The first Catholic Church was built on the Sunshine Coast in 1868 under the priesthood of Fr. Paul Durieu. It was a small wooden chapel on the Sechelts’ traditional lands in Sechelt. This church became too small and in 1872 a new church was built, partly from contributions from the families, and handed over by Chief George. Fr. Durieu and Rev. Fr. Carton gave the solemn blessing of the church and dedicated it to SS. Redempteur.
Once more this church became too small and the twin-towered Our Lady of the Rosary Church which was completed by 1890.
Unfortunately, in1906 a fire destroyed the church and a new church (Our lady of Lourdes) was built and dedicated in 1907.
In 1939, at the request of Archbishop William Duke, Fr. Edmund Cornell, OMI, conducted a census to formerly establish the St. Vincent’s Mission on the coast. When Fr. Emmett Baxter was sent to Sechelt by the Oblates in 1943 he started serving mass in the Legion Hall in Gibsons Landing, but by August 1945 a church in Gibsons Landing had been built, opened as the Church of The Immaculate Heart of Mary.
In May 1946 Archbishop Duke blessed the church as “The Pure Heart of Mary”. At that time there were 24 Catholics in Gibsons, 2 in Roberts Creek, 29 in Sechelt, 7 in Halfmoon Bay, and 15 in Pender Harbour for a total of 77. After gaining permission and raising funds the Holy Family Church was consecrated in May 1946 in Sechelt, with considerable donations of time and materials by the parish members.
Fr. James Quigley was appointed pastor to the Coast using the Immaculate Heart as his base. In September 1947 Fr. Quigley was transferred to Powell River and Fr. Thomas Reidy was appointed pastor of Gibson’s Landing. In 1948 Fr. Baxter moved on to Annapolis, Nova Scotia, and it was not until March 1946 the he was replaced by Fr. James O’Brien. During these four months the whole peninsula was served by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate on the native Reserve, Sechelt: Fr. Gerry Dunlop, OMI and Fr Bessette, OMI. However because of ill health Fr. O’Brien was unable to complete his pastorship.
Fr. Edmund O’Dwyer became the first priest to live at Holy Family Church in Sechelt, after he became pastor in 1949, promoting sports with a CYO baseball and a basketball team. During his time here he saw the Catholic Church built in Port Mellon, but with the mill closing down that year meant that people left. The property and church in Port Mellon were eventually sold in 1962. Fr. O’Dwyer moved to Bradnor in 1953 and was replaced by Fr. Dominic Kenny who himself moved on relatively quickly when he became chaplain of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Vancouver.
In 1957 Fr. Joseph O’Grady came as pastor to The Most Pure Heart of Mary Parish at Gibsons. During his tenure here the CWL was formed for the first time, and he started the Holy Name Society. The CWL split into 2 chapters in 1961 – Gibsons and Sechelt.
In 1963 the largest CWL Convention to that date was held on the Sunshine Coast by the three chapters at that time – The Most Pure Heart of Mary,Gibsons; Our Lady of Lourdes, Sechelt Native Reserve; and Holy Family, Sechelt. In 1958 an addition was made to either side of Holy family Church to accommodate an increase in the congregation. It was in 1960 that Fr. O’Grady introduced the first lay lectors at St. Mary’s parish. as well promoting the startup of the Holy Name Society in both parishes, the CCD and the parish Executive Council. Additions were made to St. Mary’s Catholic Church in 1962 with the addition of wings on each side – one for a crying room and the other for choir and organist. The plain windows were also replaced with stained glass.
The Holy Family Parish Hall was officially opened in 1960, created from a bunkhouse and cookhouse bought from the Fleetwood Logging Company, mainly through the efforts of the Holy Name Society.
Fr. Francis Nash became pastor in 1963 choosing to live in Gibsons, rather than Sechelt. 1.6 acres of land was purchased in upper Gibsons which had a small house at the rear of the property. He moved St, Mary’s Church to this location with the sale of the original property paying of a loan from Holy Family Parish. 1966 saw the implementation of the changes to the liturgy introduced by the Second Vatican Council, but Fr. Nash delayed the implementation as long as possible.
On Fr. Francis’ transfer to St. Joseph’s in Langley, Fr. Dominic Kenny returned to the coast, choosing to live in the rectory in Sechelt. Fr. Kenny turned the altar to face the congregation, placed the tabernacle on the right side of the sanctuary, but did not remove the communion rail. (The communion rail was eventually removed in 1976). In 1970 aluminum siding was installed on the church building and a new canopy was as added to enhance the front entrance.
Fr. Ernest Lehner replaced Fr. Kenny in 1971 and made many improvements to environment and look of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Gibsons, a lot of it by his own physical efforts, and in improving the buildings and grounds of Holy Family Parish.
In October 1971 Our Lady of Lourdes church on the Native Lands was destroyed by fire. In 1973 a new building (previously a Protestant Chapel at the RCAF base in Ladner) was moved by barge to Sechelt to become the present church of Our Lady of Lourdes.
Fr. Simpson, OMI and Fr. John Fitzgerald, OMI were the residents at that time.
Fr. Thomas Nicholson (“Father Tom“) arrived on the Coast in 1975. He chose to live at the Oblate rectory on the Native Reserve, but after observing vandalism towards church buildings he moved to Holy Family rectory.
St. Augustine’s School and the Oblate rectory were shortly demolished by arson. During Father Tom’s time on the Coast the population showed large increases and he was able to start a number of programs, such as Marriage Encounter, the reintroduction of a Pastoral Council and a Building Committee, and the CCD, CYO. Liturgy programs, and Ladies’ Guild were extremely successful.
Sr. Lucienne Trudeau was mandated as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion for the Sunshine Coast residents. Sr. Trudeau was the last administrator of St. Augustine’s Residential School in Sechelt, and from 1978 to her retirement in 1993 she was Superior for the small convent in Sechelt.
With Father Tom’s transfer to Richmond, BC in 1979, Fr. Angelo De Pompa arrived with his special gift of teaching. Bible study groups were initiated by Father Angelo as well as a Rosary Group. With a proposed budget of $60,000, Father Angelo initiated the building of a new church hall in Gibsons in 1982 and by 1986 he had gained approval for construction of a multi-purpose building. In 1991 parishioners took advantage of Father Angelo’s absence on holiday to totally gut, redesign and rebuild the rectory with funds from the Project Advance contributions.
From 1993 to 1998 Fr. Alan Boisclair became pastor for all four parishes (it now included the St. Andrews Mission in Madeira Park). Fr. Boisclair initiated the printing of a weekly newsletter (bulletin) which included the main points of the homily. Many groups flourished during this time – the Charismatic Prayer group, a book shop, a new St. Mary’s CWL, and the Knights of Columbus was formed.
During this time the body of St. Mary’s Church was enlarged by the removal of the dividing walls, the back wall, St. Joseph’s shrine, and the Sacristy partition. Many other cosmetic and practical renovations and additions were also made.
In 1994 Fr. Boisclair announced that 9 1/2 acres of land in West Sechelt had been obtained by the Holy Family Parish at the corner of Nickerson Road and Tyler Road. He also concluded the purchase of 5.18 acres of land off Charman Road in Gibsons. Year-round weekly masses were instituted for the Madeira Park parishioners by Fr. Boisclair.
Fr. Bede Kiem Le joined us here on the Coast ministering to the whole area. With an increasing number of parishioners, and increased interest from the Sechelt Indian Band, Fr. Bede was joined by Father Tom as half-time Associate Pastor.
In July 2008 Fr. Bede was re-assigned to St. Francis Assisi in Vancouver.
During Fr. Bede’s pastorship the completion of the new Sechelt Church was accomplished in West Sechelt, and the property and buildings in downtown Sechelt were sold for private use.
Fr. Matthew To, Assistant Pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Delta became our pastor. During his time in our parishes, Fr. Matthew instigated planning for an expansion and modification of St. Mary’s Church, and oversaw the installation of a new altar and flooring for the Sanctuary at St. Mary’s. He also instigated regular meetings of the Parish Councils and Finance Councils at both Holy Family and St. Mary’s Parishes.
In July 2011, Fr. Matthew was assigned to further studies in Rome.
In October 2010 Fr. Tom Nicholson retired to be Priest-in-residence at Saint Jude’s Roman Catholic Parish & Shrine.
Rev. David Edgardo Farfán Guerrero, MCCJ (Fr. David Farfan) , a Comboni Missionary from the Diocese of Tarma, Peru, joined us as Assistant Pastor, located, and primarily serving, the Sechelt Nation church and parishioners at Our Lady of Lourdes in Sechelt.
Fr, David was a vital part of a “Peruvian Dinner” organized by the Knights of Columbus (Council 11244) to introduce Fr. David to our parishes and expose us to the culture, food and faith of Peru. In July 0fmthis year Father David was appointed by Archbishop Miller to be the parish priest of Our Lady of Lourdes church on the Sechelt nation lands in Sechelt. This was an extraordinary move as it is not usual for a priest to be assigned as pastor for a church which is not on church property.
In July, Rev. Vincent C. Nguyen, Assistant Pastor at the Church of the Assumption Paris, in Powell River, joined as our Parish Priest. 2013 –
Father Kiran Thumma, SAC came to replace Father David on an especial appointment as pastor to Our Lady of Lourdes, and as Assistant Pastor for Holy Family, Sechelt and St. Mary’s Parish, Gibsons. In 2015 Fr. Kiran took a leave of absence.
In June final approval for the reconstruction of St. Mary’s Church in Gibsons was given by the Archdiocese, and by the ground-breaking ceremony on August 3, the old church had been torn down and the excavation for the basement and foundations of the new church had been completed! Archbishop J. Michael Miller presided at the ground breaking along with our priests and local dignitaries.