Tens of thousands of Roman Catholics converged on St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, Oct. 13 for the canonization of Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman. Medical doctor Thomas Bouchard of Calgary was one of many Canadians in the jubilant crowd. A week before the event, Bouchard admitted he was not sure where he’d be seated. “I’m happy to be where ever I’m placed,” said Bouchard, who was grateful to bear witness to the canonization of a saint whose work informs his own intellectual, professional and personal life.
Newman, who died in 1890, will be the patron saint of seekers. He converted to evangelical Christianity as a young man and was later ordained a priest in the Anglican church. Renowned as an Oxford academic, theologian and poet, Newman was received into the Catholic church in 1845 at the age of 44. Newman embraced the Catholic tradition as a call from God, but acknowledged his conversion, a controversial move in the United Kingdom, ended some relationships with friends and family.
Introduced to Newman’s theology at Newman Centre of McGill University, Bouchard attributes his intellectual formation in the faith to the Catholic academics who lectured there. Friends from that period of his life include Fr. Kim D’Souza, a Toronto priest who is studying in Rome. Bouchard was D’Souza’s guest at the canonization.
“The miracle that led to Cardinal Newman’s canonization is incredibly beautiful,” says Bouchard, who says the story has special resonance for him as a family doctor who delivers babies. The miracle involves an American woman who experienced severe bleeding during her fifth pregnancy. Alone with her other four children, Melissa Villalobos realized she was bleeding so badly she was likely to die. Devoted to Cardinal Newman since her days at university, she called out to Newman for help. The bleeding stopped and an ultrasound done later the same day confirmed her placenta was no longer torn.
The miracle, which occurred in 2013, was formally accepted by Pope Francis in February 2019.
To Bouchard, the miracle demonstrates the universality of the saints. “They care about everybody and I just think it’s beautiful that Newman, who is an academic, is also interceding on behalf of this woman.”
St. John the Evangelist
Back in Calgary, Newman’s canonization received special attention at St. John the Evangelist parish in Inglewood. A Roman Catholic parish of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter, St. John offers a special welcome to Anglicans who seek to join the Catholic Church.
Fr. Robert Bengry, who came to the Catholic Church through the Anglican tradition, recognizes a kindred spirit in Newman. “Unless one is entirely an adventurer, it helps to know someone has already successfully made a journey one is about to embark upon. Newman made the journey home to the Catholic Church and gives others the courage to walk in his footsteps.”
Newman teaches that “one must be prepared to lose everything in order to follow Christ,” adds Bengry. “This certainly happened to Newman—loss of friendships, status, identity—but of course one gains everything of what is truly important. Chiefly the salvation of one’s own soul.”
To celebrate Newman’s sainthood, St. John the Evangelist invited Bishop Fred Henry to give the homily at the 10 am Mass on Sunday, Oct. 13.
The parish will welcome a first-class relic of the new saint on Friday, Nov. 29. The relic will be exposed at 6:30 pm with Sung Evensong. That will be followed by individual veneration. The relic will then be placed in view for collective veneration for an hour. During that time, a number of reflections from St. Newman’s writings will be shared. The evening will feature Newman hymns and will end with Sung Compline at 8 pm.
Fr. Bengry says the event is open to anyone who wants to attend. The veneration of a Saint John Henry Newman relic has special meaning for his parishioners since the event marks 10 years since the Anglicanorum coetibus was promulgated, providing a process for Anglicans to return to the fold.
Details of Newman’s life and canonization can be found at www.newmancanonisation.com. Dr. Thomas Bouchard encourages people to read Newman’s story. Like Pope Benedict, Bouchard views stories about the lives of saints as a kind of second gospel. “Because they live out the gospel in their lives, reading about the lives of saints is really like reading the gospel.”
Written by Joy Gregory for Faithfully
Photos courtesy of St. John Evangelist, Calgary
Calgary’s position on the 51st parallel means daily worshipers at St. Mary’s Cathedral are finding their way to morning and late-afternoon Masses in the near dark. In early spring and late fall, those arriving in time for daily morning prayers and the rosary at 6:30 am will enter the seat of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Calgary as east-facing office towers, and dew- or frost-tipped lawns, reflect the first rays of the rising sun.
