Redemptorist Fathers Dino Benedet, Gerald Keindel and Stan Liska are the last of their order living in Edmonton. Fr. Joseph Murphy lives in St. Albert.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

Redemptorist Fathers Dino Benedet, Gerald Keindel and Stan Liska are the last of their order living in Edmonton. Fr. Joseph Murphy lives in St. Albert.

March 9, 2015
RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

When the Redemptorist Fathers arrived in the Archdiocese of Edmonton 91 years ago, they were an energetic bunch of missionaries with a desire to change the world.

They became known for their vibrant parish missions and their dedicated pastoral work, principally at St. Alphonsus Parish on Edmonton's 118th Avenue. They also did some teaching, some counselling and some work on bioethics.

Many served in the archdiocese over the decades. Today only four are left, all of them retired. Three live at Villa Marguerite in the former Grey Nuns Centre, and the fourth, Father Joseph Murphy, 97, lives at Youville Home in St. Albert.

"We are a shell of what we used to be," proclaims Father Dino Benedet, the youngest of the group at 77. "We are old and we are dying here."

Old as they are, the men are still active and spend part of their time helping in parishes, doing chaplaincy work or simply offering hospitality to visitors.

Ministering to their own sick and dying, however, has been their most important ministry. More than 15 local Redemptorists have died since they moved to Villa Marguerite in the late 1990s.

In the past year alone, they buried two of their best-known members: Father John Spicer, a specialist in adult education and founder of the archdiocesan ScriptureFest, and Father Edward Kennedy, a former city councillor who founded the Catholic Information Centre to disseminate the faith.

The order recently brought some young foreign Redemptorists to places like Vancouver and St. John's, N.L., but has no plans to do the same in Edmonton.

"When we die, there will be no Redemptorists left in this diocese," noted Father Gerald Keindel, the group's leader at Villa Marguerite.

Currently there are about 5,500 Redemptorist priests around the world, including 120 in Canada. The bulk of them are in parish work in dioceses where the need is greater, including Grande Prairie, inner-city Toronto and St. John's.

The Redemptorists are grouped into three provinces: one English-speaking province, another French-speaking and the third for the Byzantine rite.

FOUNDED IN ITALY

St. Alphonsus Liguori, a priest in Naples, Italy, founded the order in 1732.

St. Alphonsus sought a way to bring the Good News to the poor shepherds and farmers living in the hills surrounding Naples. He gathered young, dedicated priests and brothers who were willing to go where no one else would go to fulfill this mission.

After a difficult start, the congregation spread to northern Europe then to North America. In 1832 Redemptorists travelled to America from Vienna. Redemptorists from the United States settled in Canada, making their first foundation in 1874 at St. Patrick's Church in Quebec City.

The congregation came to Western Canada with the influx of immigrants at the start of the 20th century.

Consecrated Life

They came to Edmonton in 1924 and served in St. Alphonsus Parish as well as in Gibbons and Redwater.

The order also temporarily took care of parishes in Edson, Hinton and Grande Cache, said Father Stan Liska, the other priest at Villa Marguerite.

In cities and towns across the archdiocese and Western Canada, the Redemptorists also preached parish missions, said Father Mark Miller, superior of the Redemptorists in Canada.

"That's what we were founded for – to renew people's faith through parish missions and the preaching of the Word, and there was a lot of that that was done."

The Second Vatican Council had a major impact on the order "in the sense that our world changed rather dramatically," recalled Miller.

Before Vatican II, the Redemptorists preached parish missions of hellfire and damnation. After the council, the order adapted its missions to the conciliar teachings, which meant every priest took time to learn about Vatican II. Some simply left the order.

MISSION TEAM

"We had to put together a mission team that worked all over Western Canada for the next almost 30 years preaching missions based on the theology of the Gospels, the love of God and the salvation of God," Miller said.

"That did an awful lot of good but we kind of ran out of the younger guys who can travel like that and be in a new place every week."

The order is now down to one priest in Canada who can preach parish missions full time and others who can do it once in a while.

Hard as it was, the Second Vatican Council "brought a new energy and excitement in the order," recalled Benedet. "We all had to learn about the changes, including those giving missions."

HOLY REDEEMER COLLEGE

In 1960, on a hillside overlooking the North Saskatchewan River, the Redemptorists built a minor seminary, Holy Redeemer College. The boys' college provided high school education and the first year of a university arts program before students entered novitiate. Classes began Sept. 3, 1960 with an enrolment of 65.

Declining enrolments forced the college's closure in 1970. It continued to operate as a centre for educational, social and religious groups until it was sold to the Alberta government in 1974.

The Redemptorists were also known in the city for their counselling services, which they provided for close to 20 years through the Redemptorist Centre for Growth. Fathers Ray Douziech and David Purcell, among others, ran the centre that offered counselling to religious and laity as well as those who couldn't afford regular counsellors.

DIMINISHING PRESENCE

The Redemptorists' presence in the archdiocese began to diminish in the late 1990s when they left St. Alphonsus Parish and moved to Villa Marguerite. "Twenty of us moved here and we are four now," Keindel pointed out.

To revive the order and make it relevant to the Canadian ethnic makeup, the Redemptorists have imported priests from India, Nigeria and Colombia.

"At the present time we have no plans for Edmonton," Miller said. "However, we are open to whatever God asks of us in the future."