The Roman Catholic Church in the Sooke Area – A Brief History
- In the early 1920’s the region including Victoria, Strawberry Vale, Langford, Metchosin, Sooke and beyond was known as “The Missions”.
- Father Joseph Leterme, principal of St. Louis College and Vicar General of the Victoria diocese, is the man responsible for the construction of 4 churches located at: Otter Point, Metchosin, Langford and Strawberry Vale. Often travelling by horseback, he chose sites that he considered would be highly residential centres in the future.
- Natives and logging families were a source of the Roman Catholic population in our area.
- On the 3rd Sunday of October, 1923 the church at Otter Point was placed under the patronage of St. Francis Xavier. However, with the termination of logging a few years later the church was closed and the building reverted to a private dwelling, later to house animals or farm equipment.
- Sooke is among the oldest “missions” on Vancouver Island. From the 1860’s Mass was offered in the homes of Native leaders, particularly Chief Andrew Lazarre. In the early 1920’ a church (named after America’s first canonized saint – Rose of Lima) was erected on Native land. The church, which was blessed on February 7, 1926, was highly decorated and said to be one of the most beautiful chapels in western Canada at the time. It was serviced semi-monthly from the cathedral in Victoria.
- In 1940 Father Theodore Geukers was named pastor of the surrounding territory, with residence at Sooke. The appointment was premature; the area could not yet support a priest.
- In 1942 the church caught fire and was completely destroyed when an electric iron was left unattended. The territory reverted to “mission” status once again.
- With a donation from the diocese, insurance money from the previous building and a substantial donation from the federal government (provided it would be used both spiritually and recreationally for Army personnel station in Sooke) the present church was built on the original site. It was built under the direction of Father Geoffrey Penfold —- ask Larry Rumsby for ‘first hand’ information since he worked on the building.
- The church was serviced semi-monthly from the cathedral and practically every priest associated with the diocese took his turn on the missions.
- In 1951 Father O’Brien was named parish priest for the territory, with headquarters at Langford. St. Rose became a mission of the new parish and was for the next 16 years.
- In 1966 twelve and a half acres of land in the cnetre of the Sooke village was purchased for $15,000 as a future site for a new development.
- An active altar society worked tirelessly and proudly to beautify the surroundings with the hope that some day St. Rose would have the status of an independent parish.
- In 1967 the parishioners petitioned the Bishop for a resident pastor and Father Achilles Giacomini was appointed and took up residence in a rented apartment. This appointment, too, as revenues were not adequate. He resigned in 1970 and was replaced by Father John Farrell, an ex-navy chaplain whose navy pension helped the financing.
- In 1972 Father Don McLaughlin took over the parish on a part-time basis but two years later he left for Australia.
- Then Father William Mudge was asked to serve the district on a part time basis. He agreed to spend Saturday and Sunday in the parish, and to serve William Head Penitentiary and the Native population on the lower part of Vancouver Island as well. One half of the property acquired was sold for about $33,000 to help finance the parish.
Reference: “Anniversary – Our Lady of the Rosary Parish” – a paperback owned by Larry Rumbsy.