Long-time parishioner Lillian Illescas says many of the daily Mass goers resolutely start or end their work days on their knees at the Cathedral. They come to spend time in the sacred space; they return because the priests at the Cathedral anchor a community that makes them “feel so welcome. Here, they see a community that puts faith in action.”
Small parish, big heart
Officially known as the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Mary’s list of registered parishioners represents about half of the 1,400 people who regularly attend weekend Masses at the Cathedral. Another 500 guests and 100 volunteers fill the parish hall for Feed the Hungry dinners held on Sunday afternoons. Hundreds of other Catholics come to the Cathedral for special events, including The Way of The Cross, Chrism Mass and the Rite of Election. Holy days, like Easter and Christmas Masses welcome regular parishioners, their families and guests to our city. The Cathedral also welcomes its share of convention visitors and tourists who are in Calgary throughout the year and to attend the annual Stampede.
Other Catholics approach the Cathedral to receive the sacraments of marriage and baptism. “We may be small, but I want people to know that we are a community of hospitality and faith,” says Fr. Dielissen.
Fr. Dielissen came to St. Mary’s in 2014 following a year sabbatical that included time in Africa and Rome. He recognizes the Cathedral assignment is remarkably different from his time at other parishes in the Diocese.
A historic and Catholic landmark
History buffs recognize the Cathedral as a cornerstone of Rouleauville, a village that housed Calgary’s French Catholic quarter in the early 1900s. The original sandstone church opened on the site in 1889. It received Cathedral designation when the Calgary Catholic Diocese was established in 1912. Today’s building was completed in 1959 and is a modern Gothic structure that features bells donated by Senator Patrick Burns, stained-glass windows from Germany and a 4.9-metre stone statue of the Virgin Mary with Child sculpted by local artist Luke Lindoe.
Given its role in the Diocese, much of the pastor’s role at the Cathedral is necessarily administrative. Here, Fr. Bob Dielissen oversees a rectory with six resident priests. The rectory also has three additional rooms for visiting priests and is the home parish for several religious communities, including the Faithful Companions of Jesus. Fr. Bob Dielissen is also involved in organizing special Masses for the local schools and the graduation Masses for Catholic High Schools. Other Masses throughout the year include an annual Red Mass for lawyers and others who work in the legal profession, Migrant Mass for all the diverse cultures, Red Wednesday Mass for persecuted Christians and Masses for ministries such as the Couples in Christ, CWL and Knights of Columbus. This year, the Cathedral also hosted Mass for those attending the National CWL convention.
An imposing architectural presence in Calgary’s Mission District (named for its missionary role in bringing the Catholic Church to Calgary), St. Mary’s purpose is welcoming all those who knock on her doors. Fr. Bob Dielissen say it’s common for the area’s street people to seek shelter in the Cathedral by attending services. One of these men, known as Kipper, assumed a kind of protective role, even keeping watch to make sure the morning paper was still there when staff arrived. When Kipper died, priests and religious sisters organized a funeral service that brought his family to tears knowing that he was loved.
Fr. Dielissen has targeted stewardship and its three pillars of Time, Talent and Treasure since he came to St. Mary's Cathedral. Fr. Dielissen has sent staff for ministry training, to help bring parishioners into the stewardship concepts of sharing their gifts. Each year a Stewardship Fair invites people to participate in the parish community with the offering of their Time, Talents and Treasure. This year, over one hundred parishioners signed up for service in ministries ranging in Liturgical, Hospitality and Community Ministries.
Whether it be gathering for a weekly scheduled Mass to a funeral, all are welcomed. Fr. Dielissen invites funeral directors to have coffee and lunch while they’re waiting at the Cathedral. It’s a small act of kindness as Fr. Dielissen is always looking for ways to open the door to welcome people.
To Fr. Dielissen, “it’s about hospitality and the need to reach out with signs of Christ’s ministry. People come from all over Calgary to attend Mass at the Cathedral, and we want this to be a good experience.”
The focus on building a strong Catholic community to serve the corporal heart of the Church in Calgary is paying off, as parishioners come together at the Cathedral for worship and service.
Written by Joy Gregory for Faithfully
Once per month, St. Bonaventure Pastor Fr. Colin O’Rourke brings Jesus into local schools for Eucharistic Adoration.
