Goodfare couple have preserved former church as home chapel for past 20 years
When most churches close down, their fate is typically the same. No longer open to the public or being used for the celebration of Mass, the church will slowly dilapidate and eventually be torn down. Then it is preserved only in the memories of its past parishioners.
But St. Edward’s Catholic Church in the small rural community of Goodfare stands as an exception to this rule. The church building has had a life of its own long since it closed its doors in the 1980s. It is all thanks to the work of one devout Catholic couple, Lionel and Daniela Allingham, who have now preserved this little church on their land for 20 years.
There are many eye-catching idiosyncrasies when one steps on the Allingham’s home property – from decorative cow skulls, colourful paintings, horses, chickens and ducks roaming the land, shops for blacksmithing, iron forging, horse saddling, and wood carving, and much more. But perhaps the most striking and unique sight is a small white church with a bright blue roof, with the sign “St. Edward’s Catholic Church, Est. 1941” displayed on its side.
Since the church was brought to this location in 2002, it has remained a chapel on the Allingham property – mainly used by themselves, their friends and family, and occasional guests – as a quiet sanctuary for prayer and devotion.
As Lionel and Daniela have maintained and added to the church property over these past two decades, they express that their ultimate hope is to see it become a place for retreats.
“We would like to see it used as a kind of retreat centre. We believe what we have done in bringing this church here was really for that purpose,” said Lionel. “We are getting older and we’d need a lot of help to do it. But we are willing to accommodate individuals when we can who would like to have a retreat here.
“I believe with all my heart, mind and soul, that the Lord wants this place for those who are seeking a deeper walk with Christ, with Mary, and we are willing to provide that opportunity for those willing to participate.”
Lionel and Daniela moved to Goodfare in 1978. They both worked at Grande Prairie Regional College – today Northwestern Polytechnic – and would drive past St. Edward’s Church to and from work each day. For both of them St. Edward’s was a reminder of their childhood upbringing, where the church was the centre and heartbeat of community life.
Lionel grew up along the Ottawa river, close to the island of Montreal. Near his childhood home was a large Catholic cathedral, one that always fascinated him. Though he was not raised Catholic, his mother always reminded him that when the church bells rang in the evening, that was his sign that he had to rush home for supper.
“I would always hear them singing in the church and I found that kind of magical. Sometimes I’d look inside and see people in there lighting candles – it had a sort of ambiance that really appealed to me,” he recalled. “And when I saw the Corpus Christi procession going through town each year, it showed a sense of the community’s togetherness that we don’t have nowadays.”
Daniela grew up in the European countryside of the former Czechoslovakia, where the church steeple was the standout landmark of any town or village.
“The focal point of country living used to be the church,” she said. “Coming from Europe, as a child, the first thing you noticed when you enter a town is the church steeple. I missed this when I came to Canada. Here the first thing I noticed were commercial sites, businesses, shops, industrial places.
“So when we moved to Goodfare, the first thing we saw was the church, which was really nice. And after it closed we still kept our eyes on it. But nothing was done with it; in time, shingles were falling off and it looked more and more neglected.”
With this sense of the central importance of the church, ideas began fermenting of ways Lionel and Daniela could restore and keep St. Edward’s from its seemingly inevitable demolition. Even if the church was no longer used for celebrating Mass, at least they could do something to still honour the church’s legacy in the community. Finally, they decided to pursue their vision.
After much back and forth between the archdiocese and the Allingham’s on their proposal to take responsibility for the church building, a deal was finally made and they bought it for $100. They then received a quote from a moving company to transport it to their home for $5,000.
But the couple were unaware that, by this time, the church floor had significant amounts of dry rot. It was something they would soon discover however, when the moving company began to hoist up the church and the whole flooring beneath it collapsed.
“When they finally lifted the church there was this loud crack,” Lionel recalled. “They did a whole bunch of work after that putting hydraulics underneath and cross-tying it. We were able to get it here in one piece $15,000 later – triple what we expected.
“But even after that we still felt it was the right thing to do.”
From there, work to renovate, repair and restore the church began. The flooring and foundation were an immediate priority. Much help was provided by former parishioners and by others looking to support this unique community project. One person donated all of the new floor joists. Others helped with laying out the cement for the church’s foundation. One of Allingham’s daughters donated all of the new laminate flooring. A woman who was baptized and married at St. Edward’s Church offered to pay to install a rain trough.
In an era when many rural communities have sadly seen their churches close down, St. Edward’s in its new found life with the Allingham’s shows that, with faith and perseverance, there is always a chance for a new beginning. Church buildings may come and go, but the faith fostered in those buildings still continues on in the hearts of those who filled its pews.
Anyone interested in using this chapel for personal prayer or a retreat are encouraged to contact the Allingham’s by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
This is only an excerpt. Read the full story in the November 2022 edition of Northern Light