$20M NEEDED TO SAVE CHURCH
New report gives Assumption update
Windsor’s historic Assumption Church should be saved but it’s going to take at least $20 million in fundraising to do it, says a local lawyer brought in to provide options on the fate of the shuttered landmark.
“I’m very hopeful the restoration option is the one we go forward with,” said Paul Mullins, who volunteered his time to investigate what should be done with the 174-year-old church. “I believe there is enough support in the community and enough desire in the parish and diocese to go in this direction.”
Mullins reached his conclusions and provided new details on how the church — the showpiece of Ontario’s oldest Catholic parish dating back to 1767 — can be saved in his latest report of findings unveiled Saturday.
“No one I spoke with wants to see the church further deteriorate or be demolished,” he said. “The clear majority of parishioners and people in the community would like to see it restored. The concern is whether the cost of the restoration is feasible and financial support forthcoming.”
The next step requires a decision anticipated to be made quickly by the Diocese of London and Bishop Ronald Fabbro in consultation with the parish. The bishop will make a statement on the latest report in a letter to members of the parish during this weekend’s services.
Hopes to save Assumption Church — should the diocese choose that direction — would be bolstered by pledges already on the table. Local philanthropist Al Quesnel has offered $5 million, providing his donation is matched. To date, four pledges totalling $3.25 million in matching funds have been received, according to Mullins.
On Friday, Fabbro vowed to contribute another $1 million toward matching the offer made by Quesnel.
The diocese’s offer would be “an incentive for other gifts and pledges toward the goal of $20 million,” said the bishop, adding the church’s contribution would be provided when the parish secures the necessary outside funding for the restoration to begin. Mullins described what has already transpired as “an encouraging beginning ” toward a potential $20-million target and believes Quesnel’s offer will be matched by Christmas, getting the campaign “halfway home.”
Should $15 million be reached, then restoration work could be launched, he said.
“If we get to 75 per cent of target, then the remaining 25 per cent I would have all the confidence in the world it would be there by the time we need it,” Mullins said. The lawyer’s first report in August pointed to how an initial major fundraising drive to save the historic church nine years ago ended with a financial loss and finger pointing. The fundraising was shut down abruptly after 2½ years with the local parish and diocese having to cover a $450,611 loss. That initial report chronicled how that $10-million fundraising campaign, which included the recruitment of many high-profile community members, deteriorated into a financial and public relations disaster with Philanthropic Management Consultants, Inc. (PMC) at the helm. Mullins in his first report indicated PMC misrepresented expenses, skewed fundraising results and failed to provide adequate answers when questioned by the diocese.
The Diocese of London stopped holding regular masses at the church in 2014 due to its deteriorating condition and inadequate heating system. Weekend services for the parish have since been held about a dozen blocks away at Holy Name of Mary Church on McEwan Avenue.
In regard to restoration estimates, Mullins called upon Allan Avis Architects, which the diocese often uses for repairing historical churches.
An appendix in the newest report sets a budget for renovating Assumption Church that ranges from $17.3 million up to $26.3 million, depending on the volume of work to be completed.
The full amount would include a new parish hall on the grounds of Assumption. It also includes an $800,000 option for restoration of the church’s original copper roof. Based on feedback from his initial report, Mullins makes reference to how a significant number of parishioners prefer to stay at Holy Name of Mary, feeling such an enormous amount of money could be better spent.
In the report, there are also estimates from Allan Avis to upgrade that church — which is over a century old — with restoration estimates ranging between $5 million to $10 million. The higher amount includes expanded parking and improved hall facilities. Allan Avis also lists costs for constructing an entirely new church, that would include a hall and rectory, at $13 million. But that expense does not include land costs or demolition of existing structures. “Accordingly, if restoration of Assumption Church is to be undertaken, a budget of $20 million would provide a prudent initial fundraising target,” the report says.
A key factor with any new fundraising effort for Assumption Church is ensuring all donated moneys go toward renovations, Mullins said. He suggests a trust account be established by the parish under similar standards to what a law firm would put in place. “It would properly track every donation and provide everyone assurance nothing will be diverted,” Mullins said. If the fundraising effort fails, all funds would be rightfully returned to each donor, he said.
In the latest report, Mullins includes demographics on the west end, calculating whether the parish can remain sustainable at either location. He called it a “legitimate question” given how much of the surrounding area is low income with double the unemployment rate of the rest of the city.
But the parish is bolstered by representing such a large geographic area, as well as its proximity to the University of Windsor, the report said. Attendance at weekend masses at Assumption Church was trending upwards — averaging 1,200 in the three years prior to closure. It has since declined a fair amount following relocation to Holy Name of Mary at about 750 each weekend, but has recently trended slightly upwards.
“It is the assessment of the Assumption pastoral team that a return to Assumption Church for weekend services would increase attendance significantly,” said the report.
Financial sustainability is also possible thanks to parking lot revenue on Assumption Church’s grounds used by University of Windsor staff and students. General donations by parishioners and parking lot revenues combined for the last two years totalled nearly $1.6 million, the report said. “The strong weekly attendance and healthy financial performance demonstrate the vitality of Assumption parish and is strong evidence that a restored Assumption Church can be maintained.” Rev. Maurice Restivo, Assumption’s pastor, favours saving Assumption Church.
“My sense is the vast majority would like to see the church restored,” he said. “There is a sector quite happy to stay right where we are, but my hope is the bishop will decide to take on the restoration and fundraising.
“Based on the response already, it makes me optimistic we will be able to raise the funds needed.” The report also highlights the parish’s Indigenous and French roots and suggests expanding offerings going forward — perhaps as an Indigenous University, since it was the Huron people who initially donated land for the site. French pioneers built the present church and three former churches on the site.
Many parishioners are open to sharing the church, chapel and grounds with the entire community, Mullins said. Some potential donors even indicated they would contribute if “more was available to the entire community.” Bishop Fabbro in his statement added: “I am open to an examination of ways Assumption Church and Rosary Chapel could be made available to serve the entire community.”
Former chairman of the parish council Kevin Alexander described the latest report from Mullins as “well-done, clear and concise” and which points to a positive future that he hopes leads to Assumption Church being restored. “The report shows we have enough sustainability,” he said. “There are people who want to stay at Holy Name of Mary. It also has high heritage value and importance to the neighbourhood. But this report shows it looks promising we will be able to restore Assumption Church.”
Based on the response already, it makesme optimistic we will be able to raise the funds needed.
Lawyer Paul Mullins, standing in front of the historic Assumption Church this week, is releasing his second report with options for saving the 174-year-old church, which was closed by the diocese in 2014. He says it will take at least $20 million in fundraising to restore the landmark.