Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of July 4, 2005
Mountain sequestered sanctuary
Our Lady of Mount Carmel nestles in the Rocky Mountains
Our Lady of Mount Carmel — Feast Day — July 16
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
Repeat visitors to Waterton Lakes National Park in southwestern Alberta never lose the sense of awe experienced as they approach the stupendous rock wall of the Rocky Mountains, the abrupt end of the otherwise seemingly limitless plains of Western Canada.
The only obvious access to this castellated other-worldly vista is a narrow gap, sculpted by glaciers, but now occupied by three deep, blue lakes. Flanking these and the tiny Waterton townsite and dominating the skyline are craggy, 2,000- to 2,500-metre-high peaks, eroded and carved from massively folded and thrust-faulted ancient sedimentary rocks.
The Creator's celebration
And what better setting for a tiny church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary than at the feet of these wonderful works of the Creator.
Waterton Park was established in 1895 and was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979. It's famed for its many outdoor activities, particularly hiking. The area of the townsite is noted for approachable wildlife and for its geology. (The oldest exposed rocks in the Rocky Mountains can be seen at Cameron Falls at the edge of town.)
Although the area was visited by Oblate priests from Pincher Creek and Twin Butte, it wasn't until 1929 that a log church, dedicated to the Most Precious Blood, was built as a mission of Cardston to serve visitors to the townsite.
Time took its toll on the rustic structure and it was replaced by a new church dedicated on her feast day of July 16, 1951 to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Initially a mission of St. Henry's at Twin Butte, the little church has been served from Pincher Creek since 1968.
It's a quiet place, a few blocks from the busier waterfront tourist area in an area frequented by grazing deer. The story of veneration of Our Lady under the appellation Mount Carmel begins long ago in the Holy Land. Carmel, a word originally meaning garden, is a mountain ridge at the east end of the Mediterranean, the one-time retreat of Elijah the prophet.
Hermits who established themselves there in the 13th century, formed a contemplative order devoted to the Mother of God and became known as Carmelites. Our Lady of Mount Carmel, venerated since the 17th century, is portrayed in Church art with the Christ Child and the brown scapular, believed to bless and protect those who wear it.
There is controversy surrounding the association of Carmelite St. Simon Stock with Mount Carmel. He is said to have experienced visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1251.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Notre Dame du Mont Carmel in French and in Spanish Nuestra Senora del Carmen, is the patron of Bolivia and Chile, as well as of fishermen.
Those entering the Waterton church through the little side-entry porch are greeted by a large statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, arms outstretched in a welcoming pose. A nearby plaque addressed to tourists gives a brief history of the building.
Beyond the porch the body of the church is a softly lit, comfortable space finished - as befits a mountain park - throughout in natural wood. A simple altar table is backed by the traditional crucifix and flanked by small, stained glass windows.
At the other end of the nave, a painting in soft browns portrays the church patron with the Christ child, both holding miniature brown scapulars.
Since there are no resident Catholics at Waterton, Mass is celebrated by Father Eric Nelson from Pincher Creek, assisted by parishioners who travel to the park for Sunday noon Eucharist from May to September. Traditionally, maintenance of the little church is provided by Lethbridge Knights of Columbus.
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.