One of Calgary’s most desirable residential neighbourhoods is also home to one of this city’s oldest ethnic churches, a spiritual and cultural jewel of a parish known as Our Lady of Perpetual Help (OLPH) Chinese Catholic Church.
Nestled alongside Edmonton Trail on the western edge of Bridgeland, OLPH opened 65 years ago. Today, the parish ministers to a community of about 500 parishioners, most of them Chinese. OLPH holds daily services in English. Saturday’s 5 p.m. mass is said in Mandarin, with Sunday’s three masses in English, English/Cantonese and Cantonese.
Parish priest Fr. Joseph Nguyen says OLPH offers Chinese Catholics a worship space that helps “create a sense of belonging in Canada. [Here] the immigrant children can grow up in a tight knit community and grow up in a new country supporting and loving each other.”
The chance to worship in Chinese is often critical to nourish their faith. “They can understand the meaning of prayer better in their own language,” says Fr. Nguyen. “I would say there are two main reasons people come to our parish, language and culture,” says secretary Pak Tong. “Some of our parishioners prefer to attend a mass in their own language,” says Tong.
Others like the way OLPH incorporates Chinese cultural traditions. Chinese lanterns hang from the ceiling along the church aisle. On Chinese New Year, the church pillars are swathed in red and the priest and deacons hand out red envelopes associated with the special day.
Anne Lam, the editor of the parish’s bimonthly magazine, Echo, has attended several Catholic churches since moving to Calgary about 30 years ago. But her heart holds a special place for OLPH. “Other churches are closer to where I live, but this parish feels like home,” says Lam. She and her husband Edward, now a deacon at OLPH, raised their daughter in this parish. “Our daughter has friends all over the city, but the friends she made here are special. They share a life time of memories from this parish.”
Since moving to OLPH in 2008, Fr. Nguyen’s led projects to beautify the front and side gardens, including the construction of an outdoor shrine to the Virgin Mary. “While church provides a sanctuary of hope and peace inside, the beautiful landscape garden outside our church offers a more welcoming and inviting atmosphere for parishioners, visitors and surrounding neighbours,” says Fr. Nguyen. “The garden allows people to mediate through nature and can bring them into a prayerful state before entering the church to see Jesus. The garden also helps de-stress and calm down the soul before parishioners enter the house of God.”
The church’s grotto is visible from the church parking lot. Passersby sometimes pray near the grotto fence.
The entrance to OLPH also includes a number of large aquariums, some donated by parishioners and others bought by Fr. Nguyen. “Children just love the fish,” says Lam.
A beautiful meditation area located near the side entrance is another OLPH jewel. It is separated from the nave by a faux stained-glass mural that complements classically-styled stained-glass windows added when the church was built. “People like to stop here to pray,” says Lam.
OLPH’s active ministries include programs for children, young adults and seniors. For most of the year, seniors meet at the parish hall two mornings a week. They visit and play games, then break for a potluck lunch or venture out for dim sum.
“Our parishioners come from all four quadrants of Calgary,” says Arthur Ho, who chairs the parish council. “The Chinese Catholic community previously at St. Paul and now at OLPH has always been my parish. This church is an important place for Calgary’s Chinese Catholics.”
It’s a special place for others, too, says retired caretaker Patrick Owens. Owens, who belongs to St. Mary’s parish downtown, rides his bike to OLPH almost every day. On Sunday mornings, he leads the rosary before the 8 am Mass; on week days he tends the gardens or sweeps the parking lot after summer storms. “I just love the Chinese people here. This is a special place and they’ve always made me feel so welcome, so respected.”
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers