Cross-ing the boundary between church and state? Finding a home for a piece of our heritage

Andrew Zwicker
By Andrew Zwicker
July 28th, 2010

In an attempt to retain and display a piece of Rossland heritage, a debate has arisen among City Council that has some questioning the dividing line between Church and State.

The heritage piece in question is the old cement cross from Mater Misercordae Hospital. During renovations, as the hospital transformed into Redmount condos, Jim Lennox rescued the cross as something of historical significance to Rossland and has since stored it in the garage of the Catholic Church’s manse.

Originally, Mater Miscercordae was a temporary hospital set up by the Sisters of St Joseph of Newark New Jersey in 1896. They quickly raised funds and opened a proper building on July 4th, 1897. The Sisters continued to run Rossland’s hospital for 72 years until 1969, when it was turned over to a local health board. At that time the building was replaced with the current structure, complete with concrete cross on the roof. The hospital, which officially closed on June 4th, 2004 represented over a century of health care in the Golden City.

The manse is currently rented out as a revenue generator for the church. Given that the church wants to clear out the garage of the rental property as well as find a place to display the approximately four by three foot cement cross, questions about what to do are now being asked. The process of how to honour that legacy through displaying the cross from the cemetery has since been going around in circles and this past Monday it started another lap.

Initially a letter was written to City Council suggesting it be placed in Pioneer Park. The matter was then redirected to the Heritage Commission. Through lengthy discussions three potential locations were arrived at: The Catholic Cemetery, The Catholic Church and Pioneer Park. The cross was to be displayed and mounted on some form of a base along with a plaque to provide context, which the Knights of Columbus have committed to raising the funds to build.

The Rossland museum was considered as a location during the discussions but it was felt that the proper context could not be had there; the museum already features a display honouring the Sisters who opened Mater Misercordae and there is no room to add the cross to that display. Looking outside the museum, it was felt the proper context again could not be gained through mounting the cross on the lawn.

Unable to come up with a definitive recommendation to City Council, the heritage commission offered all three options to the City. Hearing no response, the commission decided the best way to move the project forward would be to formally recommend the Pioneer Park location with the cross mounted in front of the rock wall at the back of the park.

This past Monday night council debated this recommendation and, though nearly evenly split, decided not to accept the Pioneer Park recommendation and sent the issue back to the Heritage Commission, charging them to come up with an alternative location.

“I’m strongly in favour of church and state separation,” commented Councillor Kathy Moore. “I would rather not have it in a city park. It should be in a religious institution of the museum.”

Councillor Spearn echoed that sentiment adding, “I agree that it is a hugely significant heritage symbol, but not everyone will recognize that symbol as something historic because a cross has hundreds of thousands of connections for people. It’s worth being retained but that is not the site for it in a public park.”

Seeing the cross not as a religious symbol but rather as a symbol of healthcare in Rossland, Councillor Laurie Charlton added, “What it represents is the first hospital and health care in Rossland…If anything deserves to be in Pioneer Park I think the symbol of health care deserves to be there… It’s total nonsense that Pioneer Park is not considered a good location for this.”

Presently there are no specific guidelines in place for what should and should not go in Pioneer Park. The only other monument in Pioneer Park at the moment is a plaque Honouring Father Mac. Rossland has also allowed other religion-related monuments around town in the past, for example the memorial to Father Pat on Columbia Avenue in front of the Credit Union.

For now, the ball has been volleyed back to the Heritage Commission’s court. As pointed out by commission member Jackie Drysdale, however, another potential location is not likely to emerge from them.

“The heritage commission had a lengthy discussion about the location of the cross. There have been three options of the Catholic Church the Catholic cemetery and Pioneer Park offered up, and we really don’t have any other suggestions.”

What do you think about the matter? Is the cross a religious symbol, a symbol of our health care history or both? Should the cross be located in Pioneer Park? If not Pioneer Park where else should it go? 

Categories: Politics

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