Parish Community of Immaculée Conception, Pain Court
It is the extreme misery of the ancestors that gave birth to the name Pain Court (short bread). The missionaries would say: “I am going to the mission where bread is short.” And the name took root forever…
The history of the parish of Immaculée Conception, Pain Court, is intrinsically linked to that of St. Peter’s parish as, at first, it was a mission of St. Peter’s. In 1851, Bishop de Charbonnel, Bishop of Toronto, asked the parish priest, Father Claude-Antoine Ternet, to have a chapel built in Pain Court, on the site across from the present cemetery. Saint Joseph was chosen as its patron saint. According to the 1851 census, there were over 1,100 Catholics, approximately 200 families, mostly French Canadian, in Dover Township, Kent County.
The official foundation of Immaculée Conception parish of Pain Court dates back to 1853 when Father Jean-Thomas Raynel took charge of St. Peter’s parish and two of its annexed missions, Pain Court and Grande Pointe. (It is interesting to point out that, in 1834, St. Peter’s parish encompassed a vast territory from which were later detached the parishes of Belle-Rivière, Saint-Joachim, Pointe-aux-Roches, Staples, Tilbury, Raleigh, Chatham, Wallaceburg, Lambton, Dresden, Thamesville, Bothwell and Blenheim.) Father Raynel’s first assignment was the construction of a church in Pain Court on the site of the present cemetery, but facing the ditch which is commonly known as “le creek”. As His Holiness Pope Pius IX had set the date of December 8, 1854, for the proclamation of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception, the choice of a patron saint for the new church was clear; it would be Immaculée Conception, with Saint Joseph as second patron saint.
The entire Southwestern region of Ontario was separated from the Diocese of Toronto when the Diocese of London was established on February 21, 1856, under the jurisdiction of Bishop Alfred Pinsonneault.
The first church of Immaculée Conception that Father Raynel had built with such difficulty was destroyed by fire during the night of May 4, 1874. An article from the Glencoe Transcript, dated May 7, 1874, did not exclude the possibility of arson.
Father J.-Calixte Duprat who was the pastor at the time courageously began gathering funds for the construction of a new church, clad with bricks. The first high mass was celebrated in the church on Sunday, May 30, 1875. This church faced the Winterline Road. The monument still standing in the cemetery marked the entrance of this church. Unfortunately, the injuries of time and the inclemencies of the seasons collaborated to ruin this temple of prayer before its time.
Shortly after his elevation to the Episcopal See of London, Bishop Michael F. Fallon assigned Father Alfred-David Emery as pastor of Pain Court, for the specific purpose of having a new church and rectory built. The cornerstone of this third church was blessed on June 11, 1911 by Bishop Fallon and the church, built on the site of the actual church, was blessed and opened for worship on March 3rd of the following year. Construction of the church cost $44,000 and the rectory, built the same year, $6,000.
Construction of a convent was completed in 1923 and the Sisters of Saint-Joseph accepted the invitation to send sisters. The first two sisters, Sister Hilaire and Sister Anna-Marie began teaching at the village school this same year although they had to find lodging at St. Joseph’s hospital in Chatham until December, when the land on which the convent was built, which was church property, was purchased by the school board. Father Emery celebrated the first mass in the chapel of the convent on December 5th of that year.
The Sisters of Saint-Joseph remained in Pain Court and established the foundation of quality French language education for the children and young people of the area until 1950 when, due to a lack of qualified sisters to teach French at the secondary level, they left the area. The Grey Nuns (Soeurs Grises de la Croix) took over their work in September of that year until their departure in June 1972, due to a shortage of vocations. These courageous and devoted women have played a determining role in the development of the French language in this area.
Music has always held a place of honour in Pain Court, and for many years, the parish enjoyed a wonderful choir. When the organist Marie-Louise Faubert left in 1905, Mrs. Marie Emery (born Cheff) accepted to take her place. The parishioners were blessed with Mrs. Emery`s remarkable musical talents during 57 years (from 1905 to 1962). Her son, Amédée, generously continued this tradition beginning the first Sunday of July 1962 until his retirement the last Sunday of June 2002. The parishioners of Pain Court have been very blessed indeed!
The final accomplishment of beloved Father Emery during his eighteen years of ministry in Pain Court was the construction of a new school inaugurated on October 15, 1928, under the patronage of Saint Catherine. (Until then, students attended Dover #3 school, today the Benoit restaurant.) This generous and tireless pastor who, like no other, marked the history of faith in this area left Pain Court in 1928. He was replaced by Father Joseph A. Loiselle who remained in Pain Court until 1932.
On Saturday, January 2nd, 1937, the community was stricken by yet another tragedy. Upon entering the church to serve 8 o’clock mass, young Alphé Emery noticed that the church was engulfed in flames. In an ultimate attempt to save the Blessed Sacrament, Father Zotique Mailloux, the parish administrator, and his altar-boy covered their mouths with their handkerchiefs dipped in holy water and made their way toward the front of the church. Unfortunately, they were not able to reach the communion table. Alphé was given the task of sounding the tocsin to call for help. At first, the parishioners believed that the bell was announcing the decease of Pope Pius XI who was on his deathbed. They rushed to help put out the fire but the flames had quickly ravaged the building. Only the angels holding the holy water fonts at the entrance of the church were salvaged.
