When Fr. James Hagel was assigned to St. Gabriel the Archangel parish in Chestermere, he knew the congregation was knee-deep in fundraising for its first church. What Fr. Hagel didn’t know was that days into his new posting, his contribution to that project would include a growing enthusiasm for an outdoor fundraiser that boosts the building fund while helping to build community.
“Days after I started at St. Gabriel’s in September of 2018, I found myself hiking alongside parishioners as part of the Angels on High fundraiser. You know, it was more fun than I expected and it was a very nice way to meet people,” says Fr. Hagel, who’s outdoor kit includes a good pair of hiking boots, a camel-back-style water bottle and ski poles he’s modified for hiking.
Angels on High (AOH) is a fundraiser St. Gabriel’s parish launched seven years ago after then parish-pastor Fr. John Nemanic joined parishioner Kevin Papke on one of the 50 mountain climbs Papke undertook to raise money for Bethany Care Foundation. That experience got the two talking. A year later, they launched AOH, a multi-faceted fundraiser that included a dinner and dance, raffles, silent auction and building fund pledges for participants of a mountain scramble.
2019 marked AOH’s seventh year, says one of the organizers, Sarah Papke, Kevin’s wife. “The focus of this year’s event changed a bit. It still raises money for the building fund, but the real focus is on building community,” she explains.
And if numbers are an indication of success, AOH is thriving. In past years, about 40 people took part in the main event, a mountain trek. Many of these same individuals collected pledges and helped organize everything from t-shirt sales to raffles.
This year’s AOH attracted about 70 participants. Instead of focusing on a single hike up an iconic Rocky Mountain peak, organizers planned a family-friendly, all-ages event that included two nights at Owl Group Campgrounds in Kananaskis. On Sunday, July 14, the campers rose early for mass with Fr. Hagel and two other Diocesan priests, Fr. Wilbert Chin Jon, Vicar General of the Diocese and Fr. Avinash Colaco of Ascension parish.
Soon after, the keenest hikers (priests included!) headed for Grizzly Col, an 8-km trek to Grizzly Peak. The rest hiked Ptarmigan Cirque, a 4-km round trip completed in less than three hours, about half the time it takes to hike Grizzly Col. The day ended with a potluck supper served in the campground hall.
If you plan it, they will come
“I think this year was the best so far,” says Papke. Promoting the July 13-15 event as “fellowship weekend” encouraged parishioners to bring children of all ages. “All of a sudden we had families with little kids and we had a lot of parishioners I’d never met before.”
This year’s AOH also attracted people from outside the parish. One of the hikers, a senior who read about AOH in a Diocesan newsletter, came for the fellowship and the chance to hike Grizzly Col.
Instead of asking people to collect pledges, this year’s hikers (and the larger parish community) were encouraged to donate directly to the building fund. Fr. Hagel likes the move and believes it’s a good fit with the parish’s mission to be a church that welcomes and creates opportunities for people to gather in friendship and faith.
St. Gabriel the Archangel parish owns the land where the new church will eventually be built in Chestermere. The parish has more than $1 million in the bank, and while it’s likely to be years before the sod is turned, Angels on High is already cultivating its place among its people.
“Once we build community, the church will come,” says Papke, who’s already excited about next year’s gathering. “We booked 16 of the camping sites this year, but there are 50 spots, and I think we will get more people next year.”
Written by Joy Gregory for Faithfully
Photos courtesy of St. Gabriel's Parish, Chestermere.
To learn more about Angels on High and St. Gabriel Chestermere Parish community, visit: http://www.saintgabrielparish.ca
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers