Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 17, 2003
Gable windows enhance prayer
Italian Franciscan St. Leonard ministered to slaves
St. Leonard -- Feast day -- November 26
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
Visitors crossing the expansive grounds and entering the trim, A-frame church pass beneath an effigy in stone dominating the fa‡ade above the main doors, of a stern-visaged cleric. His attire and rosary may not immediately identify this parish patron but a visit to the nearby rectory will.
There, although he favours St. John Eudes, 17th century advocate of devotion to the Sacred Heart and founder of the Eudist Order (which since 1991 has administered St. Leonard's Parish), genial pastor Father Ernest Dumaresq will gladly share his knowledge of the church and its Franciscan patron, St-Leonard-de-Port Maurice.
Born on the Italian Riviera in 1676, Leonard entered the Franciscan order and lived a severely monastic life with much fasting and prayer. Despite this, he gained a reputation as an inspiring preacher, travelling on foot in Italy to conduct missions and retreats, often to overflow crowds. He ministered to sailors, convicts and galley slaves and wrote theological treatises and many letters.
Remembered for his devotion to the Way of the Cross and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, Leonard also actively promoted the concept of the Immaculate Conception.
Worn out at 75, this hard-to-emulate, busy saint died in Rome and was canonized in 1867.
St. Leonard was a natural choice for church patron since it was the principal parish in the town of St. Leonard, named to honour early settler Leonard Coombes. It's an important part of the Edmundston Diocese, in an area of New Brunswick noted historically for logging and agriculture but more recently a centre for pulp and food processing operations.
The town is across the Saint John River from Maine and is an important border crossing point. St. Leonard Church, close to Quebec and in a mainly francophone area, offers daily Mass. Three weekend Masses are celebrated and all are in French. It's an active parish, with many programs, societies and close relations with the nearby school.
The church, a large modern structure, characterized by simplicity and clean lines, was dedicated May 30, 1956 as l'eglise Saint-Leonard-Ville. Sadly, a short eight years later, fire almost completely destroyed the building. The setback was temporary as within a year the church was rebuilt to the same plan. Today, with its steepled bell tower, it's a prominent landmark on rue Principal, the old Trans Canada highway and main street of the town.
Inside, in an atmosphere conducive to prayer and meditation, the triangular design allows visitors to enjoy a great sense of overhead space. All elements of this airy interior converge at the altar and the nave is bathed in the light from a dozen large pointed gable windows. A mosaic of the crucified Christ fills a triangular reredos behind the modern boat-shaped altar. The triangular (Trinity) format is repeated on a smaller scale at side altars dedicated to the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph.
And to accommodate the provisions of Vatican II, a more genial image of St. Leonard joins a group of statues of familiar, much-loved saints (Therese, Anne, Anthony) safely tucked away in a corner of the church's south transept.
Back in the rectory, beside a large statue of St. John Eudes, father will further enlighten visitors on the history and involvement of his order in the diocese before sending travellers on their way. And the closing words of St. Leonard's weekly parish bulletin (le feuillet paroissial)) always offer a wish for:
"Bonne semaine a tous."