Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 11, 2006
Matthew and a angel welcome parishioners
Rebuilt twice this church honours Mere Marie Rose
St. Matthew – September 21
- WCR photo by Ted Fitzgerald
A statue of St. Matthew looks down from Saint-Matthieu-de-Beloeil Church's façade above the main entrance
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
Visitors to the old parish church in Beloeil are greeted by the image in the clocher, high above the front entrance, of one of the best-known of the apostles, Matthew the tax-collector.
A familiar evangelist, he's accompanied by his traditional assistant, a small angel who cares for his writing materials.
Matthew was a social outcast, a person in the employ of the despised Roman occupation authorities in a job that encourages corruption.
Answered Jesus' call
Called by Jesus, he left his counting table and abandoned a life of wealth and dishonesty to put down, as one of the few literate early Christians, the Gospel attributed to him.
Beloeil and its cross-river twin Mont-Saint-Hilaire are the northern end of the Upper Richelieu River, which rises in Lake Champlain and flows north to enter the St. Lawrence at Sorel. Visitors find Beloeil a quiet town, noted for its mixed agriculture and tourism.
Saint-Matthieu-de-Beloeil Church faces south on the west bank of the river and is the centre of the old settlement. It was built in 1784, destroyed by lightning in 1817, rebuilt, then restored again in 1895 after a severe fire.
It's an attractive stone church, centred on its multi-tiered clocher in familiar Quebec style with one front entry and a large transept.
From all angles, particularly from across the Richelieu where, framed by trees and reflected in the placid stream, it's a photographer's delight.
Before entering the church, few can resist an excuse to loiter in the tree-shaded forecourt of Saint-Matthieu and to relax and commune with nature on strategically placed benches there. To be enjoyed are panoramic vistas of the slowly-moving river and the parish church and town on the far bank that take their names from the looming mass of wooded Mont-Saint-Hilaire that dominates the background.
The church interior, a riot of white, gold-trimmed Roman arches, is dominated by an ornate reredos towering above the old altar, topped by a statue of the parish patron, holding his Gospel and again accompanied by his angel-helper. Below, another prized fixture of the historic church is an elaborate, colourful traditional portrayal of the Last Supper, fronting the original altar.
Most obvious right behind the pulpit is a large, old-fashioned wall clock, that standard feature of many Quebec churches, mounted to be visible just above the homilist's head.
Outside the church, a sign identifies Place Eulalie Durocher, a memorial to a holy woman fondly remembered by the Beloeiloise, whose aura pervades the narrow streets of the old town.
Eulalie was born just down the river at Saint-Antoine-sur-Richelieu in 1811 and at 19 moved to Beloeil to serve as housekeeper to the pastor, her brother Th‚ophile.
During her 12 years here, in addition to her regular parish and household duties, she began to pursue her first love, the education of girls.
Later, under the name Mere Marie-Rose, she and two associates founded the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary in 1843 at Longueuil, to provide district girls with much-needed schooling.
Eminently successful, she was beatified in 1982 by Pope John Paul II and her image is prominently displayed along the east church wall.
Two Sunday Masses are celebrated at Saint-Matthieu, but since a merger of three churches into La Paroisse Trinité-sur-Richelieu in 2001, morning weekday Eucharist alternates with Saint-Maria-Goretti and Sacre-Coeur.
After Mass or a visit to the church, many will gravitate to one of the relaxed eating places that flank rue Saint-Matthieu, particularly to enjoy refreshments on one of the many broad, vintage porches that overlook the quiet churchyard.