Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 19, 2004
A Catholic gem set in Eden
Holidayers frequent this idyllic, pastoral place of worship
St. Thomas Aquinas - Feast Day - January 28
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
Just in case visitors didn't notice, genial pastor Pere Jean-Marie Martin will point out his presbytere and gem of a church are almost surrounded by water. And what a serene site this "presque" ile is for a house of God.
From a low-hill on its south end, Eglise St. Thomas d'Aquin enjoys a million dollar vista of the length of placid, hill-flanked Lac-Baker.
This neat, white church tends to be described in superlatives, possibly the reason for its selection as a featured subject for the CBC French language TV network Sunday morning program Le Jour du Seigneur. Hosted by popular, recently deceased abbe Roland Leclerc the regular 9 a.m. Mass was aired on May 11, 2003.
Patron of the Church, 13th century theologian and philosopher, priest and doctor of the Church, Thomas Aquinas would be pleased to be honoured at this pristine site. He became the most famous member of the serious, sober Dominican order. An extraordinary teacher, he's responsible for much of present Church philosophy and was the first to promote the idea that reason and faith were not incompatible.
His concept that all men, regardless of their faith, should have access to law and justice was potentially subversive in his time. Because of his vocation, Thomas is naturally the patron of Catholic universities, schools, scholars, students, theologians and clear weather (?).
The clean, sharp lines of his church are continued inside where white and soft grey plaster walls are accented everywhere with gold trim. This d‚cor, supplemented by the light from clear glass round-topped windows, gives the interior an almost ethereal brightness. And the Roman arches of the nave culminate in a castellated white and gold reredos that highlights a large statue of the Sacred Heart.
A sculpted image of St. Thomas, with his traditional hallmark-books, occupies a place of honour to the left of the old pre-Vatican II altar which itself is ornamented with an impressive Last Supper scene.
Geographically, Lac Baker is on a 15 km-wide "peninsula" or "panhandle" of New Brunswick that extends for 60 km west from Edmundston between Maine and Quebec. With only a few hundred permanent residents, the town is the province's smallest incorporated village. It's 40 km from Edmundston on highway 120, a road that beyond the lake wanders off into rural Quebec.
An early settler in the area, John Baker arrived from the U.S. in 1817, proclaimed a Republic of the Madawaska 10 years later and was promptly thrown into the nearest jail for treason. He is remembered nevertheless in the names of the settlements of Baker Brook and Baker Lake.
It wasn't until 1855 that people put down roots at the lake. By 1871 clergy from St. Francois de Madawaska were celebrating Mass irregularly in the homes of residents until a school and chapel were built four years later. Priests from nearby Clair served this new Edmundston Diocese mission after 1886.
The present church was built in 1902 and a resident priest, Pere M.L. Richard, appointed in 1904 when the mission became the Paroisse de St. Thomas d'Aquin de Lac-Baker. The sacristy was added in two stages later and in 1965 a modern presbytere was built.
For its size, it's an active parish, catering now not only to its original agricultural congregation but also to holidayers attracted to the four-season recreational activities available on and around the lake. Mass is celebrated every day in colloquially named Eglise de Lac-Baker.
Sooner or later visitors must leave this little Eden, to ascend the long slope out of the Lac Baker valley. Most would agree with the comment made years ago regarding the location of St. Thomas d'Aquin - "un site aussi enchanteur."