Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 21, 2005
Catherine converted Egyptians
Valiant saint is patron of the peaceful Lac La Biche church
St. Catherine – November 25
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
Lac La Biche
Those seeking mementos of St. Catherine of Alexandria in the church named for her in Lac La Biche will be disappointed.
Directives from Vatican II and the "suppression" of the saint's cultus, or public liturgical veneration, by Rome are reasons for the absence of images of the early virgin/martyr in her attractive, modern church on the wave-washed shores of the historic northern Alberta lake.
It's difficult to imagine a more placid setting for a parish church. From where it faces the great lake, a stone's throw from the water, only residential traffic sounds along Churchill Drive compete with the calls of migrating geese, shorebirds and the plaintive cries of Western Grebes out on the water.
Lac La Biche is a name familiar to many Canadians for its connection with the fur trade industry and its association with an historical mission. It's old in terms of Alberta places.
As early as 1790, the south shore of the lake had become part of an important portage between the Athabasca and Beaver River watersheds. It was a natural stopping place for employees of the Hudson Bay Co. which later built a post in the present townsite.
A Catholic mission, Our Lady of Victory, was soon located nearby but was later moved 10 km west. Famous early travellers who passed through the settlement included David Thompson in 1798, who is remembered in an impressive lakeshore monument at the end of Churchill Drive, and missionary Fathers Thibault and Lacombe in 1844 and 1852 respectively.
Today's St. Catherine's Church was built in 1970 to replace a 60-year-old predecessor. Youthful pastor Father Jose Chirappanath enjoys showing visitors his airy modern church.
It features a semi-circular seating arrangement with the altar on the west side. In addition to the crucifix, the plain interior also displays a contemporary life-size wood carving of the Holy Family.
Slaughtered by emperor
Since the Middle Ages, one of the most popular of saints' names for women has been that of the fourth century holy Catherine of Alexandria. She is said to have persisted in converting residents of her Egyptian city, many of whom were then martyred in the ongoing persecution of Christians there. For this, the emperor sentenced her to be killed on a spiked wheel, but it was miraculously broken so he had her beheaded.
Catherine is a patroness of librarians, jurists, students and philosophers because of her great intellect. In traditional church art, she is often portrayed with a broken wheel and the palm frond that identifies a martyr.
To the dismay of many, her cultus was suppressed when the General Liturgical Calendar of the Latin Rite of the Church was reissued in 1969, the reason being apparently that the saint's veneration serves no particular purpose in today's world.
Despite her "demotion," St. Catherine continues 36 years later, to be honoured on her feast day in both the Canadian Ordo and in most religious calendars.
Throughout the lakeside church's life, its parishioners and clergy have regularly contributed, not only to the spiritual needs of the parish, but also in many ways to the community at large, with several pastors having been recognized for outstanding leadership.
Today, Father Jose continues the ministry of the Missionary Oblates that has existed here since the first days of the parish in addition to serving other area missions in the St. Paul Diocese.
Despite Catherine's chequered relationship with Rome, it's almost certain that the world's Caitlins, Kathyrns, Catrionas, Catalinas, Kathleens, Caterinas, Katys and Cathys will continue (if they ever did) to enthusiastically celebrate their saint's name-day each year.