If you build it …
New catholic church opened officially tonight
By Chris Woodall
"I think I'm going to be very popular," says Father Joseph Dablem reflecting on the charismatic effect of the Whistler location for Our Lady of the Mountains Catholic Church — Whistler's newest place of worship.
Both parish home and the new church are attractive buildings in themselves and, sitting at the foot of Lorimer Road beside the Valley Trail, they have inspiring views of the entire bowl of mountains surrounding Whistler.
Most Reverend Bishop Lawrence Sabatini of the Kamloops Diocese officially consecrates the new church tonight (Feb. 28) with a mass at 7 p.m. A celebration follows on the church grounds. Everyone is invited.
Although Fr. Dablem is the sole occupant of the four-bedroom house, it will see constant use as a retreat for priests and for small groups of Catholics who seek a calming getaway to talk through personal problems.
Four priests from Seattle have already been drawn to Whistler's winter beauty for a retreat, Fr. Dablem says. "The Valley Trail is a great place for meditation.
"I had previously worked at a retreat centre and had started retreats for formerly married peoples and others who need a place to work through a tough situation," Fr. Dablem explains.
He has been in Whistler for the past 2.5 years, conducting mass at Myrtle Philip Community Centre. The new church building — it also doubles as a community centre — gives him a more permanent setting for religious services.
Builders Dürfeld Log Construction Ltd. created a structure Whistler Catholics can be proud of. As the company name suggests, great peeled and varnished logs are the predominant architectural feature. Eight cedar log pillars, using the wider base of the tree in the pillar design, stand as sentinels along the main entrance to the church.
Inside, wood flooring features inlaid dark and light woods defining the central corridor marching you to the alter. A dark inlaid wood cross signatures the floor here.
As for the alter, it is a 'V' formed by two intersecting peeled log trunks and topped by a three-inch-thick slab of wood. An inverted peeled log trunk is the pulpit.
The cross, too, sustains this theme, formed as it is by logs the size of telephone poles. The cross is suspended from the ceiling with an expanse of windows behind it giving a clear view of Cougar and Rainbow Mountains. A stack of floor-to-ceiling wall panels can be drawn across to hive off the alter from the rest of the room when it is being used for community activities.
When it's in the "community centre" mode, there's a spacious kitchen that opens onto the main hall. A secretary's and a priest's office finish of the facility.
Plans far into the future will see a main church constructed on the south-east corner of the property, leaving the hall for purely secular activities, Fr. Dablem says.
Because the current new church is not the final home for Whistler's Catholic services, it won't have some features normally found in a formal church, such as the Stations of the Cross.
"There's something about just putting them up anywhere," Fr. Dablem says of the need for respect for such symbols. Instead, the plain white walls may be an excellent canvas for a mural. "I'm sure we'll have something, but it'll have to be on a definite theme, perhaps to do with Our Lady of the Mountains."
Bishop Sabatini's consecration of the church will also reflect that feeling. Fr. Dablem says it won't be the full-blown service that a formal church building would receive, but it's expected to be an important event, nonetheless.
Christmas Day mass held at the conference centre, for example, drew more than 1,000 to two full masses, Fr. Dablem says.
Although there are just 39 Whistler families registered with the Catholic church, the majority of church-goers here are visitors, Fr. Dablem says.
"The largest single group are from the Vancouver area, but they come from all over the U.S. and from other countries," Fr. Dablem says. "We get quite a few people from Mexico," which provides a chance for Fr. Dablem to speak a little Spanish. Fr. Dablem also speaks a little Tagalog, allowing him to speak with his Philippine parishioners now living in Whistler.
"I did a baptism recently for people from Hong Kong," Fr. Dablem says. "Several relatives and friends showed up from the U.S., Eastern Canada, as well as Hong Kong."
There's a pretty good wedding business, too. "There's a mystique and something beautiful about being married in Whistler," Fr. Dablem says.
Ironically, the new church puts a slight damper on that end of things. When there was no official church structure, Fr. Dablem could conduct a wedding anywhere: in an alpine grove, on the slopes of Blackcomb or Whistler Mountains, or along an Alta Lake beach.
No more. Church law dictates that weddings must be in a church, where available, Fr. Dablem says. The reception, of course, can be anywhere.
That popularity among Whistler tourists seeking to touch base with their religious beliefs and life events will go a long way to fund the construction bill.
There are 250 chairs, for example, that can be "bought" for $100 by way of a donation. "People have already helped out by 'buying' a log pillar, or the pulpit," Fr. Dablem says. "You're supposed to be on your own, so the money we can use (for supplies or to pay off the building debt) comes from collections.
"That's one of the hardest things for a priest to do is to talk about money," he says. "So I try to do it by telling a story. Something on the humorous side seems to work."
Fr. Dablem is from Seattle and entered the priesthood late in life after a 22-year marriage and 11 years as a single parent.
"When the kids were on their feet, I went to the seminary and was ordained at age 67," the 73-year-old says. "I was always involved in the church as a lay person and taught school."
It was something he'd wanted to do for many years while he waited for his children to grow into adulthood. "With the shortage of priests, they have seminaries for late vocationers," Fr. Dablem explains of his enrolment at Mater Dei seminary at Spokane, Wash.
"I'm loyal to the Diocese of Kamloops. They've been good to me in accepting me at this late stage in my life," Fr. Dablem says of his current home.
Many religious issues have caused a wide range of views in the Roman Catholic church, as is the case in all the major religions. "I'm middle of the road," Fr. Dablem says. "I'm certainly not ultra conservative — I get shocked at some of the conservative attitudes, but at the same time, I can't advocate some of the way out things on the liberal end."
The gap in opinion concerns Fr. Dablem, especially when the dialogue becomes one of extremes by both sides making harsh criticisms of the other.
But for now, Fr. Dablem is still surprised that of all places he could have been posted to, he was given Whistler.
"When I was ordained, all my children were there and told the bishop to send me to Whistler. They are all avid skiers and told the bishop that putting me in Whistler would mean they'd go to church more often just to visit me," jokes Fr. Dablem. "Then three years later, the bishop said 'go to Whistler!'"