On the 21st of September 1893, Father Adelard Langevin, OMI, together with two other Oblate Missionaries, established the Fort Frances mission which was primarily intended to serve approximately 100 First Nation and Metis on the Couchiching Reserve on Rainy Lake. In the town of Fort Frances itself, situated on the shores of Rainy River, there was but a handful of Roman Catholics. To serve them, the first Mass was celebrated in the home of Mr. Louis Hamel on 9 September 1894. A year later a small “chapel house” was built and opened for worship. Although Father J.B. Baudin, OMI, was sent to the Fort Frances mission to take up permanent residence, the number of Roman Catholics did warrant a full-time pastor and by 1896, Mass was celebrated in the town every fourth Sunday.
It was not until a pulp and paper mill and the CNR established a presence in Fort Frances that the Roman Catholic population began to grow. In 1918, it had 59 Roman Catholic families who attended a small church capable of seating 165 people. Twenty years later, in order to accommodate all parishioners, four Masses were celebrated each Sunday. The current church building was constructed in 1950 and dedicated by the Archbishop of St. Boniface on 26 May 1951 under the patronage of our Lady of Perpetual Help. In 1952, it was named St. Mary’s Church. From 1893 to June 2002 it was served continuously by Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
Since July 2002, diocesan priests have been serving the spiritual needs of the Parish. In 2012, we celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of the renaming of the Parish as St. Mary’s.
Historical Writings about St. Mary’s
The Oblate Fathers knew that the establishment of a Catholic mission in the Rainy River District was important in the development of the Church in Northwestern Ontario. Many of the priests who ministered in our Parish took time to record the events and the milestones in the life of our Parish. Two individuals in particular, one a former pastor and the other a local historian, set about to write an orderly account of the Parish history as a gift to future generations. Click on the titles below to read their accounts.
- St. Mary’s Parish: The Tree Planted in 1732 is Still Growing, 9 August 1961 by Mr. J. P. Bertrand
- A Token of Devotion, November 1969 by Fr. George C. Salamon, OMI, Pastor 1945 – 1948
- Poems inspired by St. Mary’s
The beginnings of Christianity in the Rainy River district goes back to the year 1732 when the first Catholic priest appeared in the region. Yet even before this time, there was contact between the First Nations with French traders, explorers and missionaries. Father Belcourt, famous for his voyages west of the Mississippi River, was appointed in 1832 by Bishop Provencher of St. Boniface to establish a permanent mission at Rainy Lake, which today is Fort Frances.
In 1848, the Oblate Fathers of Mary Immaculate (OMI) became responsible for the spiritual care of Our Lady of Lourdes, St. Mary’s and the surrounding missions.
In 1893 Our Lady of Lourdes became an independent mission from St. Mary’s with missionaries travelling to serve the needs of approximately 100 First Nation and Metis on Couchiching Reserve. In 1896, Father St. Amant took up residence on the Reserve and on 21 September 1903, Archbishop Adelard Langevin appointed Father Charles Cahill, OMI, as the first pastor.
On 20 September 1905 Archbishop Langevin was present for the blessing of the school for Native children run by the Sisters of Charity of Montreal (Grey Nuns). This school was replaced in 1962 by a more modern facility. The St. Marguerite Residential School was formally closed in 1974.
By 1914, the Parish Community had outgrown the Church on the Rock and a larger church was built on the current site on the shores of Rainy Lake. This church was destroyed by fire in 1920. Work began on the construction of a new church with its dedication celebrated in 1926. This church was similarly destroyed by fire in 1947. The following year, the current church building was dedicated to the intercession of Our Lady of Lourdes.
After 154 years of ministry, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate left the Parish in 2002. Since that time, Our Lady of Lourdes has been served by diocesan priests.
Our Church Buildings
Our first church, known as the Church on the Rock, was built in 1898 and was situated on the rock hill just above what is Hillside Crescent today. It was used for worship until 1914 when the second church was built. When the second church burned down in 1920, this building was again used for worship until construction of the third church was completed in 1926. The third church was similarly destroyed by fire in 1947. The fourth and current church was built in 1948 and was renovated between the years of 1984 to 1991.
First Church – Church on the Rock, 1898 – 1914, 1920 – 1926
Second Church, 1914 – 1920
Third Church, 1926 – 1947
Current Church, 1948 –
A summer chapel has been present at Bear Pass for many decades. The current building replaced an earlier structure which had fallen into disrepair and housed a congregation which had outgrown the size of the building. In 1970, the Board of Directors decided to build a suitable church. Many within the community, on both sides of the international border, joined the cause. Much of the building material and labour was donated.
From the beginning, the summer chapel at Bear Pass was intended to be a joint venture of the Catholic and Protestant communities in both Fort Frances, Canada and International Falls, USA. It was also meant to be self-sufficient and to work within the budget of its weekly Sunday offering. During the opening service, Fr. Phillippe, Pastor of St. Mary’s at the time, stated that “Christians have been accentuating what divided us; and now the time has come to concentrate on what we have in common.”
Announcement for the Opening of the New Chapel
The directors of the Bear Pass Church today announced that the new ecumenical and international church will open on May 2. The new church is located on Highway 11, twenty miles east of Fort Frances, one mile east of the Bear Pass Bridge.
The new church was completed on April 17 and the Board of Directors wish to thank Jim Strachan of Jim’s Construction and all the volunteer workers for a job well done. Also many cash and building material donations have already been made which have helped a great deal.
The first service of the year will be at 12:00 noon with Father Phillipe, OMI, officiating. Immediately following the service, hot dogs, donuts, coffee and pop will be served. Everyone is invited to attend.