The official Sooke website describes the town as the place ‘where the rainforest meets the ocean.’ Certainly, driving along Highway 14 into Sooke, the beauty of the mountains and the harbour, is breathtaking. It seems fitting therefore that the Catholic Church in Sooke is named after St. Rose of Lima, a woman who was renowned for her beauty. It also seems fitting that, when the first church was consecrated in 1926 it was said to be one of the most beautiful chapels in western Canada.
Sadly, that church did not survive a devastating fire but its replacement, known today as the ‘Little Church’ still stands at the entrance to Sooke. Carol Chrismas Sweeny, Chair of St. Rose of Lima Parish Pastoral Council said that it is on the land of the T’Sou-Ke nation. Prior to Covid, at the invitation of the First Nations, Fr. Dean Henderson, the Pastor, had been invited for visits to T’Sou-Ke Nation and the Pacheedaht First Nation, near Port Renfrew.
The present church was built in 2012 and is a testament to the community sentiment that the town exudes. It is nestled in the rainforest, with windows pouring God’s light throughout the building, and has such a flexible design that different areas could be partitioned into separate rooms. Before the most recent lock-down, it was home to many essential community support groups.
There is definitely a community heart in Sooke. The local paper fosters Sooke’s spiritual health by inviting local faith leaders to write for a corner called ‘Pastor’s Pen.’ Carol said that people who are not Catholic contact the parish wanting connections because they have read Fr. Dean’s inspirational articles. Before the pandemic, Carol said that the parish would hold a garage sale in the spring and fall, and a big Christmas bazaar. “Absolutely the whole community would come, not just the Catholics.”
|Fr. Dean celebrating Mass (and leading the music) at Ed MacGregor Park prior to Covid.|
Each summer, before Covid-19 arrived, St. Rose of Lima would hold an outdoor Mass at Ed MacGregor Park. “It was nice because people walking past would often stop and listen to the Mass,” Carol said. The parish would also hold blanket drives for Our Place Shelter and some of the parishioners walk in the Coldest Night of the Year in support of the Sooke Shelter Society.
Carol said that when she and her husband first moved to the parish they were overwhelmed at the love shown to them, they immediately felt like family. “We have a loving caring community, and it almost brings a tear to my eye when I see our parishioners on Zoom, because I really miss them.” When Masses were suspended, a group of volunteers phoned every family, twice, to find out how they were doing. For those with no family nearby, they would deliver groceries too. “The biggest opportunity we have had,” said Carol, “Is to reach people on a more personal level. We have more one-on-one relationships with our parishioners and we let them know that we care.”
What is on the horizon of hope for St Rose of Lima? Carol is full of joy, “I love our church, I love our Lord, I love our parish. I just want to get everyone back again.” The heart of the parish shows its true beauty.