The parish immediately began rebuilding the temple of God on the same foundation. Mr. Daoust from Windsor was responsible for the construction of the new church which is the actual church. Father Mailloux wanted to have the original walls completely demolished, but the bishop believed that it would be sufficient to remove only what was not solid, in order not to burden the parishioners with an excessively heavy debt. On his own initiative, however, Father Mailloux had a terrazzo floor installed, not simply a cement floor. The new church was blessed by Bishop John Thomas Kidd on December 8th of that same year, the feast of its holy patron saint. It is interesting to note that only two of the three altars were consecrated, due to the fact that the church debt was not yet paid.
In an effort to gather the monies needed, Father Mailloux sent a circular letter throughout the province asking for donations from generous souls. The students of the Pain Court Continuation School organized bazaars, draws and chocolate bar sales and managed to raise the sum of $200 for the painting of Mary appearing to Bernadette which graced the sanctuary of the church for many years. This was the work of Roland Jobin, an artist from Saint-Joachim (originally from Saint-Pierre, Montreal) as were also the stations of the cross which are still found in the parish church today. (It is interesting to note that these stations of the cross have the distinction of beginning on the right side of the church.)
The bell, Marie-Thérèse, formerly mounted on a framework, had survived the 1874 fire, but was cracked during its fall in the 1937 fire. It was repaired and reinstalled in the bell tower, but never again recovered the beautiful tone for which it was known. This is the bell that we see today in front of the church, a souvenir of years gone by.
Throughout the years that followed the death of Father Mailloux during a trip to Ottawa, on June 29, 1945, the following priests succeeded each other to serve the parishioners of Pain Court who will always be deeply grateful to them: Father Charles Laliberté (1945 – 1950); Father Isaac Ducharme (1950 – 1954); Mgr William Bourdeau (1954-1955); Father Euclide Chevalier (1955 – 1964); Father Léo Charron (1964 – 1980); Father Charles Sylvestre (1980 – 1989); Father Gilbert Simard (1989 – 1995); Father Alessandro Costa (1995 – 1997). And who could forget devoted Father Ulysse Lefaive in the days of Father Ducharme, and kind Father Pierre Boudreau in the days of Father Chevalier.
Since the month of June 1997, it is Father Robert Champagne who is in charge of the parish of Immaculée Conception of Pain Court joined as one faith community with the neighbouring parish of Saint-Philippe of Grande Pointe, through clustering brought about by a major shortage of vocations to the priesthood and religious life which marks our modern times.
Pain Court Continuation School, also known at the time under the name of H. J. Payette School, officially became École secondaire de Pain Court in 1972. In September 2002, it has a student population of 300. Today, école Sainte-Catherine has 270 students. Because of the efforts of all those who marked our history, in spite of the passage of time, the French language and culture are always very alive in Pain Court and, in 2004, the parish will celebrate the 150th anniversary of its founding.
A major church renovations project was undertaken in 1999. The back wall of the church building which had been partially destroyed during the 1937 fire had to be completely rebuilt. Thanks to the artist Achim Klaas of Cambridge, Ontario, the mural of the Immaculate Conception once again adorns the sanctuary of the church. A new baptismal font and the altar of the Blessed Sacrament were created using the marble from the former altars and mass is now celebrated on a new solid oak main altar. The Pain Court church is certainly not grandiose; however, the years have not diminished the feeling of warmth and peace that characterizes it and makes it a welcoming and comforting place of worship.
In June 2006, following the departure of Father Champagne, Father Eugène Roy, native of Pain Court and son of Norman and Hélène Roy, wholeheartedly accepted the role of pastor of the faith community of Immaculée Conception and Saint-Philippe. However, in July 2010, he was called to serve at Sainte-Anne parish in Tecumseh.
Father Michel Michon from Saint-Joseph parish in Rivière-aux-Canards, generously took over at that time and then again in 2018 another change had been announced – in October of 2018, Father Terrence Rundstedler would become the new pastor of our faith community. The years pass quickly and customs and attitudes change. We have an aging population of priests, fewer candidates to the priesthood, and the number of practicing parishioners is decreasing. Our faith community is deeply grateful to all the parish priests who have given so much throughout the years to ensure the survival of our faith in these trying times.
By Rose-Marie Roy, parishioner and editor of the Page française of the Diocesan Newsletter.
Information for the article was taken from the 1851-1926 Souvenir Album by Father Alfred-David Emery, and from the 1951 book written by Father Vincent Caron, o.m.i. Special thanks to Mr. Amédée Emery, our local historian and genealogist, who generously shared his vast historical knowledge for the writing of this article.