A leader at Pariosse Sainte-Anne Des Pins Catholic church in downtown Sudbury said recent vandalism to a statue of Mary and baby Jesus is just one among a number of incidents that have happened on church property in recent months, and it's not even the most serious.
It was in June that damage to the statue was discovered. It is the same statue that has been vandalised in past years.
In 2015, the head of baby Jesus on the statue disappeared. The statue then became the centre of an international media frenzy in 2016.
The statue gained notoriety because of a temporary replacement head attached to the statue that was crafted by a local artist. It was made out of red clay, and did not match the rest of the piece's look.
Because the story received so much media attention, the original head was returned to the church and eventually reattached. However, the statue has unfortunately once again been vandalised, with the head of baby Jesus having been broken off, along with one of Mary’s hands.
Michel Chretien, chair of the Sainte-Anne Des Pins parish administration board, said Tuesday there have been several recent incidents of vandalism, of wilful damage to church property, of individuals trespassing and even efforts by some individuals trying to set up camp.
One parish worker recalled that he arrived at the church one Saturday morning to help the priest prepare for a funeral.
They were greeted with a scene where a person had scattered their clothes about the lawn outside the church and was hanging some articles of clothing on the shrubs and trees.
He said police were called to help deal with the situation before family members arrived for the funeral services.
"The problem is not going away and it seems to be increasing from year to year," said Chretien.
"The church is very generous toward all the different organizations in the city. We give out at least $10,000 a year to those organizations, plus we have quite a few of our parishioners to do work for those organizations," said Chretien.
"So we give on the one hand, but it's like on the other hand we get slapped in the face, you know. So yes, it is frustrating," he added.
Chretien said the church is caught up in its traditional role of expressing kindness, love, caring and understanding, yet is being faced with vandalism, disrespect, trespassing and overall poor treatment from the people they try to help.
"You know we try to be polite, and we listen to people and hear their stories, but we do have to ask them to leave,” he said.
Chretien said in most instances, people are co-operative.
He said most of the problems seem to happen at night when people feel they can just go to the church property and do what they want. He said in one case, cables were cut at the rectory building, perhaps in an attempt to neutralize the alarm system.
"Not one week goes by where we don't have to repair something," he said.
Most recently, Chretien said he discovered that somebody had cut down a small tree on the church property. He said he was amazed that somebody went to the trouble of getting a saw and cutting down the tree. The church custodian is also continually finding syringes on the property, something that could pose a danger to anyone visiting the church.
Chretien said the parish board is struggling with the situation. He said one of the solutions being considered is having the entire property fenced in. He said it would be a costly solution, but given the continuing vandalism at the church, it might be cheaper in the long run.
"It is not decided at the moment,” he said. “We are still studying the options, but it is certainly something we are considering."
Sainte-Anne Des Pins is the first Catholic church that was established in Sudbury. The parish was established in 1883.