The Sisters of Divine Mercy play music as students gather in the gym, followed by a short talk. Then, Fr. O’Rourke exposes Jesus, fully present in the Blessed Sacrament, in the monstrance on the altar. He invites students to sit silently before God in prayer for 5-10 minutes, closing with benediction and a prayer to make a spiritual communion.
“It’s a bit counterintuitive to have a bunch of elementary school students sit quietly, people just think that’s not going to happen. And invariably, you can hear a pin drop. The kids are actually very attentive,” said Fr. O’Rourke.
St. Bonaventure Youth Minister Adam Soos coordinates the devotion between the parish and St. Boniface Elementary, St. Philip Elementary, St. Don Bosco Elementary/Junior High and St. Bonaventure Junior High. He said a transferring student asked him to call his new principal to ensure the school offers adoration.
“There is a lot of busyness in life,” said Soos. “Adoration is different from everything else. Instead of feeling scattered or worried, we feel peace. This is utterly authentic and the kids can pick up on it.”
Adoration is a relatively uncommon devotion in schools. In Soos seven years of youth ministry at St. Bonaventure, he’s noticed principals new to the school are usually apprehensive until they experience it.
“They say ‘wow, I’m sad I haven’t had this for my entire career,’” said Soos. “We get feedback that the school can seemingly be in chaos and after, for the rest of the day everyone is happy, content and there is a sense of peace.”
Soos notices more students attend Mass or a parish youth event following adoration in school. Fr. O’Rourke agrees. He said bringing Jesus to school students is more effective than simply inviting them to attend adoration in the parish, but in doing so, students are often inspired to follow Jesus to church.
Diocesan Moderator Fr. Wilbert Chin Jon, former St. Bonaventure pastor, introduced adoration in these schools in 2010. When he was reassigned to Our Lady of the Rockies in Canmore, he instituted 20 minutes of guided reflection and silence before the Blessed Sacrament twice a month in Our Lady of the Snows School; a devotion, the current pastor, Fr. Nathan Siray continues.
When the new Central Library opened in downtown Calgary late last year, the building joined a growing list of architecturally-innovative structures that are attracting global attention to Calgary’s business district. In the midst of all that worldly attention beats the heart of a small Catholic church, St. Francis of Assisi. Dwarfed by its high-rise neighbours, this little church on 6 Avenue SE boasts its own architectural accolades. More importantly, it nurtures the souls of the community it serves, says parish priest Fr. Joseph Canh Vu.
Established in 1931, St. Francis opened as a “chapel of ease.” Located within the parish served by St. Mary’s Cathedral, St. Francis was ideally placed to serve a small residential community that included many new immigrants on the then-northern border of downtown Calgary. The current building opened in 1957. Its unusual A-frame design contributes to the sense of intimacy church goers feel upon entering the sacred space. In its early years, the building earned its architects, J. Stevenson & Associate, an honours award at an agricultural exhibition held for Western Canada.
Entrusted to the Dominican Fathers since 1988, St. Francis of Assisi Church attracts people from all over the city, says Fr. Vu. Assigned to St. Francis in February 2019, Fr. Vu says many parishioners live in the downtown core. Others discover the church while working in the area and opt to make St. Francis their home parish. Weekend masses are also popular with tourists, conference attendees and downtown workers.
Since there is no street parking on weekdays, the mass attendees at St. Francis arrive on foot or via transit. Although street parking is permitted on Sunday, many churchgoers commute; some are dropped at the church and others walk from their nearby homes or workplaces.
To accommodate the business crowd, daily masses from Tuesday to Friday begin at 12:05 pm. and end at about 12:50 pm. “It’s marvelous when I see downtown office workers who spend their lunch time to attend mass, it’s wonderful.”
Marcia Canton, a nurse from Freeport, New York, attended several of the noon-hour masses in late July. In Calgary to attend an international nursing conference, Canton says the opportunity to attend a daily mass was a welcome addition to her day.
Fr. Vu says he often meets mass goers who are in the city on business. Others are tourists and they tell him they appreciate the chance to worship at St. Francis.
The popularity of the sacrament of reconciliation is another indication of the parish’s importance, says Fr. Vu. He offers the sacrament 20 minutes before and after mass and it’s always busy. While a typical noon-hour mass is likely to attract between 75 and 100 people, Vu notices that attendance rises on Wednesdays and Fridays and during the holy seasons of Advent and Lent.
