ALEXANDRIA, Ontario – St. Finnan Church in Alexandria Ontario has been raised to the status of a Minor Basilica by Pope Francis, with the announcement being made at St. Finnan Church on Divine Mercy Sunday April 11, 2021 and during the weekend masses at St. Catherine of Sienna in Greenfield, Saint James of Maxville, Saint Anthony’s in Apple Hill and Saint Michael’s Chapel in Monkland by Father Jonathan Blake.
The history of the newest basilica in the Archdiocese of Ottawa-Cornwall dates to 1832 with the establishment of a Mission Church in Priest’s Mills (later known as Alexandria) by the Bishop of Upper Canada, the Right Reverend Alexander Macdonell. Support to the Mission Church was provided by nearby Saint Raphael’s and by 1840 Saint Finnan became a Parish Church. In March 1885, the newly constructed church building was dedicated to the worship of God and with the establishment of the Diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall in 1890 was chosen to be the ecclesiastical seat of the Diocese and designated a Cathedral.
In 2020, it was decided the Diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall would be amalgamated with the Archdiocese of Ottawa and Saint Finnan in Alexandria returned to the status of a parish church as the seat of the Archbishop was in Ottawa. Father Blake explained at this time a team of parishioners met and decided to petition Rome to have Saint Finnan’s designated as a basilica. The parishioners created a very detailed document which provided information on several aspects of the church including its history, architectural features, statues and pastoral activities which was sent to Archbishop Prendergast of the Archdiocese of Ottawa for consideration before being forwarded to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and thence to Rome for review and consideration by Pope Francis.
On February 19, 2021 Cardinal Sarah signed a decree on behalf of Pope Francis which raises the status of Saint Finnan to the status of Minor Basilica. According to Father Blake there are four major basilica’s all located in Rome and approximately 1800 minor basilica’s throughout the world.
The website of the Archdiocese of Ottawa-Cornwall mentioned Saint Finnan in Alexandria is now one of three minor basilicas in the Archdiocese. A church designated as a basilica is accorded honours including “a certain precedence before other churches, the right of the conopaeum, the tintinnabulum (a small bell) and the right to display the papal symbol (the crossed keys of St. Peter) and once bestowed can not be removed.
When asked about the response of the parishioners to this honour, Father Blake commented how the people are happy about receiving this honour and recognition of the history and beauty of this historical church. He mentioned how the designation is a “sign of honour and respect”, before continuing plans for ceremonies associated with the designation are being considered for the future when they are able to be held safely.