WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Archbishop Richard Smith told parishioners the anniversary was a time for reflection on all the sacrifices made by the parishioners who came before them.
For Angie LaRose, St. Agnes Parish was where she began to grow in her faith.
"I started climbing up the hill in my faith here," LaRose said in an interview at the parish's 75th anniversary celebration July 10.
"This is where I got closer to God, closer to our Blessed Mother, closer to my faith by reading about the lives of the saints and reading good books and forgetting about all of this worldly junk."
Prior to coming to Mayerthorpe in 1985, LaRose had attended church in Edmonton.
"We went to church in Edmonton, but they are large and you don't get to know your pastors and you don't get to know all of the people," she said. "This is a close-knit parish family. This church here, we were very involved."
She was a Eucharistic minister, served on the altar and was a parish council member. Her husband did maintenance at the church.
Although they moved to Onoway four years ago, LaRose misses St. Agnes Parish and the friends she made there. Parishioners have a lot to be grateful for, as the parish has always been blessed with wonderful pastors and a talented music ministry.
The 75th anniversary of St. Agnes Parish had special significance for other longtime parishioners too.
Fred Dierkhising was baptized in St. Agnes Church in 1937. The 74th anniversary of his Baptism coincided with the parish's 75th anniversary celebration.
Dierkhising still has fond childhood memories of walking several miles for catechism classes and of Father M.J. O'Connor, who served as pastor from 1937 to 1951 — memories that other parishioners can only read about in the historical archives.
Returning for the parish's 75th anniversary was also important to Leo and Victoria Potvin. The couple was married in St. Agnes Church 63 years ago. They now live in Edmonton and attend St. Andrew's Church.
Victoria's parents, a sister and two nephews are buried in the church cemetery. They have celebrated many anniversaries and memorable events at the church.
Leo said the parish has always been bighearted and inviting. The generous portions of roast beef and pork, salads and deserts served at the luncheon after Mass substantiated his claim.
"People will see when they go up to the table — it's a smorgasbord," he said. "They go all out with food and everything they do, and they have always been like that. It's a warm community. I remember they used to always have chicken suppers, and it was just like this."
In the early 1920s, the only time the Catholics of Mayerthorpe celebrated Mass was when a visiting priest passed through town. Mass was said in the homes of the people. In 1922, Father Joseph Ronald MacDonald, the priest from nearby Onoway, started coming once a month to say Mass.
St. Agnes Church was eventually built, with the dedication ceremony held in August 1923. A bell tower was erected in 1928. Mayerthorpe officially became a parish in November 1935.
A new church was built in Mayerthorpe in 1961 with Father A.J. MacDougall as pastor at the time. The original church building was moved out of town, and later burnt to the ground.
In his homily at the anniversary Mass, Archbishop Richard Smith said the parish anniversary was a time for reflection on all the sacrifices made by the parishioners who came before them, people who were open to the transforming Word of God.
"This particular celebration makes us focus even more on what is at the heart, what is really the essence, of a parish community," said the archbishop.
The Scripture readings at Mass reminded the parishioners that at the heart of any parish community that calls itself Christian is faith in Jesus Christ. For three-quarters of a century, the Mayerthorpe parishioners have opened their hearts as well as their lives to the truth of Jesus, and been transformed by him.
"When we celebrate the anniversary of the parish, and all that has happened leading us up to this day, what we are really celebrating is that God has spoken to the people of this area," said Smith.
While many rural parishes have closed, St. Agnes has never been threatened with closure.
The parish has flourished since the 1930s and LaRose saw many new faces in the crowd on July 12, proof positive that new parishioners will help the parish carry on.
"This parish has always been very viable. Whenever we had to do something, we came together and got it done," said LaRose. "When we first started coming to the parish, there were about 40 or 50 people. When we left, it was over 120 parishioners."
Kris Commandeur was raised in a Protestant church. Marrying a Roman Catholic man, she converted to Catholicism and started going to Mass at St. Agnes 15 years ago.
"It is very active. We have several organizations that put in a lot of time and love into our community. The CWL and the Regnum Christi group have done so much for us," said Commandeur.
The parish plays an important role in the whole community and in the life of her family. She cannot even imagine what life would be like without the Catholic Church in Mayerthorpe. Her goal is for her children to grow up together in faith.
"One of the most important things that makes our church different is that it's an ongoing learning process," she said. "Our church council offers courses that will widen our faith, and make us look deeper into ourselves, not only for the adults, but also for the children."