Our Lady of The Assumption Church
Story by Michael Seguin
Photography Courtesy Assumption Church
Windsor possesses some truly grandiose historical landmarks. That said, few can rival Our Lady of The Assumption Church, the oldest continuous parish in Canada, west of Montreal.
Located at 350 Huron Church Road, the church has stood vigilant for over 250 years.
Unfortunately, the building was closed in 2014 when it was determined that the church needed approximately $15 million in restoration work.
That was where lawyer Paul Mullins stepped in to help.
“About 12 years ago, there was a major campaign to restore the church,” Paul states. “But, it went sideways, for reasons no one seems to understand. I didn’t understand it myself, either. There was such huge involvement by the community. Dozens of community leaders had signed on to support the restoration. And then, after a couple years of work, it ended up cancelled. A year or two later the church closed. That was really devastating for anyone interested in the history of the area.”
After contacting the parish and meeting with the bishop, Paul decided to solve this mystery.
“I wanted to see what the options were, going forward,” Paul explains. “If there was any way to have the church restored. If there was any way for those doors to open again.”
For over a year, Paul compiled a comprehensive document called The Assumption Interim Report.
“I met with everyone who’d been directly involved in the prior campaign,” Paul states. “I met with all the officials and the parishioners. They provided me with a dozen boxes of all their records. I had the full support of the bishop in terms of compiling an analysis of what went wrong. They even provided me with an office up in London.”
Paul identified a lack of transparency between different officials during the initial restoration efforts.
“Well, there was some really unfortunate miscommunications,” Paul explains. “There was a Board of Directors set up to support the fundraising efforts. A fundraiser had been hired. A contractor had been drafted. However, the terms of that fundraising contract were never shared with the volunteers sitting on the nonprofit foundation. Some real miscommunications took place. The fundraiser who had been hired was not forthcoming with the volunteers. Some really difficult, hard feelings arose during that process.”
Paul ended up writing three more Interim Reports for the church.
“I’d say no one was on the same page, but it was worse than that,” Paul states. “There was a lot of anger and distrust developing during that time. It’s really hard to describe how that evolved in a few words. It was a very, very unpleasant time for the parish and the community.”
However, Paul and the parish were unwilling to let the experience keep the church door’s closed forever.
“We obtained an updated cost analysis of what would be required to return the church to service,” Paul explains. “Two immediately critical things were a new roof and a new heating system. Because without those, the church would continue to deteriorate.”
The first of four distinct phases of restoration began in May of 2019. Objectives included a new copper-shingle roof, a new energy-efficient hot water heating system, asbestos removal and several smaller, high-priority projects related to safety issues.
Five area contractors submitted bids for the first phase of the project. The contract was assigned to Pupatello & Sons Ltd. for $1.36 million, roughly 30% below the initial projected cost.
“The first phase was called Stabilization,” Paul states. “It proceeded so quickly and so smoothly that we were able to reopen the church sooner than expected.”
In September 2019, Assumption Church held its first mass in five years.
“It was awesome,” Paul laughs. “Over a thousand people attended. People were standing in the aisles. We had a whole group of students that came in and had to sit on the floor in front of the sanctuary. It was incredibly exciting. Truly a beautiful day for the history of Assumption Parish and our community.”
The first phase of restoration was completed before Christmas of last year. Midnight mass was standing room only.
Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Assumption Church had to stop offering in-person masses. However, church officials continued to provide spiritual services online.
“With the onset of the pandemic, Assumption Church closed,” Paul admits. “But they continued to broadcast masses from Rosary Chapel, which is part of the church. They had tremendous attendance by way of video. Over a thousand viewers a week. Since we’ve returned to the church, we’ve been filled to our restricted capacity every opportunity. We’re doing everything to ensure that the virus doesn’t get a foothold.”
And despite the pandemic, Assumption Church’s second phase of restoration – Interior – began in July 2020.
“The pandemic has slowed a lot of things down, but it didn’t stop the restoration work,” Paul states. “We were able to install two flights of the stairs in the tower of the church, which provides safe access up into the attic. We’ve removed insulation in the attic to prepare for the plaster consolidation in the ceiling.”
The majority of phase two itself involves three stages. The first includes the east aisle and the east wall of the church. The second involves the west wall. The third includes the restoration of the center ceiling. The construction budget is $1,250,000 for each stage.
“We’re just $200,000 short of meeting our budget to complete the first stage of phase two,” Paul admits. “The scaffolding is up. The workers are on-site. If we can raise another $200,000, we’ll be able to complete all of that work on that first section. We’re still very excited. We’re hopeful that we’ll be able to complete this section by the fall. Then we can move over to the second stage on the west wall.”
The third phase of restoration – Exterior – focuses on the exterior brick and masonry. Work will also be done to restore the stained-glass windows.
The fourth phase of restoration – Sacristy/Chapel – will see the current Sacristy totally rebuilt. Work will also be done on Rosary Chapel and the stained-glass windows.
Assumption Church is currently working on a pay-as-you-go basis with their contractors.
“We’re determined not to incur any debt,” Paul stresses. “We’re determined to raise the money without spending anything on fundraising efforts, so that 100% of the donations goes directly to the restoration.”
More information about Assumption Church and how you can help can be found at www.assumptionparish.ca.
“It’s going to be an extensive process,” Paul admits. “But, Assumption Church’s tricentennial—300th anniversary—is going to occur in 2028. There are very few institutions that will have the opportunity to celebrate such an anniversary. We aim to complete all four phases of restoration well before that. And the work that we’ve already done to stabilize the church guarantees that it will be there for that incredible occasion.”