Plans to convert the church of St. Raphael the Archangel in Outremont into a 12-bed palliative care unit and day centre have moved into high gear. The church on Lajoie Ave. opposite the Sanctuaire apartment complex, served an English-speaking congregation for almost eight decades until it closed in June 2008.
The Agence de la santé et des services sociaux has given its approval to the project , architectural plans are being finalized, and the campaign to raise the necessary funds to administer the centre for the dying is expected to be launched shortly. Representatives of the fabrique and those involved in the projectt obtained Cardinal Jean Claude Turcotte’s approval during a meeting with him in April, and a public information meeting to brief the neighbourhood about the planwas held April 12 at the Wilderton Community Centre.
“This project is a grassroots project, initiated by the fabrique and by parishioners who were loyal to Father Jerry Sinel’s original vision,” said Tanya Choquette, a former parish warden. Sinel was the parish priest for 18 years. He was the last Roman Catholic Chaplain at St. Mary’s Hospital where he ministered to dying cancer patients, and about 10 years ago tried to get a similar project off the ground. “When he died in 2007, the archbishop was going to shut us down,” said Choquette. By then the number of parishioners had dwindled to fewer than 50, and the building needed $1-million in repairs. “We didn’t know what was going to happen to the church or to the parish. We couldn’t let the place go down. So we approached the archdiocese for permission to convert it into a palliative care centre for terminal patients.” The day care unit will be the first of its kind in Montreal, a place where patients will be able to come to terms with their own mortality, consult their doctors, do art therapy, or see a psychiatrist. Church warden Jim Sullivan, who is also a doctor at St. Mary’s, says the hospital will probably provide professional support, but that the two-level palliative care centre will operate as an independent, non-denominational institution.
A non-profit corporate body, St. Raphael Palliative Care Residence Inc, with Justine Farley, who runs the palliative care unit at St. Mary’s Hospital, as president, has been set up to raise the $7-million needed to remodel the church and to administer the hospice. Because it is a non-denominational venture, and as such, there will be an area for meditation, but no formal chapel. The Quebec government is expected to contribute about $800,000 towards the operating costs. The city has issued a demolition permit in March paving the way for the rectory to be torn down. Work is expected to begin the spring of 2012.