Pointe-St-Charles church given 48 hours to vacate because tower is 'crumbling'
MONTREAL -- Saint Gabriel’s Parish has welcomed Montrealers for 150 years, but now it’s been told it has 48 hours to wrap things up, for now.
The Catholic church in Pointe-Saint-Charles did what most churches did when the pandemic hit and closed its physical doors.
But it has a unique and bigger problem, too: its state of repair has gotten so dire that engineers have given the staff just two days to vacate the premises, warning that the church’s tower could fall at any time.
"The tower, it’s falling, it’s crumbling, it’s coming down,” said Gerry Tibbo, the church’s warden.
Repairs were in the works, though they haven’t happened soon enough.
The tight deadline threatens to leave the 92-year-old priest, Father Murray McCrory, without a home. He lives in the rectory, and there were plans to have him move to a retirement home—but because of a COVID-19 outbreak, he can’t go there yet.
But those who run the church are just as worried about the families that go there for help, who will be turned away literally overnight.
Sister Dianna Lieffers runs a food bank out of the rectory’s basement and she serves more than 100 families each week.
“It's very hard to rent a place here in the Pointe, you know,” she said. “The rents have gone sky high, and what’s left [in people’s budgets] is not much.”
She doesn’t live at the church, but she’s trying to brainstorm ways to move the food bank.
“You know when you don't know where you're going?” said Lieffers.
“At some point, just to be silly, I said ‘Maybe I should go join the tent city on Notre-Dame Street.’ I don’t know what else to do.”
The church itself, in imminent danger of falling, also means a lot to many people across Montreal.
When Saint Gabriel’s was built in 1870, Pointe-Saint-Charles was a working-class neighbourhood mostly made up of Irish immigrants.
Most of those families have moved out over the years, but long-time parishioners still come back to the neighbourhood because of what Saint Gabriel’s means to them, said one one of them.
“It’s a gathering point for the Irish community within the heart of Montreal,” said Danny Doyle, one parishioner.
“It’s about religion and all that, but it's more about the community, the glue of Pointe-Saint-Charles, that just sticks there and it’s in your blood.”
The timeline for fixing the church right now is more of an issue than the cost.
The repairs will cost $1 million, and the church managed to raise the money for them through selling some of its land.
However, the building’s shape became so bad in the meantime that the structural experts say people cannot continue occupying it while they wait to begin the work.
Now there’ s an even more pressing deadline, since if those running the church can’t pack up quickly enough, the worry is that the city could condemn the building.