Thursday, November 7, 2013

Le Presbytere at Pre-d'en-Haut

In Pre-d'en-Haut near Memramcook a white church stands on a promontory overlooking the Petitcodiac River.   It's a registered heritage building, protected for posterity by the government of New Brunswick.  Unfortunately that designation does not extend to the house next door - le presbytere or rectory.
L' eglise Notre -Dame de l'Annonciation, built in 1934

The rectory

1945 photo

The large brick house with the wrap-around veranda is the site of a garage sale organized by parishioners.  The church ladies have all furniture, quilts, books, dishes and miscellaneous priced in an "everything must go" clearance sale.   Their dilemma is a common one for dwindling congregations: the archdiocese will not permit the sale of the rectory, and the church cannot continue to maintain an empty building.  Things are deteriorating and demolition looms.  Next week the electricity will be cut off.

The rectory was built in the 1940s under the direct supervision of the priest, E. Azarias Masse.  He was a college professor from Saint Hyacinthe, Quebec who took on the work of stabilizing the Pre-d'en-Haut community, improving economic conditions for its residents while enriching their spiritual lives.

The Reverend Father  E. Azarias Masse, c.s.c. (1898-1967)

The building was not only his home base, but served as headquarters for the Pre-d'en-Haut Credit Union.   In the front office there's a large commercial grade vault built into the wall that dates from 1944 when Father Masse established the bank in the rectory, providing reasonable loans for farmers.   He encouraged the locals to cultivate strawberries, visited farms to bless the seeds and conducted a special high mass service when a lack of rain threatened the crop.  The extra prayers worked, and the ensuing shower, specific to the immediate area, saved the strawberries in the dry summer of 1946.

Oak office chair with leather seat

Set of Century Encyclopedia, published in 1899

The word "skean" defined and illustrated
We purchase an oak chair, a set of antique reference books, a box of liturgical silks - the remains of an era when the Catholic church was the heart and soul of the community.  We come home with some nagging questions, too.  Couldn't the historic house be renovated and used for another purpose, perhaps a daycare center, a museum, a medical clinic or a bed and breakfast?   Once the rectory has been torn down, a significant piece of  Pre-d'en-Haut history will be gone forever.  If prayer could save the strawberries, then isn't it worth a try...?

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