Dear Supporters of Ascension Parish,
Our Capital Campaign to raise necessary funds for major repairs, refurbishments, and upgrades to the church was launched on May 26, 2019.
It was an opportune moment, the timing was right, because less than ten months later the world was thrust precipitously into an unrelenting global pandemic. This affected us all, including houses of worship and Ascension Parish.
The response to the Campaign has been phenomenal, and the generosity and support of parishioners and benefactors incredible. We have exceeded our objective, and pledges made have been promptly honoured. The primary work projects, including the Bell Tower, repointing of the stone, replacement of the floor covering under the pews, the repair and restoration of the Casavant Opus 1344, are now completed.
With the remaining funds generated by the Campaign, we are fortunate to have been able to augment our parish reserve fund, which will allow us to undertake future projects and sustain the building which is approaching its centennial.
We are immensely grateful to all our parishioners, benefactors, former parishioners, various organizations and foundations, and friends of Ascension Parish, who responded to our Campaign with generosity and enthusiasm.
We wish to express our deep appreciation to Campaign co–chairs John Peacock and Barbara Cefis, and to the members of the Campaign Coordinating Committee, for their indomitable and cooperative spirit, and their combined efforts which contributed to the success of the Campaign and allowed us to surpass our objective.
With reliance on our Ascended Lord, and the continual prayers and support of all who call Ascension Parish their spiritual and faith community, we can look to the future with much optimism and pride, and find in this church a place of solace, spiritual fulfillment, and a haven of fervour and solemnity.
In gratitude, respectfully I remain,
Father Lawrence Mac Eachen, Pastor
A unique monument with a rich spiritual, social and architectural legacy.
A group of Irish Catholic residents of Westmount, who had been worshipping at a local French parish, appeal to the Archbishop of Montreal, the Most Reverend Paul Bruchési, for authorization to establish their own parish church. Their request is turned down by the archbishop, but the dauntless group of citizens set their sights on the Vatican, where, in time, they obtain Papal permission and return home triumphantly to build their new house of worship.
Laying of cornerstone, 1927
A church is built.
Having found and purchased a sizeable tract of land from the Grey Nuns on Sherbrooke Street between Clarke and Kitchener Avenues, the trustees raise the more than $325,000 required to construct the stately 13,500 sq.ft. Ascension of Our Lord parish church. The cornerstone is laid in October 1927, and the first Mass is celebrated in an almost-completed church on Christmas in 1928.
Longitudinal profile, 1927 (Westmount Archives)
Ascension of Our Lord Church will be celebrating its centennial during the Christmas season of 2028, only six years from now.
Ascension of Our Lord’s distinct architecture and aesthetic grace and its sacred music ministry, anchored by the church’s unique Casavant Opus 1344 organ and polyphonic choir, have made it a haven of peace and solemnity for parishioners and visitors alike.
The perseverance, vision and responsibility of the founding wardens of 1926 have stayed with the Ascension Parish over the decades, assuring the proper care and maintenance of the church so it can best serve the parish and the community.
Ascension Parish held its first capital campaign in 1988.
By 1985, the church faced major restoration. Moisture was seeping through the masonry, virtually all the stained glass windows required resetting, and the organ had deteriorated to the point where rebuilding was necessary. In fall 1987, the wardens launched the parish’s second capital campaign to raise $500,000. By January 1988, the objective had been oversubscribed.
Architectural structures of this size and instruments of patrimonial significance require constant attention. As the years passed, issues requiring capital improvement surfaced, and it became more and more apparent that they had to be addressed. The Bell Tower’s interior structure had rusted considerably due to infiltration. Inside the church, the pews required refurbishment, and the original linoleum tiling under the pews was lifting and in need of replacement. Finally, the Opus 1344 Casavant organ required no less than a heart and lung transplant, its console and blower and bellows were exhausted by usage and time.
The wardens had been discussing these issues since 2015 and were in agreement that something had to be done. But the question was – where, and how to begin?
Faced with safety concerns related to the Bell Tower, newly named pastor Father Lawrence Mac Eachen called upon his experience with similar challenges in other parishes, and set about to initiate the work required.
He called upon architect Louis Brillant and, with his help, prepared a request for funding to the Conseil du patrimoine religieux du Québec. Father Mac Eachen announced to the wardens in June 2018 that the Conseil du patrimoine religieux du Québec had granted the parish $385,000 to help it undertake and complete the Bell Tower project estimated at $750,000. However, the balance required, $365,000, would have to be provided by the parish.
This was the spark required for the parish to proceed with a capital campaign to complete the funding for the Bell Tower repairs, and to finally address the other major projects needing attention.
The Campaign Coordinating Committee is born.
John Peacock and Barbara Cefis graciously agree to join the wardens as Campaign co‑chairs. Janet and Dick Macklem, whose generosity to Ascension Parish has known no limits, are invited to join the committee.
