Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 20, 2005
Evocative art teaches theology
This church's rich, flamboyant decor enthrals and instructs
Our Lady of Perpetual Help — June 27
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
Since the beginning of the 20th century, Mundare has been noted as a hub of religious activity in the Ukrainian Catholic Church. For years the headquarters of Alberta's Basilian fathers, it's famed for a religious museum, an impressive Lourdes grotto and the modern Sts. Peter and Paul Church.
Less fully appreciated was the synchronous development of the Roman Catholic faith in the area. As part of the great wave of immigration to present-day Alberta's parklands 100 years ago, other Eastern European groups were also quick to develop their own churches.
As early as 1900, new Polish-speaking Canadians had established a parish at Krakow north of Mundare and in 1905 at Dombrowa to the south.
CNR comes to town
Then, in 1906, arrival of the Canadian Northern Railroad in the area determined the site of Mundare. This resulted in the building between 1915 and 1919 of a more centrally situated church in the new town. First pastor was Father W. Kulawy, followed by Franciscans, Oblates and diocesan clergy.
In 1921, the new church was dedicated by Edmonton Archbishop H.J. O'Leary to Our Lady of Perpetual Help. This ancient appellation of the Blessed Virgin identifies her desire to constantly intercede with her Son on behalf of the human race.
The familiar icons of Mary holding the Christ Child are copies of a 15th century version that has a long history in Rome and is associated with many miracles. Weekly services honouring OLPH have for years been a tradition in churches worldwide.
The Mundare church, popularly called St. Mary's, is an attractive white building that, like so many Alberta churches, is now almost overwhelmed by a wall of mature evergreen trees, lovingly planted by a past generation. It's of Roman style, with a single tower topped by a decorative belfry and short spire. This and two flanking pinnacles are topped with ornate crosses.
Inside, the church evokes earlier days, a flamboyantly decorated house of God that is filled with visual lessons in theology. Most of the paintings here are the work of famed Edmonton church painter Peter Lipinski with titles and parishioner-donor's names executed in Polish.
Flanking the sanctuary are side altars featuring images of the Sacred Heart and the Sacred Heart of Mary. Two renditions of Our Lady of Perpetual Help hang in the church, a conventional icon of the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child and a more interpretive full-length portrayal of the two by Lipinski.
Architecturally in St. Mary's, Byzantine influences are apparent in the form of a vaulted interior dome not reflected in the church's exterior saddle roof. Here, high overhead, in the traditional eastern place of honour, Lipinski displays the Trinity, Christ and the Father seated, the dove of the Holy Spirit hovering above, all surrounded by a halo of cherubs.
Another focal point of the church is the image of Our Lady centred on the old gold-trimmed white reredos above the main altar. It's an unusual portrayal of a gracefully robed, pensive Mary, hands crossed, beneath the dove of the Holy Spirit. A real treasure, this is the work of famed St. Walburg, Sask., artist Berthold Imhoff.
St. Mary's is now a mission of St. Martin of Tours parish in Vegreville, with only one Mass scheduled annually. This year, the Eucharist will be celebrated near the patron's feast day by Father Isagani Avinante at 11 a.m. on Saturday, July 9.
For those interested in visiting the church at other times, arrangements may be made through contacts listed in the booklet Church Capital of North America distributed by Lamont County.
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.