St. Mary's Polish Church in Whitney Pier gets new steel cross

The rebuilding of St. Mary's Polish Church after a 2014 fire got one step closer to completion as a steel cross was eased into place atop the steeple.

Church burned down in 2014 in accidental fire

A steel cross was added to St. Mary's Polish Church in Whitney Pier, Cape Breton, bringing the rebuild one step closer to completion after it burned down in 2014. (Norma Jean MacPhee/CBC)

The rebuilding of St. Mary's Polish Church in Whitney Pier, Cape Breton, got one step closer to completion as a metal cross was eased into place atop the steeple Monday afternoon. 

People from the community gathered for the occasion as workers carefully hoisted the 68-kilogram cross up to its place, which marked an emotional moment after the century-old church burned down in 2014 in an accidental fire. 

Made of steel, the cross is also coated to ensure its shine endures. 

"Well this is a great milestone," said Tom Urbaniak, chair of the parish council. "It feels like the church is complete now —  it literally caps off the exterior of the church."

'Filled with emotion'

Women from the parish blessed themselves after the cross was placed on the steeple. 

Parishioners of St. Mary's Polish Church, Ursula Melski (left) and Stephanie Melnick-Black, say they are overjoyed the cross is up and looks so great. (Norma Jean MacPhee/CBC)

"Oh, I wouldn't miss it for the world," said parishioner Ursula Melski. "It's so exciting to see a cross on the top of our church, it's so beautiful, and the day is perfect, no wind. God is with us again today."

Stephanie Melnick-Black says after watching their first church burn, parishioners didn't know what they were going to do. She's touched to see the new one almost finished. 

"I was filled with emotion, I was filled with pride," Melnick-Black said. "Polish pride that we stuck to our guns and it's going, it's coming and we're gonna be in it."

"When the cross was raised today, we know that cross will be there longer than all of us will be here on earth."

A historic day

Nova Scotia Community College students, including Graham Tourneur and Nicholas Anderson, designed and built the cross. They consulted with community members to achieve the end product. 

"To start a project from conception and work with different ideas and different people and their ideas," Tourneur said. "To see it through to the end and finally see it put up on the top of that steeple is a good feeling."

Anderson agrees.

"It felt great to be part of a community project because once this is up it'll be there when I'm gone," he said.

With a big smile, Ursula Melski says the excitement spreads well past Whitney Pier. 

"I already sent the pictures to my daughters in Calgary," Melski said. "Now I'm gonna send it to my brother in Poland, my friends in California, Halifax, in Germany — all over the world."

With the outside finished, the focus will now be on the interior, with the hopes of being able to pray in the church by mid to late May. 

About the Author

Norma Jean MacPhee

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From people around the corner to those around the world, Norma Jean MacPhee has more than a decade of experience telling their stories on the radio, TV and online.

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