CAMPAIGN COORDINATING COMMITTEE
Donat Taddeo, Committee Chair
Pino Di Ioia
Louise Mac Lellan
With the support of Father Mac Eachen, the wardens set the Campaign objective at one million dollars.
Opus 1344 is one of a few Casavant (organs) of this period still in existence in the world, and is truly unique in Montreal. Such an instrument restored will be a great asset in the city.
— Jacquelin Rochette, Artistic Director, Casavant Frères
In December 2018, the Committee sought counsel from Professor John Grew, FRCCO, C.M., Professor Emeritus and former Dean of McGill’s Schulich School of Music, and founder of the International Organ Competition (CIOC). Professor Grew heartily recommended proceeding with the phased work plan proposed by Casavant. He also encouraged the wardens to submit a request for funding to the Comité des orgues of the Conseil du patrimoine religieux du Québec.
The next and very important step was to conduct the research required to reach the Campaign objective.
Who were the potential donors? How much could the Campaign Coordinating Committee reasonably ask each of them to contribute? Who was best positioned to approach these individuals? How would the Committee inform the parishioners and prospective campaign donors in a compelling and convincing manner?
Reaching out to the community.
With the help of David Boucher, the Campaign Coordinating Committee prepare a prospective donor list. It confirms that the million‑dollar objective is indeed attainable. Aware that committed donors are the best campaign solicitors, the wardens make their personal pledges towards the Campaign.
A communications plan is developed.
A Case for Support is commissioned, and it provides the basis for the Campaign brochure. Sara Morley of Design Postimage is hired to develop the visual identity and print materials for the Campaign. Photographer Christian Fleury takes dramatic photos of the parish for the Campaign materials.
On April 30, an article is printed in the Westmount Independent, “Ascension of Our Lord sets $1‑million fundraising target.”
Campaign materials are created.
A handsome booklet detailing the Campaign goals and pledge forms was printed.
Posters were placed at the church entrance every two weeks to inform parishioners about the objectives of the Capital Campaign. The first three covered the interior of the Bell Tower and the church’s exterior, the next three described the organ project, and the final three explained the work that was needed on the interior of the church.
Campaign is launched.
May 26, 2019
After Sunday Mass, the Capital Campaign is launched with a goal of raising $1,000,000.
On June 11, an article is printed in the Westmount Independent, “Ascension of Our Lord Church kicks off fundraising campaign.”
Campaign co-chairs John Peacock and Barbara Cefis
Fr. Lawrence Mac Eachen, Jacquelin Rochette and John Grew
Photos: Veronica Redgrave, Westmount Independent
On a bright and warm Sunday morning, Campaign Launch proceedings began after the 10:30 am Mass.
Co-chair John Peacock made a presentation; Professor John Grew addressed the congregation about the importance and uniqueness of Ascension’s Casavant Opus 1344 organ, and Dr. Clarence Epstein, heritage specialist and a member of Westmount’s Historical Heritage Committee, explained the special place of Ascension Church in the history of Montreal’s religious architecture.
Dr. David Szanto, Director of Music and Organist, and the Ascension Choir graced the event with their performances. A vin d’honneur followed to close the launch event.
In actual fact, Ascension of Our Lord is a mirror that reflects who we are. It is a vibrant manifestation of our deepest identity. Thus, by joining hands and hearts together to infuse new vitality into our church, we will be breathing new life into our entire faith community.
The challenge of preservation provides us all with a privileged opportunity to contribute to the legacy of our community and to pass our rich heritage on to future generations as it was bestowed upon us. I pray that, through our generous, collective support of our proposed capital campaign, our magnificent parish church will continue to stand for years to come as a glorious symbol of God’s enduring love and presence among us.
— Father Lawrence Mac Eachen, Pastor
It was now time to carry out all the plans that had been made over the previous months.
A letter of solicitation signed by Father Mac Eachen and the Campaign co-chairs, along with campaign brochures and pledge forms, were mailed to all parishioners. Campaign Coordinating Committee members then began the personal solicitation of the donors each had agreed to approach.
Campaign goal is stretched.
The Campaign was given an incredible boost in July 2019 when a parishioner who wished to reman anonymous donated $375,000 to the Campaign effort. By the end of September, barely four months after the Campaign launch, the donations pledged exceeded $900,000.
In early October 2019, co-chairs John Peacock and Barbara Cefis addressed the parishioners at the weekend Masses.
Given the extraordinary gift that we received, the Campaign Coordinating Committee has decided to stretch the Campaign goal to 1.3 million dollars. Not to do so would be to take the easy way out and fail to honour properly the outstanding generosity of this donor.
