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
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Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers