clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

ALTA CATHOLICS HOPE TO REBUILD THEIR CHURCH - THIS TIME OUT OF AVALANCHE DANGER'S WAY

Wrecked by huge avalanches twice in 10 years, Our Lady of the Snows Catholic Church was definitely in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But Alta wants a church and needs a community center, so the town, the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City and the U.S. Forest Service pored over avalanche maps and found a spot for a new church that is likely to escape the fate of its predecessor.Built by a philanthropic Alta resident around 1960, the first Our Lady of the Snows was a wood-frame chapel perched on a little knoll below the massive snowfields on Alta's south side.

In December 1973, an avalanche blew out the church's stained glass windows and filled the building with snow before rolling downhill to damage a wing of the Alta Lodge, destroy dozens of cars and injure a canyon resident. The church carried insurance including an act-of-God clause that covered most of the cost of rebuilding.

In May 1983, another huge avalanche lumbered down the south-facing slopes, this time dealing the church a fatal blow. The diocese ordered the building demolished and the site scraped clean.

Sunday Masses continued in lodges and the town library, but some townspeople, notably business owner Joan Collins, hoped the church could be rebuilt.

At first, the money was slow coming. But when Collins was killed in a skiing accident in 1989, her family asked that money be sent to the church fund. Many people responded, revitalizing hopes the chapel would finally be rebuilt.

This time, the church will be safer, if not invulnerable.

The new building site is on U.S. Forest Service land tucked below a stand of trees between Forest Service buildings and the Shallow Shaft restaurant. The church will be concrete and built into the hillside.

"We've been told the building could be buried but not destroyed," said the Rev. John Norman, principal of St. Joseph's High School in Ogden and Alta's priest for the past eight years.

About $80,000 of the total $200,000 needed to complete the church, which will be called Our Lady of the Snows Chapel and Community Center, has been donated. All the necessary permits and environmental studies have been completed, so construction could begin this spring if the money is in hand.

Fund-raising events, including a dinner and drawing for weeklong vacation packages at Alta and Snowbird, are planned for spring, and fund-raisers are still seeking donations.

Once the church is built, it will be available to the town for community functions and to other denominations for services, including weddings.

"It won't be a traditional church with pews in a row. It would be an integral part of the Alta community. Alta doesn't really have a place that is a community center," the Rev. Norman said.