Hobbyist in Sturgeon Falls, Ont., discovers stolen church tabernacle underwater after 17 years

November 5, 2021
Hobbyist in Sturgeon Falls, Ont., discovers stolen church tabernacle underwater after 17 years

Roland Bigras of Sturgeon Falls in northeastern Ontario has a pastime some people might find a little strange — he likes to fish for metallic objects with a magnet.

On a recent excursion in Lake Nipissing’s Cache Bay, he discovered a heavy item he could not lift on his own.

“I brought it in as much as I could because it was very, very heavy, and I couldn’t get it out of the water,” he said.  “So I called my brother-in-law. He came over and he helped me take it out.”

What they found certainly did not belong at the bottom of Lake Nipissing. 

Bigras said it appeared to be a religious item, so he posted a picture of it on Facebook to see if anyone could identify the object. It didn’t take long to get a response.

It turned out the mysterious object was the missing tabernacle from the nearby Église de Sainte-Thérèse-d’Avila, in the town of Cache Bay.

In the Catholic Church, the tabernacle is a box-like vessel that holds consecrated communion hosts for the ritual of the eucharist. It is a sacred object to many Catholics. 

When he learned what he had, Bigras returned the object to the church.

“I have no desire to keep something that doesn’t belong to me,” he said. “So happy to bring it back.”

Roland Bigras was out fishing with a magnet in Cache Bay when he discovered the tabernacle. He posted a photo of it on Facebook and soon learned the origin of the object. (Bienvenu Senga/Radio-Canada)

The Cache Bay church’s tabernacle was stolen in 2004.

“It was quite the shock to the parishioners,” said Jocelyn Giroux, speaking as one himself. “It’s a pleasure to see that what was taken from us without asking is finally returned to its home by a good bystander doing what he loves to do.”

Theft shocked pastor

Gerald LaJeunesse, the church’s moderator, recalled the theft as a shock for the pastor at the time.

“It reminded me of him firstly and how he would be so relieved,” LaJeunesse said, upon learning Bigras returned the tabernacle to the church. “Unfortunately, now that he has dementia, it would mean nothing to him.”

Gracia Lennon Tanguay, the church’s secretary, said it was “a real miracle” that the tabernacle was discovered at the bottom of the lake 17 years after it was stolen.

She said police never discovered who stole the item.

“It’s really heavy and it needs more than one person to lift it,” she said. “So we don’t know how or who did it. It was done before the mass. Unreal.”

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