In addition to being a wonderful example of selfless giving for us all, this exceptional donation is motivation for all of us to do more, not less. That is why we have set a new goal for the Campaign and are committed to reaching it. By raising the Campaign goal to 1.3 million dollars, we will provide the parish with a contingency fund to address unforeseen repairs and renovations.
— Campaign Co-Chairs
Campaign objective is surpassed.
The Campaign Coordinating Committee announces that the stretch objective of $1,300,000 has been achieved, and indeed surpassed. A letter of thanks and an interim Campaign Report are distributed to parishioners. The report is also featured on the newly revamped Ascension website and includes a breakdown of the funds raised to date, and an outline of the ongoing restoration projects and incurred expenses.
The Campaign in Numbers
At the close of the Capital Campaign, the donations received totalled $1,388,930, clearly surpassing the stretch objective of $1,300,000. Equally important, the parishioner participation rate was at almost 50%.
These donations were augmented by grants from the Conseil du patrimoine religieux du Québec totalling $409,852. All told, $1,798,782 was amassed for the capital projects of Ascension of Our Lord Church. These funds will not only help Ascension continue to serve its parishioners, they will also help Ascension welcome local and international visitors to appreciate its architectural, musical and acoustic magnificence.
Thanks to the generosity and support of its parishioners, and with the important participation and contributions of the Conseil du patrimoine religieux du Québec, the projects put forward in the Case for Support have been successfully completed, and paid.
The Bell Tower
Before repairs to the Bell Tower could begin, a way to safely enter the tower from inside the church needed to be developed. Accessed from a ceiling panel in the choir loft, a permanent catwalk is built between the inner and outer roofs of the church, from above the organ to above the sanctuary. A specialized ladder, ordered from Europe, is installed where the catwalk ends, so the masons can descend into the tower to do their work. This provides safe access to the Bell Tower, once and for all, for the current project and ongoing maintenance.
Masonry repair on the Bell Tower is successfully completed, and all the exterior walls of the church are repointed.
In fall 2019, the church pews are refurbished, and in 2020, all the linoleum tiling under the pews is removed and new flooring is laid down. At the same time, repairs are made to the kneelers to soften and muffle their impact when lowered to the church floor. The caulking around all the stained glass windows is inspected and repaired where necessary.
The Casavant Organ
The work on the Casavant Opus 1344 organ spans two years, from June 2020 to April 2022. First, the instrument is completely dismantled and transported to the Casavant Frères’ workshop in Saint‑Hyacinthe. A new state-of-the-art console is installed, and the keyboards, stops and foot pedals are completely restored. A new blower and bellows are installed in the storage room next to the church’s main entrance, replacing the original equipment that had been set in the church’s sub‑basement.
The grant received from the Conseil du patrimoine religieux du Québec in June 2021 is supplemented by the parish, thus facilitating the completion of all five phases of the Casavant proposal for the instrument’s restoration, which includes a new Pedal Contra Trombone 32’.
Marco Laferrière, craftsman, has been working at Casavant Frères since 1994.
Joel Peters joins the parish as Director of Music and Organist.
Joel creates a video detailing the breadth of the organ restoration that can be viewed on Ascension’s YouTube channel. In September, Ascension of Our Lord Parish participates in the annual Religious Heritage Days event, and Joel Peters gives two recitals on the newly restored organ. These concerts are presented in collaboration with the Canadian International Organ Competition (CIOC).
Another grant is awarded.
The Comité des orgues of the Conseil du patrimoine religieux du Québec grants the parish $176,000 for the overall restoration of its Casavant Opus 1344 organ.
Donor Recognition Book
A book is produced that tells the Campaign Story. It is displayed on a podium at the back of the church for all parishioners to consult.
Take a look >>>
The Campaign Coordinating Committee would like to express its sincerest thanks to all those who helped prepare and execute this Campaign, and in particular:
To all the donors, for their generous and expeditious donations;
To the Conseil du patrimoine religieux du Québec, and in particular to Jocelyn Grou and Johanne Picard, for its collaboration and financial support;
To Louis Brillant, project architect, and to Construction Adrien Charbonneau and its collaborators for the efficiency and respectfulness of their work on site;
To Jacquelin Rochette and Dany Wiseman of Casavant Frères, for their oversight of the management and execution of the restoration of our Opus 1344 organ;
To Dr. David Szanto, Director of Music and Organist of Ascension Parish from 2003 to 2021, for his outstanding contribution to the parish’s music program and his critical role in the preparation and submission of the funding proposals to the Comité des orgues, Conseil du patrimoine religieux du Québec;
To Peter Keller, for drafting the Case for Support;
To David Boucher, for overseeing the research and composition of the donor prospect list;
To Sara Morley, Design Postimage, for her outstanding production of all Campaign communications;
To Edmund Nash, warden, for his generosity and technical expertise in hosting and maintaining the parish website, which facilitated online donations during the Campaign;