Courtright - St. Charles Borromeo Roman Catholic Church

White church with ornate door and shrubbery

St. Joseph's Church is the mother church for the parish of Corunna which consists of the former Township of Moore. Rev. C.E. McGee arrived at St. Joseph’s in 1886, and was responsible for building the church in Courtright.  In 1888 the St. Charles Church (the mission church of the parish) was completed and dedicated.

Rev. McGee was followed briefly by Father Watters, and then Rev. J.A. Kealy in 1889.  Later that year, Father J. Munan arrived, and remained there until 1901, at which time Father John P. Brennan arrived.

In 1905, Father P.L. Buckley, a Basilian priest, came to the church.  At this time, the town of Forest was constituted a mission of Corunna. Due to its distance from Corunna and Courtright, this arrangement was awkward, but persisted for seventeen years.  In 1912, when Father P.L. Buckley passed away suddenly while still at his post, Father J. G. Labelle took over for him. Father Labelle was a professor at St. Peter’s Seminary in London. He was appointed to look after the three churches in Corunna, Courtright and Forest. He remained in this position for two years, driving between the churches and London, where he continued to teach during the week. In Sept 1915, Father Labelle was appointed pastor.  Father Labelle was known for being extremely generous with his time and money, and a great friend of the youth in Corunna. Harold Mundy recalls Father Labelle allowing the young to drive his car up the highway. After a stern talking-to from the Ontario Provincial Police, Father Labelle replied that the kids could drive as well as he could. On another occasion, a deceased parishioner was interred in the wrong grave site. In response to the owner of the grave, who was quite upset, Father Labelle joked that no one had been left on top the ground yet. He continued to serve at the church until 1926.

The St. Charles Catholic Women’s League (C.W.L.) Organization Certificate No. 92 was issued in June of 1921.  The first Spiritual Advisor was Rev. J. G. Labelle, and Hortense Reilley was the first president.  Over the next several decades the group would raise funds for the church and various other worthwhile causes both locally and all over the globe.  The group raised money for the purchase and installation of a furnace at St. Charles Church, as well as the carpet during the last restoration.  They also financially supported the planting and maintenance of the gardens.

Jim Cassin remembers the C.W.L. dinners as delicious and home produced meals, with every kind of pie one could imagine as the highly anticipated dessert.  Friends and family from the United States would attend as well, arriving via the Courtright-St. Clair Ferry.  Tables were taken down quickly after dinner, and cornmeal was sprinkled on the floor in preparation for a night of dancing.  The St. Charles C.W.L. had a well-earned reputation for hosting outstanding social events. As of 2020, the group is still active.

Following Father Labelle, was Father Peter McKeon (1926), Father McHugh (1939), and Monsignor F. Brennan, who served briefly before Father Labelle’s return in 1950.  At this time, Father Labelle was named pastor at St. Joseph’s Church and Father Paul Sargewitz was named pastor at St. Charles.  After only nine months, Father Sargewitz would be named pastor of both churches, and remain so until 1960.

Father C.F. McMartin became pastor in 1960, and remained until 1971. Several priests and administrators followed, including Emmett John Mohan C. SS. R., Father Clement Filion, Father J.B. O’Donnell, Father Fred Doll, Father Paul E. Cruncican, Father Ronald Trojcak, Father F.J. Walsh and Father James H. Chasley.

In 1976, Father Paul Daniel Milne was appointed to St. Joseph – St. Charles Parish.  In that year, he appointed the first female sanctuary assistant (altar server) for the Parish. Father Milne remained with the church until 1994. Around this time, St. Charles Church was given new pews, a small confessional and a bathroom.  Additionally, a new furnace and drop ceiling were installed, and the interior of the church was painted. This was all accomplished with the volunteer labour and generosity of members of the church.  Father Milne is also credited with catalyzing these changes by taking a renewed interest in the church and pitching in himself.

Father Gerald Labelle Council #9447 of St. Joseph – St. Charles Parish received its charter in November of 1986, and the Knights of Columbus group was started at the church.  The Council began with 42 charter members and continues to meet as of 2020.
            On Sunday, June 12th, 1988, St. Charles Church celebrated its 100th anniversary.  Dinner was held at the Courtright Community Centre with Ken James, M.P., Dave Smith M.L.A., Charles Nisbet, Reeve of Moore Township, and Bishop Sherlock all in attendance.

Father Gary Roy became pastor in 1994, and was followed by Father Dikran Islemeci in 1996. Father Dikran, as he liked to be called, was remembered by parishioners as having a great sense of humour.  In 2002, Father James Higgins took up the post, and was the last pastor at St. Charles Church.

In 2007, St. Charles Church, Courtright, was closed and the parish was amalgamated with St. Joseph’s church. Several items were donated to commemorate the church and were used at the new location, including a statue, the Stations of the Cross, and some of the pews.

Interior of church, pews and altar