The priest is also grateful that his parish is blessed with active altar servers and has separate choirs for Saturday’s vigil mass and all three regular Sunday services. To increase the church’s role in the lives of its parishioners, he recently encouraged three parishioners to take a pastoral care course. Fr. Vu worked in a hospital environment in Ottawa for many years before moving to Calgary. He knows that sick parishioners and people who find it difficult to get to mass appreciate being able to receive the Eucharist.
The parish is also a spiritual refuge for the city’s indigent population, some homeless, who live in the downtown core. “It’s very good for the poor people to have this small church,” says Fr. Vu, who routinely greets mass goers as they come and go from his humble church. On various occasions, including Christmas, St. Francis offers grocery store gift cards to the needy.
Parishioner Luz Honorio reflected on the church’s importance in a letter to Fr. Vu. The letter calls the parish an accessible and authentic witness to Christ. Honorio also appreciates how the parish “upholds the values of humility and sincerity in welcoming all including the homeless and passersby who come to pray and to express their belief and gratitude to our Almighty God.”
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.”
It may be unusual for a Catholic parish to host its own radio show, but that’s exactly what Mary, Mother of Our Redeemer has done for the past 22 years.
The one-hour Spanish radio program “Es Tiempo De Vivir” (A Time To Live) airs every Friday from 6-7 pm on 94.7 FM. Mary Mother Our Redeemer Pastor Fr. Shibu Kallarakkal and a team of about five parish volunteers air programming aimed at evangelization through testimonies, Bible study and catechesis.
“The aim is to reach out to the people with the message of Jesus Christ and His love and mercy,” said Kallarakkal. The multilingual priest, of The Congregation of the Sons of the Immaculate Conception, has served the Spanish/Italian community of Mary, Mother Our Redeemer since 2013.
The former pastor, Fr. Salvador Ahumada, founded the radio station in 1997 with about a dozen parishioners, many who had formerly worked in radio in South America before coming to Canada — some fleeing conflict in their home country.
Ingrid Trewin is both the radio show promoter and parish secretary. She’s been a parishioner at the parish since she was 11 years old, after she moved to Calgary from Nicaragua with her family in 1992. She recalls how the radio show drew her family to Mass.
“When we first moved to Canada we didn’t know there was a Spanish community, we didn’t speak the language, we didn’t know the city. Then, we found out there was a Spanish radio show once a week. The radio program team did everything to get us to church,” said Trewin.
“I would encourage everybody to listen, especially newcomers, people looking for a place to belong or people feeling like they are lost coming to a new country,” she said.
The radio show serves the Spanish-speaking parishioners of Mary Mother of the Redeemer, but it also attracts international listeners from the United States of America, Mexico and throughout Central and South America.
A few years ago, Fr. Kallarakkal started to question the viability of financing the weekly program and committing the volunteers to maintain the ongoing programming until a female listener from Colombia called to thank him for saving her life. She was about to commit suicide when she turned on the radio and heard Fr. Kallarakkal’s voice. She called him, and after speaking together for an hour, she changed her mind.
“She told me: Father for one reason or another I was turning to music before committing suicide and I heard the Word of God from you; probably this is a sign from God. I’m not going to do whatever I was planning to do.”
Fr. Kallarakkal is convinced that the effort it takes to maintain this parish-run show hosted at Fairchild Radio, a multicultural station in the northeast, is worth the time, energy and tithe.
Trewin also agrees: “It’s very helpful to have that little bit of God injected into you on a weekly basis. If you are not able to come to church due to illness, it’s a good way to get connected to God through prayer and song and the sharing that people do.”
Written by Sara Francis for Faithfully
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
Standing inside the steel frame of the Marian Shrine of Our Lady of the Rockies under construction in Canmore, the fresh mountain breeze intermingles with the scent of burnt metal, plaster and cement. This time next summer, the doors of the shrine are expected to open for both parishioners and pilgrims.
Last spring, 144 screw piles were being drilled into a hole in the ground to help secure the foundation.
“I entered into the project right on the cusp of it really beginning to move forward. It was a really exciting moment to be there,” said Fr. Nathan Siray, who was transferred to take over as pastor in April 2018.
Today, construction is well underway: the entire steel structure erected, some framing for the walls and windows in place and the concrete floor poured.
