In the early 1920’s, there was a small colony of lady doctors from the Philadelphia area who had camps on the south shore of Onawa Lake. One of these, Dr. Elise Rose, was not only an outstanding doctor but a Philanthropist as well. She had traveled extensively through the churches of France and was also a devout Catholic.
At the same time, there was another dedicated Catholic woman, Alice Gagnon who was a year round resident. Mrs. Gagnon had a growing family and there was no church available where the usual sacraments could be performed. Together, Dr. Elise Rose and Alice Gagnon decided Onawa should have a church. The women looked around trying to find a suitable location, only to be refused the use of the land by the lumber company owners. Unhappy, but undefeated, Mrs. Gagnon and her husband went to call on Mr. Alfred Burke. Immediately Dr. Burke offered his land opposite his house as a gift.
Mrs. Gagnon hurried to tell Dr. Rose the wonderful news. Dr. Handy, an interested neighbor, but only a nominal Catholic was present and insisted on being the first donor to the building fund. All this activity occurred in 1933 and within one year $2,000 had been raised. In the 1930’s the ecumenical movement was unknown but here most of the Protestants of Onawa helped with the cost of the chapel. Many of the summer residents made generous contributions in money.
With the $2,000, Mr. Burke bought the lumber and the construction began. He contributed unmeasured time before the chapel was finished and furnished. During the winter months, Mr. Burke fashioned the pews in his workshop in Brownville Jct. and when the chapel was ready he brought them here on the scoot. He also made the altar, the rail and the stand.
In 1957, Mr. Alfred Burke died and his son inherited his father’s property including the chapel. It appeared at this time that the chapel had never been any part of any diocese. Mr. Burke loved the chapel for itself and the fact that his father had built it. Here was a beautiful place of worship, in shining condition but there were no worshippers. Only two Catholics and the Burke family. On summer sundays the Protestants gathered in the Community Building, a useful, but hardly inspiring space. Finally after discussing with Eleanor Copeland, Mr. Burke went to discuss an idea with Rev. Alfred Hempstead. If the Protestants wanted to use the chapel for summer services, they were welcome to it. Rev Hempstead was delighted and the first services were held in the summer of 1970.
The history of the Protestant services date back to 1926, when Mrs. J. Fithian Tatem moved into her Deerfoot camp. She invited the community to have sunday church service in her living room and the overflow stretched onto the porch. When any minister of any church was in Onawa, he was asked to take a service. Rev. Hempstead took one of the services for 30 years. In the late 1950’s, Mrs. Tatem’s children would assist with the service. Upon her death in 1963, services were rotated in the homes and cottages on the south shore of the lake and later moved to the community building.
The Alfred E. Burke Memorial Chapel holds services on selected Sunday’s during July and August. Please check the summer event schedule for dates.
The Chapel is also available for private events upon request from community and/or church members.