Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 4, 2002
In search of St. Albert
Albert Lacombe celebrated 'a life devoted to suffering humanity'
By TED FITZGERALD
Albert was born in Germany in 1206. A teacher of theology at Paris and Cologne, representative at Church councils, he tutored Thomas Aquinas among others. His treatises on chemistry, physiology, geography, astronomy and philosophy gained him the name "universal doctor."
He's the patron of medical technicians, scientists and students of natural history. He was named a doctor of the Church in 1931 by Pope Pius X.
A bronze statue of the saint, sculpted by local artist Al Henderson, was recently installed in the city's old downtown. Albertus Magnus is considered an appropriate patron for a city that prides itself on embracing science and technology with "a continuous learning community" theme.
Growth of the parish was expedited in 1864 by local miners who lengthened the little church, but otherwise the building appears much as it did 141 years ago.
In 1871, it welcomed Oblate Vital Grandin as bishop of the newly-created Diocese of St. Albert, becoming probably Canada's smallest cathedral, until replaced three years later by a more substantial edifice. It then was moved, encased in an outer brick shell as a museum and, more recently, returned to its original site. Declared a provincial historic site in 1977, it's now open to visitors during tourist season.
To Lacombe, the sedentary life of a parish priest couldn't compare to the attraction of the open prairies to the south. So, in 1865 he obtained permission to follow his nomadic hunter-parishioners, remaining in the south for the next six years.
He was recalled and sent to Quebec to seek assistance and recruits for the Western missions. Then back to Southern Alberta where he worked to dissuade the Blackfoot from involvement in the Northwest Rebellion, founded the Lacombe Home in Calgary, and attempted to spend time at his "hermitage" in Pincher Creek.
A friend to many great Canadian personalities from Van Horne to Crowfoot, he was honoured nationally at his death in 1916 as one who celebrated "a life devoted to suffering humanity." And he was buried beside his friend Bishop Grandin in the crypt beneath St. Albert's third church.
Today, visitors to what is possibly the most historic religious site in Alberta can visit the little Lacombe chapel and Grandin's residence/museum in the summer.
There's a Lourdes grotto on the site, a large parish church and a cemetery where many Oblates rest. And, gazing off over the valley he loved, a large statue of Albert Lacombe enjoys pride of place on historic Mission Hill.
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