The little parish that grew

   As parishioners prepared this summer to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Mary Queen of the World Church in Mount Pearl last month, they didn’t know it would be bittersweet, marked by the deaths of two people who had a profound impact on the life of the building and the parish. Artist Gerald Squires, who painted the beautiful and moving Triptych of the Death and Resurrection of Christ that hands over the altar and the equally compelling Last Supper above the entrance way doors, passed away on Oct. 3. Less than two weeks later, Josephine, or Jo, Barron, died at the age of 85. She had been a devoted member of the parish and had formed the parish's Council of the Catholic Women's League in 1978.
   So what was planned as a celebration of one of this province’s most unique church buildings turned into an appreciation as well of two people who helped make the building, and parish, special.
   Dianne Gulliver, who put together a 12 page booklet on the 30th anniversary of the building, was fortunate enough to have spent a considerable bit of time with Squires just before his death. With so many visitors to the church remarking on Squires’ work and asking questions about the unique series of 14 paintings that compose the Stations of the Cross, Gulliver thought it would be good to chronicle the thoughts of the artist himself.
   "I didn't know he was as sick as he as," Gulliver said. "But he agreed to sit down with me and two other people from the church to give us a synopsis of where he was mind was at the time."
That led to further interviews between Gulliver and Squires, including at his studio in Holyrood. From those conversations, the booklet was created. "He was so gracious and so sweet," said Gulliver.
   Squires’ work is the key reason Mary Queen of the World is unique among churches in Newfoundland. All Churches have art. Few have the unique perspective and landscapes of Newfoundland painted into the art that Squires provided.
   “Those Stations of the Cross are so valuable and they are so pertinent to Newfoundland culture and history," Gulliver said. "It will go down in the history books. “
   The 14 stations depict Christ on his journey to the Cross, though in landscapes starkly different than seen in most such works. These landscapes are all Newfoundland. Squires used himself as the model for the face of Christ, a surprising decision given his deep humility, but an obvious sign of his own deep spirituality. Some of his friends modelled for the hands and feet of Christ, which are prominently captured in the agonies Jesus endured. The Cross is a spruce pole, the crown of thorns modeled on one Squires had formed from a Hawthorne tree in his backyard. The people who appear with Christ in the Stations are modeled on people Squires knew and the road to Golgotha was based on a real road that runs through Portugal Cove. Similarly with the triptych, which is composed of three panels forming a mural 18 feet long by five feet high. It shows Christ crucified and resurrected with a barren, coastal Newfoundland scene for a background that includes a longliner fishing in a rough sea. The faces of the disciples in the Last Supper are taken from Squires’s friends and fellow artists. Their names are listed on a plaque below the painting near the front doors.
   The decision to ask Squires to compose the art for the Church was made by the parish priest at the time, Fr. Adrian Kimenai, a Capuchin from the Netherlands, who served at Mary Queen of the World from 1974 to 1986. At the time, the decision was controversial. Fr. Kimenai alluded to the debate it stirred in a message he contributed to a booklet prepared for the 25th anniversary of the parish's founding in 1987.
   The decision to build a new Church had been made in the early 1980s. The parish, which was founded in 1962 to serve people in Mount Pearl and Newtown who had previously had to trek to St. Thomas of Villa Nova Parish in Topsail or Corpus Christi in St. John’s for Mass, was growing rapidly like the town, soon to be city, around it. The growth was so fast that a second parish was created in Mount Pearl with the moving of high school students from Mary Queen of the World School to O'Donel, in Newtown in what is now St. Peter's Parish.
   Though the remaining parish was now smaller, Kimenai wrote that the plans for a new Church at Mary Queen of the World proceeded anyway. It would be a move out of the school into a building that would set the stage for more growth in the future.
   "We didn't have the money to build a monumental building," Fr. Kimenai wrote. "It is a very simple Church, but it is at the same time a liturgical building, although not exactly according to many people. I was instrumental in building the church and also aware of the different ideas and feelings in the parish... I must admit, however, that with all the hurt feelings you never let me down. Only the people who were there at the time will understand these lines."
   What some considered a radical departure from church norms back then is now considered a crowning jewel of the Roman Catholic Church in Newfoundland.
   "Fr. Kimenai knew Gerald and he knew his artwork and how Gerry would always incorporate the Newfoundland landscape into everything he did," said current parish priest Fr. Pat Power. "Fr. Adrian was attracted to it because it would resonate with people. The story is, that's why we have chairs and not pews, because it came down to the cost of paintings versus pews and that's why we ended up with chairs. So the paintings were very much a part of the church."
   Squires' beautiful and striking art wasn't the only feature that made the new building different. The Eucharistic Tables and other furnishings were designed by local artist George O'Brien and built by Jo Barron's husband Larry Barron. The Baptismal font, a simple fishing boat perched atop a globe of the world, was built by John Barron of Prince Edward Island.
   Sometime after 2000, when Fr. Pat Kennedy was parish priest, funds were obtained to install the church's beautiful stained glass windows. “People donated to them," Fr. Power said.
   The stained glass was made by local artist Brendan Blackmore, based on designs by Squires.
   "These are true stained glass windows," said Fr. Power. "Sometimes in churches now you see coloured glass, but this is actual stained glass."
   The building, which can seat 550 people, feels airy and bright. It still looks and feels new, both inside and outside.
   "I think people like it here," said Fr. Power. "We kind of keep it as a warm atmosphere. People find it very inviting here, I think, and they like the chairs."
   The Sunday morning and evening Masses attract good sized crowds, Fr. Power said.
   The building and the nearby parish office serves as a good base for the busy work of the parish.
   “Mary Queen of the World was a very small parish when it started out,” said Gulliver. "From there, St. Vincent de Paul was developed, which helps feed the poor, and then we got little organizations like Stewardship and Liturgy and Parish Council and the Knights of Columbus and before you knew it, we had all these committees. And now our Church is a strong church. It is financially okay and we've been doing wonderful."
   Gulliver chairs the Stewardship committee. "Stewardship is all about time, talent and treasure," she said, three qualities, that particularly apply to Squires and his contribution.
   "He wasn't paid a large amount of money for the paintings,” said Gulliver. “The replacement cost today would be in the millions, but what Gerry was paid was only a fraction... But he felt he had charged a fair price and I just marvel over his goodness…. He really touched me, I have to say… I look at the paintings so much differently now. He was a great artist and such a great person and I could really see how the Stations of the Cross affected him."
Squires was an extremely spiritual man, said Gulliver. "He was the right person to do those stations."
   Squires’ wife Gail, one of his daughters and his grandson attended the event held to mark the church’s 30th anniversary. Gulliver was touched that Squires’ family felt touched by the appreciation the parish felt for him.
   Gulliver, like the other parishioners, is also grateful for the bold decision Fr. Kimenai made to engage Squires and others in the creation of the church.
   "He was such a good man," Gulliver said of the parish priest, who retired about a year after the church was built. "He was the one who enlisted Gerry and got the St. Vincent de Paul Society started and those kinds of things. He was the founding father of that church for sure… It's such a great church and the Newfoundland history that Gerry Squires has added to it is second to none. We've got huge churches in our province for sure, but this is an historical church that needs to be recognized as many times as we could possibly have it recognized."

Posted on November 18, 2015 .