When Fr. Siray stands inside the skeleton of the church, he imagines a feeling of overwhelm and splendor, but also connection and closeness. “It achieves this wonderful balance between grandeur and intimacy, which I think people are really looking for in a church building. I’m really excited that spirit is captured within the architecture,” he said.
Some key design features will be a larger-than-life custom-made stained-glass window of Our Lady of the Rockies in the apse of the church. It will depict Mary holding the Christ Child amidst images of the Three Sister Mountains and Canmore’s coal mining heritage.
“The moment you walk through the doors into the nave of the church, this window is going to blow you away. I think it’s going to be the centrepiece of the shrine,” said Siray.
Large clerestory windows on the upper portion of the church roof will bring in an incredible amount of natural light, explained Fr. Sirary. As the sun rises and sets you will have a different play of light and shadow in the building.
Written by Sara Francis
Photos courtesy of Our Lady of the Rockies Parish
A social held after the mass gave parishioners a chance to view a digitized collection of photographs that chronicle St. Martha’s history.
“St. Martha’s is not a large parish,” says Pollard. “I would estimate that we have just over 1,000 active families. That gives our parish an intimacy that some parish communities might not have. Our parishioners tend to know one another. That’s nice.”
Located in West Lethbridge, St. Martha’s celebrated its first mass on Saturday, May 7, 1994. That mass was held almost nine years after then-Bishop Paul O’Byrne appointed Fr. Pat Gorman to lead a new Catholic community in West Lethbridge.
“Bishop O’Byrne suggested the parish name, St. Martha’s. It was chosen to be a lasting tribute to the Sisters of St. Martha, who founded St. Michael’s Hospital [now St. Michael’s Health Centre] in Lethbridge,” explains Pollard.
The parish was officially established in 1987. The first masses were held in the newly-opened Children of St. Martha’s School. That school is located across the street from the church.
St. Martha’s parish is the hub of a Catholic community that includes two Catholic elementary schools, a junior high school and a senior high school. “Our parish is very proud of the fact that we paid off the mortgage in just 15 years,” says Pollard. “It’s an indication of what the first parishioners wanted to accomplish here.”
Pollard encourages visitors to attend mass at St. Martha’s, where a sloped floor ensures good sight lines of the altar for everyone in the building. The large stained-glass windows on either side of altar were created by a senior art class at Catholic Central High School. “Those windows frame the worship space and the new painting of Jesus and Martha, especially since it was also created by someone from Lethbridge, extends the church’s connection with art and spirituality.”
Written by Joy Gregory
For parents like Brenda-Lee Kearney, the mass is delightfully chaotic, yet peaceful. She and her husband Mike have an 11-year-old son with FASD, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. They love Jacob and they love their church. But bringing Jacob to mass is difficult and after Kearney approached her parish priest with an idea, the Special Needs Mass began.
The once-monthly, then bi-weekly masses became a regular 5 pm Sunday mass after pastor Fr. Jerome Lavigne moved to St. Pat’s in 2018. And the Kearneys are grateful. With a mission to create a loving, supportive and compassionate community that renews and restores faith and hope to families and children with special needs, the mass shows “God is really at work here in our parish,” says Brenda-Lee Kearney. Parents with special needs children often stay after mass for welcome fellowship. While most participants are from the parish, others attend as word of the mass spreads. “I believe most of us are parenting our kids in a community that doesn’t understand our reality. We are understanding of each other because we are living it.”
That message resonates with Fr. Matthew Schneider. “There is a natural sense of community when we come together to worship. Where possible, it’s nice to be able to add elements that make worship more meaningful to certain groups of people,” says Schneider, who said the Special Needs Mass at St. Pat’s on June 22.
A former Calgarian now living in Washington, D.C. where he’s working on a Doctorate in Theology, Schneider says one Catholic church in Washington hosts a regular mass that features an interpreter for the deaf. Other masses are conducted in languages other than English. He likes what St. Pat’s has consciously done to accommodate a group of believers often marginalized in the greater society.
In addition to the dimmer lights, the 5 pm Sunday mass features visual “cue cards” that tell parishioners went to sit, kneel or stand. The pictures show the appropriate action along with a simple message such as, “Please kneel for the communion rite.”
“Typically, we have the same songs at these services. It’s all part of dialing back on the sensory experience. Many of these children benefit from a very calm environment,” explains Kearney.
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers