Church, community groups help preserve bell and steeple

St. Joseph’s Church Renovation Committee member Robbie Fougere examines the bell that was brought to Petit de Grat in the 1950s and was used to tell parishoners about births, deaths and other news.

PETIT DE GRAT: A steeple that once stood atop the church here has been converted to a monument detailing the history of the parish.

After the cross, steeple and bell were removed from St. Joseph’s Church in Petit de Grat in October, 2017 to deal with expensive and ongoing leakage issues, the St. Joseph’s Church Renovation Committee had to decide what to do with them.

Fortunately, the crew which removed the dome and its contents was able to remove the cross, steeple and bell without causing any damage to any of them, Fougere said.

Originally, the committee was going to dispose of the steeple at the municipal landfill, but committee member Robert Fougere said other ideas were aired.

“Some parishioners had been saying, ‘maybe we could create some kind of a monument using that dome since it’s intact,’” Fougere explained. “All you need to do is cut a couple of arches in it and it’s what you see there now.”

Because the steeple dome was a solid structure, arches were carved into it later. Fougere said HB&J Contractors carried out the work to the new monument last summer.

The cross that once stood atop the church is now at the top of the monument adjacent to the church, with the bell back inside the steeple. After refusing a private offer to purchase it, Fougere said the bell, which remains operational, was cleaned up and polished.

“People did that locally and they didn’t charge us a cent for it,” Fougere said. “All the metal work was sandblasted.”

Just before the Petit de Grat Acadian Festival last August, interpretive panels were erected around the monument by the Petit de Grat Beautification Society, in partnership with the renovation committee.

The renovation committee also remained busy last winter as they removed pews from the back of the church to create more space near the entrance.

“We just relocated the pews,” Fougere said. “We took out three rows of pews from the back of the church and we relocated them in the church. We put some up in the loft area and some in the vestry. There’s no pews that were sold. All the pews that were in the church are still in the church.”

Fougere added that the committee was able to complete the projects without assuming debt or borrowing money.

“There were a lot of people involved,” Fougere noted. “A lot of people gave up their time, and donated funds, and donated materials. We came out feeling very good with the result of the project.”