Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 8, 2003
In search of Our Lady of Sorrows
Annual pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows began with the drought of 1934
Our Lady of Sorrows -- Feast Day -- September 15
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
In early May a few years ago, a traveller stopped on the outskirts of Shaunavon in southwestern Saskatchewan to ask road workers for directions to the town of Ponteix and its famous church. "Go nine km north and turn right. You can't miss the church, it's 78 potholes due east down Highway 13."
They were correct on all accounts and the dramatic twin towers of Our Lady of Auvergne soon seemed to float, mirage-like, above the fertile prairie, visible long before the town itself was reached. And visiting the church was well worth the drive, equally impressive up close, its 40-metre-high Romanesque towers dwarfing the town's rare grain elevators.
This settlement of mainly French-speaking people was established under the name Notre-Dame d'Auvergne in 1908 when a church was built. It was named for the historic area of origin in central France of its first resident pastor, Father Albert-Marie Royer. In 1914 the post office became Ponteix to honour his home parish.
More recently, the name Auvergne has been resurrected to identify rural municipality no. 76, headquartered in Ponteix. Disaster that struck in the form of a fire that levelled Father Roger's first church had a positive result when the present cruciform, concrete and brick building was finished in 1930.
Inside, Notre Dame is noted for an absence of columns, an architectural rarity. Clean, smooth arches and the pastel-hued walls and vaults are accented by a few statues - St. Anthony, the Sacred Heart, and a large crucifix above the altar. The smooth arch that defines the sanctuary bears the inscription "Mon Ame Glorifie Le Seigneur."
Directly behind the altar, on a small table, is the little shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows, represented by an image of a Sorrowing Mary holding her divine son's body. Said to be associated with miraculous cures, this pieta is a 400 year-old oak carving. Once sheathed in gold, it survived the French Revolution hidden in a haystack and was a gift to Father Royer from Canon Teytard d'Aubiere of Auvergne. From its place above the altar in the first church, two boys saved it from the fire that destroyed the building in 1922.
The memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, celebrated on Sept. 15, includes readings from the Gospel of Luke (2:33-35), where Simeon addressing Mary, prophesies that "a sword will pierce your own soul too." Themes of the feast are directed to the many occasions in the lives of mothers where concern for the well being of their children causes personal anxiety.
Pilgrimages to the Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows began in 1934 partly to ask the Virgin to intercede on behalf of people suffering through the drought years of the Depression. They continue to be held annually as the main pilgrimage of the now-defunct Diocese of Gravelbourg and take place on July 16, the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The church is now part of the Regina Archdiocese.
Paroisse Notre-Dame d'Auvergne, with its close association with historic Couvent de Notre-Dame (1916), provides daily Mass and an 11 a.m. Sunday bilingual Eucharistic celebration. Information on activities here and at parishes at Vanguard (St. Joseph's) and Meyronne (Our Lady of Lourdes) that are served from Ponteix is contained in a weekly bilingual newsletter.
To complete a visit to Ponteix, visitors often spend time at the Notikeu Heritage Museum in the Centre Culturel Royer with its immense artifact collections (and where staff will assure tourists that the French spoken here is Parisian, not Canadien!) or indulge in refreshments at the popular Pot Hole Caf‚. (A different route out of town is recommended.)