'Like losing a friend': Suspicious fire destroys rural Saskatchewan church

·2 min read
Our Lady of the Smile Church on Waterhen Lake First Nation was razed in a fire that RCMP has deemed suspicious. (Submitted by Doug Jeffrey - image credit)
Our Lady of the Smile Church on Waterhen Lake First Nation was razed in a fire that RCMP has deemed suspicious. (Submitted by Doug Jeffrey - image credit)

Father Doug Jeffrey received a jarring text at 7:28 a.m. Thursday: It included a picture of a beloved church he pastored for the past three years in flames.

"The text just alerted me to the fact that the church was on fire and that it was mostly destroyed," the Catholic priest said of Our Lady of the Smile church, one of three he administers.

He said the text shocked him, and he thought "No, not our little church."

Now that it's sunk in, that shock has shifted to sadness.

A little more than an hour before that, Meadow Lake RCMP had been called to the church located on Waterhen Lake First Nation, about 200 kilometres north of North Battleford.

The fire was determined to be suspicious in the RCMP's initial investigation, and police have asked anyone with information to contact them.

Meadow Lake Catholic Church/Our Lady of the Smile
Meadow Lake Catholic Church/Our Lady of the Smile

While no one was injured, Jeffrey says the whole community is hurting from the loss of the church, which he says was built in the early 1950s.

He says the community has been feeling lots of frustration, anger and sadness, and wondering "and wondering why would they do that to our church?"

Some have said to Jeffrey that after so many years spent in the church it feels "like losing a friend."

Despite that, some members of the community he spoke with said they need to pray for whomever started the fire.

"Whoever did this must have been very angry or upset or frustrated to do such a thing," he said.

On Monday, the parish was expected to meet as part of a Synod process prompted by Pope Francis: to come together and discuss what the world needs right now.

In Waterhen, Jeffrey says it's praying for reconciliation, people with health and family issues and for those  dealing with addictions and violence.

Jeffrey says he hasn't been to the church since the fire razed it, but he plans to go to the site and to pray for healing and reconciliation.

"We don't know who did this and we don't know why … whenever there's a lack of information there's lots of speculation and so we were hoping that people wouldn't do that — just to wait until the facts come out before we make any judgments or accusations," he said.

At this time, he's uncertain about the future of the parish but says that since the building was owned by Waterhen Lake First Nation, the parish will have to discuss it with them.

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