Port au Choix, NL, where St. Theresa’s Church is located, derives its name from the name Portutxoa used by Basques fishermen in the 15th and 16th century. The Basques word means ‘little port’ but this port is not so little historically speaking. In fact, historical knowledge of the area stretches back more than 6000 years thanks to fascinating archeological discoveries on Newfoundland’s Great Northern Peninsula. The church wasn’t always there, but St. Theresa’s is only a 4 minute drive from the Port au Choix National Historic Site which recognizes the area as a “crossroads of 6000 years of human history”. The Catholic roots of the community? These are likely found in the Basques and subsequent French groups of fishermen who plied their trade up and down the western coast of the peninsula. Throughout the 15th and 16th century the French and English fought for control of the island, it was the English who ultimately succeeded in 1713.
The church in Port au Choix is part of Holy Family Parish based out of Port Saunders. Both of these communities rely on fishing and since a downturn in the local fishery, population has been declining as people leave town in search of work. While the region is predominantly Catholic, the migration of people from the community has led to a decline also in church activities which comes at a time when the parish is struggling financially and in need of major repairs. Bishop Bart van Roijen of the Diocese of Corner Brook and Labrador has asked Catholic Missions In Canada for support in repairing St. Theresa’s church.
The repairs needed for St. Theresa’s Church include; replacing the vents and shingles on the roof, replacing the exterior concrete platforms at the entrance to the church, repairing the the base around the church tower, repairing two brick chimneys, replacing two oil tanks (fuel source for for heating), and repairing areas of the church ceiling and floors. The estimated cost of these repairs is between $75,000 to $80,000 and Catholic Missions In Canada has granted the maximum amount for a single project, $75,000.
The Diocese of Corner Brook and Labrador has a reported population of 48,270 Catholics (35.3% of 136,935 total). The church in Port au Choix ministers to the lower and central portion of the Northern Peninsula. Supporters of Catholic Missions In Canada are contributing to the efforts of the diocese to keep the Catholic Faith alive. While communities grapple with economic hardship caused by industry downturns or geographical challenges, the church remains an important source of hope and belonging. After so many years, after so many changes, the church in the ‘little port’ has continued, and God’s presence will continue; however, whether or not that means the continuation of a brick and mortar church depends largely on the support of the faithful Catholics behind CMIC.