Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 29, 2004
Fr. Lacombe - a thwarted hermit
Man of Good Heart, this noble soul kept peace between aboriginal nations
Fr. Albert Lacombe - - Died, December 11, 1916
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
Pincher Creek, Alta.
Albert Lacombe, born in 1827 at St. Sulpice, Que., travelled as a missionary to the unsettled West and in 1856 was admitted as a priest to the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
He is remembered as a beloved minister to the Cree, The Noble Soul who worked tirelessly to maintain good relations between them and their southern Blackfoot neighbours. He established a mission at Fort Macleod in 1884 and in 1887, was designated pastor to the Blackfoot, who called him Man of a Good Heart.
At age 66, the energetic Blackrobe thought that he had found a refuge at the Hermitage, a log chapel built on the south hill at Pincher Creek by Oblate Father Leonard Van Tighem in 1885, where he might enjoy a little rest and ease.
Gave his horse away
So in May 1893, he thought to settle down in seclusion at his Ermitage de Saint-Michel, occupying tiny quarters upstairs and writing that "to avoid being tempted to make voyages" he gave his horse away. Within a few weeks he was called away to St. Boniface and for the next several years his "retirement," interrupted by short stays at Pincher Creek, included a term as pastor at Calgary, trips to New York, Rome and the Holy Land.
Father Lacombe's Hermitage is now on the grounds of the Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village in the center of Pincher Creek. Restoration of the little chapel and its move there in 1981 was facilitated by a group that included St. Michael's Parish and was supported in part by the Knights of Columbus.
The missionary priest might not immediately recognize the interior of his church. When the 1901 St. Michael's Church that had succeeded the Hermitage on the Hill was itself replaced in 1967, the old log chapel became an obvious repository for dozens of historic church fixtures and artifacts.
It's a veritable treasure trove of ornate gilded statues, vestments, plaques and photographs that almost cover the old log walls. An historic altar occupies the tiny sanctuary area and display cases exhibit items such as old Bibles, missals. There is a prized life size bust of Lacombe donated by local sculptor Leon Levesque.
Visitors to Pincher Creek during the 2004 tourist season had the opportunity to enjoy a dramatic historical production that highlighted the life and work of Lacombe on the southern prairies.
Man of a Good Heart was sponsored by the Pioneer Village museum, and featured a cast of four, the Windy Hollow Players, Doris Metcalfe, president, a local non-profit performing group. The 45-minute play, scripted and narrated by producer Joyce Sasse, was an added village attraction for a dozen summer weekends. The audience became students in a school classroom that was visited by the noted missionary.
Appropriately, semi-retired fellow Oblate Father Maurice Joly portrayed Lacombe, answering questions posed by 13-year-old student Stephen Crowshoe and his teacher Doris Metcalfe. Vivid descriptions of trials and adventures on the turn of the century Northwest Territories prairies held the attraction of the student-audience and ensured their good behaviour.
Perhaps retirement was too foreign to his nature to be a realistic goal for the insatiable traveller and in the end, the nomadic Blackrobe was not destined to enjoy his retreat beneath the Rocky Mountain wall. After 1895, he resided at his newly built Lacombe Home at Midnapore (Calgary).
Back in Pincher Creek, a plaque on the modern St. Michael's Church remembers the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and their 90 years of service to the faithful there.
Many in the worldwide Oblate community will pause too each year to observe the anniversary of Father Lacombe's death on Dec. 11, 1916.
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