspect of this building with the help of two speakers (Marie-Josée Deschênes and Martin Dubois), who shared their interest in the built heritage. They had received the mandate to carry out a health book as well as a study on the concrete and the entire building as such, which they shared with us, » he mentions, adding that the elected officials had also been able to visit the entirety of this place of worship which is unknown to many stakeholders in the community and the only one, in the Etchemins, to receive the A rating from the Conseil du patrimoine religieux du Québec.

In the afternoon, the general director of the Sainte-Kateri-Tekakwitha parish, Martin Gauthier explained to those present the position of the regional factory on this building. « We know that worship has not been done there for two years. We also know that the municipality will not embark on this by itself, but it has said that it is ready to become a partner in a possible regional project, » adds Mr. Baillargeon.

« This church is poorly perceived by the entire population, who are not necessarily aware of its architectural and heritage value. We have a responsibility to enhance our built heritage, even if the church has not been identified as such so far. What we knew this morning is that it is a building of great value, » he continues, specifying that the subject should, as indicated by Prefect Camil Turmel in the afternoon, be discussed at a next working session of the Council of mayors.

Various presentations were offered to the participants, as here by Martin Gauthier, general director of the parish of Sainte-Kateri-Tekakwitha.

An unknown potential

Invited speakers of the day, the architects Martin Dubois and Marie-Josée Deschênes painted a complete picture of the building, which, according to them, deserves to be known and certainly saved.

« We carried out a technical audit on the building in 2020, then we had a characterization of the concrete done by a specialized company and a structural engineer who told us that if the concrete was of poor quality, it is not completely finished or broken. It is a church that can be restored and since there is no column inside, it is easy to transform, » says Marie-Josée Deschênes, architect of Saint-Henri.

Author of a book on the work of Jean-Marie Roy, Martin Dubois agrees in the same direction, adding that they had taken advantage of this forum to present their interest in the church of Saint-Louis. « We talked about modern architecture to situate people on this current that marked the 20th century. I talked about Jean-Marie Roy himself and how this church fit into his work. The characteristics of the building were presented and people discovered that it was a jewel of architecture. Even if it is not in very good condition at the moment, it offers a lot of potential, » he mentions, recalling that in 1961, the local factory had a little less than $ 100,000 to rebuild its church, which was little considering that it normally cost $ 250,000 to build such a building, at the time.

The two architects also expressed their encouragement by the discussions emanating from the elected officials and speakers present. « What is interesting is that we heard a lot of points of view coming from the factory as well as from the municipality and the RCM. The fact of having so many mayors present (9 in all) is innovative. This is the first sign of a regional vision, » says Marie-Josée Deschênes.

« We know that the municipality of Saint-Louis, alone, is not capable of taking such a file in charge. It has to become a regional tool. Basically, three options are presented to the region: the status quo that has been known for 10 years, the demolition of the building or its transformation. It is necessary to analyze each step carefully, » she says, adding that the demolition of the building alone should cost around $ 500,000.

Positive day for the parish

General director of the parish of Sainte-Kateri-Tekakwitha, owner of the church of Saint-Louis, Martin Gauthier also mentions that the activity of May 20 was part of a comprehensive approach that began with the realization of a health book of the church and on the state of concrete as such.

« What we want to see is a regional approach or reflection on the future of the church. We will not be able to keep it, that’s for sure and we said it earlier today, but if a regional project should emerge, we will support it, » he says, saying that if this should not finally be the case, the sale of the building will have to be considered.

« This has already been discussed and thought through within the factory, but it was said that we give the middle a chance. We were waiting for today’s meeting to see if something would come out and we now know that a reflection will be launched. We will wait for the discussion to be done at the Council of mayors and we will keep abreast of what has been said with the authorities of the MRC. »

The future of churches

Following some rumors suggesting the closure of several churches in the Etchemins, « which is entirely false » according to Mr. Gauthier, the latter mentions that he and the president of the Sainte-Kateri Parish, Gérald Lamontagne, will shortly meet with all the local committees to invite them to reflect on the issue.

« At the Board of Trustees, we have drawn up our master real estate plan that we have forwarded to the diocese and for which we are awaiting authorization. In the next three years, we will give each of the circles the opportunity to reflect and see if it is possible to find other uses for the churches, in order to ensure that the Catholic Church is not the only one to use and support these buildings. We use these at the rate of one hour a week and we would like these buildings, which are part of the heritage of each of our localities, to become village centers and be used for other activities, which will allow us to share the maintenance bill. Regardless of the project, we can remain owners or be tenants as is currently the case in Saint-Vallier or La Durantaye, » concludes the man who, on Wednesday, May 18, was appointed director of the Saint-Benoît-de-Bellechasse parish, he who already held the same position in the other two parishes of Bellechasse-Etchemins.

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