James Champion and Ashley Stark plan to travel from across the globe to get married in Banff, Alberta’s small, beautifully appointed, stone Catholic church.
The engaged couple live on the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia. They met in 2012 while both studying for their PhD in Psychology. Since Stark is originally from Edmonton and her family still lives there, they are planning a small 20-guest winter destination wedding for December 21, 2019.
“This was an important part of our special day, to be able to celebrate our relationship not just in front of our closest friends and family, but with God’s blessing as well,” said Stark.
St. Mary’s Church is considered a destination wedding parish. Couples travel from as far as Australia, the Philippines, Germany, England, South America, the United States of America, across Canada, Alberta and Calgary to celebrate their Sacrament of Holy Matrimony.
While this small rural parish only serves about 100 registered parishioners, mainly workers who live in Banff National Park and those vacationing in the area, each year Pastor Dan Stevenot celebrates between 20 to 30 weddings.
“For a small country parish, it is a lot (of weddings). People are coming because of their faith and the beauty of the mountains,” said Fr. Stevenot.
This is the case for Champion and Stark. After visiting the Rocky Mountains a few years ago for Stark’s sister’s wedding, they fell in love with the idea of hosting their wedding reception at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel.
“Once we looked into the possibility of hosting our wedding reception at the Fairmont Banff Springs, we shifted our attention to where the ceremony could be hosted, as we really wanted to be married in a Catholic church,” said Stark.
“My family is Catholic, so will no doubt enjoy the ceremony at St. Mary’s, but my Grandfather, in particular, is very devout in his faith, and we really look forward to sharing this special part of our day with him at St. Mary’s Parish,” she said.
While the couple has never visited St. Mary’s Church, they did meet Fr. Stevenot in January while he was visiting Australia’s Gold Coast. They organized a lunch at the local surf club, spending the afternoon getting to know one another and talking about the church and wedding plans.
“This is going to make the day even more special as we have now had the chance to meet the priest who will be marrying us,” said Stark. “So despite not having been to the church itself, we feel a special connection with it already.”
Fr. Stevenot is also flexible with allowing visiting priests to officiate the Sacrament of Marriage of visiting couples. In April, Fr. Pilmaiken Lezano, Associate Pastor of St. Michael’s Catholic Community in Calgary, presided at the wedding of his parishioners Andrea and Juan Carlos.
After the St. Michael’s couple got married at St. Mary’s, they honeymooned in Europe, capping off their visit to Rome during the Easter Triduum.
Dressed in their wedding attire, they were afforded an audience with Pope Francis — a moment Andrea describes as “surreal.” The couple received a blessing, and the Pope asked them to pray for him.
The papal audience was made possible, thanks to Fr. Lezano. He told the couple about this opportunity for newlyweds to meet the Pope and helped them through the process of applying for an audience.
“It was just an unforgettable experience. It helped us to start on the right foot,” said Andrea.
Written by Sara Francis for Faithfully
Photo courtesy of Juan & Andrea Carlos
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers