St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church. (Sooke Region Museum)

St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church. (Sooke Region Museum)

SOOKE HISTORY: Sooke’s first Roman Catholic church

St. Rose of Lima was named for the first canonized saint in America

Built by Monsignor Joseph Leterme, with the help of the T’Souke People, the first Roman Catholic Church in Sooke was built in 1912-1913. It was named St. Rose of Lima for the first canonized saint in America.

Rev. Michael O’Connell’s correspondence of November 1952 to Mrs. Frank Rumsby of Sooke tells us that Monsignor Joseph Leterme conducted the first service in the church on the first Sunday of November 1913.

It was termed a mission church and was served by priests from St Andrew’s Cathedral in Victoria.

Later, the first resident priest was Father Guerkes, who lived in a house attached to the church; Harry George chuckled as he once said of him, “He enjoyed playing cards with the boys.”

The church interior was said to be very beautiful, with intricate carvings delicately hand painted by dedicated T’Sou-ke churchgoers. Before the building of the church, the mass had occasionally been offered in the homes of some of the T’Sou-ke elders, such as Chief Louis Lazzar, and his descendants Andrew Lazzar and Teresa Tuttle.

Sadly, the wood frame structure went up in flames in 1940. One of my childhood memories is of watching the devastating fire, as I stood near a schoolmate, Jean George (now Whitford) on a dark evening, the flames lighting up the sky as they consumed this treasure.

Jean recently recalled how she and her siblings had “gone to catechism” in that church, and how beautiful the artwork was.

The little corner of Sooke Reserve land where the church stood, remained vacant until 1943. With the opening of the Milne’s Landing army training camp in Second World War, the federal government was required to provide Catholic services for the servicemen in barracks, and so it was that the feds helped finance a replacement church which still stands on the site.

Today, this stucco-facade church serves mainly as a cultural and educational centre, with a new architect-designed St. Rose of Lima Church on Townsend Road, which opened on May 5, 2012.

For a few years, there was a Catholic church on Otter Point Road as well. The Sylvania (sometimes called Panama) Railway carried logs from a DeMamiel Valley logging location, near Robinson and Young Lake roads, and because there was quite a group of loggers in camp there, the diocese provided a church for them, starting in October 1923. This small building, named St. Francis Xavier, no longer stands.

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Elida Peers is the historian of the Sooke Region Museum.