WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ
St. Edmund parishioners Fran Mills, left, Carole Zubizk, Evelyn Paradis and Jeannette Helmig now the comfort of a parish family.
Jeannette Helmig remembers the days of open spaces around St. Edmund Church.
"When we moved out here, we were on acreages," recalled Helmig, a parishioner for 72 years. "We used to raise chickens a block away from here."
Near the church there was a drug store, three lumber yards and the Dover Hotel, which is still there. Helmig was married in the second St. Edmund Church and raised two children in the parish.
Today, she serves as a Eucharistic minister and is responsible for the funeral lunches.
"This parish has always been family oriented," she noted. "I've always felt very comfortable here and under Father Cordeau I've been more active than I've ever been."
Parishioners at St. Edmund marked their parish centennial – as well as the centennial of St. Edmund School and 100 years since the Ursulines of Jesus began to serve in the neighbourhood – with a Mass and reception Oct. 23.
Today, the parish is located in the middle of Edmonton, with acreages and chickens only a distant memory. And while the parishioners have gotten older, one thing remains the same – St. Edmund's is a warm and welcoming parish.
The parish used to be so large that beginning in the early 1960s at least two new parishes were created out of it – St. Angela Merici and St. Charles.
In those years the parish flourished with many young families living in the area.
In the last two decades the population shifted, with dozens of young families, including the children of current parishioners, moving out of St. Edmund and into newer neighbourhoods. As a result, the population at St. Edmund and neighbouring parishes is now overwhelmingly elderly.
"None of our children live in the area," lamented longtime parishioner Evelyn Paradis.
"There are an awful lot of seniors in the parish and we have three nursing homes too," noted Father Leo Cordeau, pastor for the past 17 years.
"Certainly we've gotten older," added parish secretary Carole Zubick. "So now we have more funerals than baptisms, I'm sure."
But soon the 100-year-old parish may recover some its former glory with the return of St. Angela's Parish to its fold. When the parishes amalgamate next year, St. Edmund's will see an increase in both territory and membership.
Currently St. Edmund, 13120-116 St., has about 500 registered families, mostly retired working class people. About 50 people attend daily Mass and several hundred attended the Saturday afternoon and the two Sunday Masses.
"We had over 600 families a few years back, but then St. Charles was built and a lot of the people north of 137th Avenue went over to St. Charles," recalled Zubick.
St. Edmund Parish put down roots in January 1911, when the St. Albert Diocese issued permission to build a church to serve the Catholics in the Calder district. That church and rectory were built at 12725-119 St.
Priests of the Sacred Heart of Jesus from St. Quentin, France, took charge of the parish. Father Edmund Gaborit said the first public Mass in Beaudry's General Store at the corner of 119 Street and 125 Avenue. The parish was named after Gaborit's patron saint, St. Edmund of Canterbury.
The Ursulines of Jesus also arrived in Edmonton in 1911 with the idea of opening a school. They taught their first pupils in the kitchen of St. Edmund's rectory until their first two-room school was built two years later. The Ursulines became good friends of the parish, serving in different capacities until only a few years ago.
In 1950, construction began on a new St. Edmund Church at 129th Avenue and 119th Street. Archbishop John H. MacDonald blessed the basement church in October that year. The last Mass in the basement church was held June 3, 1962, and three days later the present St. Edmund Church was opened and blessed.
Eight years later, the congregation had also built a new rectory. The adjacent St. Edmund Centre – site of many parish functions and public activities – was completed in March 1984.
"Besides our bingos and casinos, we've had all kinds of activities in that hall – spaghetti suppers, movies for the kids, fashion shows, fun casinos, just all sort of things to raise funds," Zubick said.
"We've certainly have grown as a family. Because we work together raising funds all these years, we have become like a family. It's our parish family."
Groups like the Catholic Women's League with 80 members, the Knights of Columbus and the Men's Club are the glue that keeps the parish together and have been a key to its success. Thanks to these groups, now St. Edmund is free and clear of all debt.
In addition to fundraising and cultural activities, St. Edmund has many ministries in which people get involved, including children's liturgy, music ministry and RCIA.
There is no youth group, but "we have some young people that look after the children during the liturgy."
"This is a warm and inviting parish," said Zubick. "We certainly provide opportunity for people to get involved and get to know each other with all our parish functions."
Parishioner Fran Bittman, mother of archdiocesan chancellor Father Greg Bittman, said St. Edmund holds the local record for having produced the most vocations. Those coming from the parish include her son, Father Roger Keeler, Father Don Stein and at least two sisters.
Bittman, a church singer who represents the parish in the Nothing More Beautiful evangelization effort, came to St. Edmund 49 years ago and raised three children in the parish. At that time the parish even offered hockey and soccer as part of its programs.
Paradis, a mother of four, has been a parish member for 50 years and a CWL member for 49.
"We all brought our children to church and we dressed up to come to church," she recalled. Three of her children were baptized and confirmed at St. Edmund and her three boys played hockey in the parish; her husband Paul served as a hockey coach and manager.
"This parish has been our extended family," Paradis said.
Fran Mills raised five children in the parish and her four boys all served as altar servers. Her husband Bert helped Father Louis Seratto coach hockey and then became parish manager for hockey.
"I've always liked this parish ever since I moved here," she said. "People are all so friendly."
St. Edmund is preparing to receive parishioners from St. Angela's Parish with open arms next year.
They will soon meet with St. Angela's parishioners to discuss their needs and how to get them involved at St. Edmund.