Rising on Townsend Road in the heart of Sooke, the third St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church will soon take its place in Sooke’s church history. The building design displayed at the recent sod-turning ceremony indicates a vastly modernized interpretation of the traditional church structures we have been accustomed to.
While the sacraments had been administered by Catholic priests during the late 1800s, the first actual church (photo) was built in 1912 on a corner of T’Sou-ke Nation Reserve No. 1. A Belgian priest, Monsignor Joseph Leterme worked alongside the T’Sou-ke people as the structure took shape. This simple building quickly became renowned for its intricately decorated interior with some of the finest First Nations carvings and delicate paintings in Western Canada.
Called St. Rose of Lima for the first Saint of the Americas, the church opened as a mission, served from St. Andrews Cathedral in Victoria. Apparently Msgr. Leterme would commandeer a vehicle from one of his Victoria flock fortunate enough to own one, and head out on the dirt (later gravel) road west.
Disaster struck the little chapel, with its attached dwelling, one night in 1940, when it went up in flames. I recall it as one of the dramatic memories of my childhood; only eight, I absorbed the immensity of the loss, but also the overwhelming relief that no lives were lost.
For three years Mass was celebrated in the homes of parishioners, but by 1943 the second St. Rose church was in place, spearheaded by a federal government commitment to provide services for the solders at the adjacent army camp. The current stuccoed building has housed services since then, at times by resident priests, and also by priests from the Victoria diocese.
(Note: Milne’s Landing Army Training Camp was established on part of the Edward Milne farm in 1943; after the close of World War II in 1945, it was taken over by the newly-formed School District No. 62, and the troop-training huts were converted into classrooms.)
For a brief period there was a Catholic Church on Otter Point road, intended for the convenience of workers in the logging camps near Young Lake and the Panama Pacific Railway (Sylvania). This church, St. Francis Xavier, first offered Mass in 1923, but within a few years had closed and become a private residence.
Sooke Region Museum
(with appreciation to the late Catholic Church historian Grace Horgan)