Fr. Cristino Bouvette knew the first guided tour of the future Sacred Heart Parish would be a profoundly stirring experience for his congregation.
After all, Catholics in Strathmore, Alberta, have prayed for a new house of worship since their original parish closed its doors in 2008 when the church and rectory were deemed unsafe.
Last month’s open house did not disappoint Bouvette, who arrived as pastor in October.
“Everyone else in our parish has waited longer and invested far more than I certainly have,” said Bouvette. “The highlight for me was watching them come in and see it and realize this is happening and getting somewhere. There were tears in people’s eyes and smiles on their faces, and the kids were running around in the areas safe to do so. You could see excitement.”
Work began in August to transfigure a former 16,000 sq. ft. IGA into a place parishioners envision as the new “beating heart” of this prairie community east of Calgary. The new Sacred Heart Parish’s potential to be a lively hub of activity and fellowship is considerable. It will boast a parish hall for approximately 300, a community kitchen and plenty of meeting rooms for lay groups.
For the past 15 years, liturgical services have been held in the gymnasium of Holy Cross Collegiate. The congregation has not only endured after all these years but has actually grown and will serve more than 500 families.
Nettie Hendricks, chair of the parish fundraising committee, said excitement over the new parish and the arrival of Bouvette has inspired people to return to church in recent weeks.
“Fr. Cristino was only with us for two weeks, and he had to do a funeral. Many people who had not come to Mass for some time came. They had fallen away but have now come back. People who have followed the building of the Church are coming back. We had people at that open house that fell away. They said, ‘We are blessed. We see the pastor you have and the building you have. And we are coming back to our church.’ ”
Bouvette, who played a key planning role in Pope Francis’ penitential pilgrimage in 2022, has almost exclusively ministered to youthful Catholics in recent years as he was — and still is — a vicar for vocations and young adults at the St. Francis Xavier Chaplaincy in Calgary.
“I did mention to (Bishop William McGrattan) a few months ago that I miss old people,” said Bouvette with a chuckle. “I have a lopsided experience of pastoral ministry. He just laughed at me. Then, when he needed to assign someone to Strathmore, unexpectedly, he sent me. He said, ‘There, you said you missed old people. Well, you’ve got old people in Strathmore.’ ”
When he arrived in Strathmore, he found it was so much more.
“When I got here, I realized there are many people here of a wide range of ages, demographics and experience. It is exciting to be with them.”
Bouvette treasures all the diverse experiences afforded him during his clerical service, but “this project is the most rewarding experience of priestly ministry in the sense that it captures all that could be asked for from a priest.”
“When you go to the seminary as a young man like I did, what I am doing now is all you ever dream of or think you will do,” said Bouvette. “But then to inherit a building project that is not really even a building project, but a transformation project — it has a remarkable experience.”
This diverse parish community has amassed $7.4 million to date, holding 50/50 raffles, golf tournaments and dinners with auctions. The parish has also received funds through a pledge form initiative and serving beer at the town’s annual rodeo. Strathmore Catholics still have work to do as architectural costs have driven the project price to $10.4 million.
Catholics across Canada have also visited the parish website to submit online donations to the retrofitting project. Hendricks said such gifts are appreciated and important.
The parish posted a video showing photos of the construction completed during October and November and detailing the tasks ahead at sacredhc.ca/construction.
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers