Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of July 3, 2006
Sisters draw on U.S. donations
Sisters of the Atonement campaigned for contributions to build the Smoky Lake church
Our Lady of the Attonement – July 9
- WCR photo by Ted Fitzgerald
Our Lady of the Attonement Icon was created in 1930 by legendary artist Peter Lipinski in the Smoky Lake Church.
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
Travellers often look twice as they pass Our Lady of the Atonement Church in Smoky Lake. Although the attractive, Eastern style domed house of God resembles thousands of other Western Canadian Byzantine sanctuaries, a sign identifies this as a Roman Catholic church.
Look to the past
Perhaps it is the recycled product of an original Ukrainian Catholic church? Actually, the answer has become a part of the history of this colourful Alberta town, founded in 1918.
The story of the Smoky Lake church begins 108 years ago in Garrison in far off New York state.
There, Episcopal church clergy Rev. Paul Wattson and Mother Lurana White, members of the Graymoor community, founded the Society of the Atonement.
The name identifies the vocation of the organization to pursue a life of sacrifice, work and prayer to atone for sin and to attract people to union with God.
In 1908, Father Paul founded the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and a year later, his community of sisters and friars, including their recently designated patron, Our Lady of the Atonement, were admitted into the Catholic Church with the approval of Pope Pius X.
Within four years, the order had begun to expand its missionary area and, at the request of Edmonton's bishop, the founders visited the Smoky Lake region, followed in 1926 by four Sisters of the Atonement to begin teaching catechism to area children.
After celebration of the first Mass in a small chapel there, they embarked on a variety of parish projects - caring for orphans, teaching religion and crafts and training altar boys.
A correspondence course in catechism begun in 1947 soon listed an enrollment of 1,800 children and until their departure from the town in 1973, they proved to be able parish managers.
Within two years of the arrival of the sisters in Smoky Lake, midnight Mass was celebrated in a new parish church dedicated to Our Lady of the Atonement.
Donations of building materials and labour by town residents and a campaign for funds by the sisters in the U.S. contributed to this remarkable achievement.
In acknowledgement of the area's large Ukrainian population, the new church was designed in Byzantine style, dominated by a large dome and, in 1994, following extensive interior restoration, was declared an historic site.
Inside, if a visitor can arrange for a tour with knowledgeable parish organist Eddie Keen, they'll view an attractive house of worship with its elegant dome at the transept crossing. A smaller, complementary dome is above the entry porch.
To conform to the directives of Vatican II, little ornamentation is evident in the church with the exception of a unique rendition of Our Lady of the Atonement that dominates the area behind the altar.
Signed and dated 1930 by famed western church artist Peter Lipinski, the large icon shows Mary, in robes of red, holding a blue-clad Jesus, one hand raised in blessing, the other holding a small cross.
Shortly after settling in Smoky Lake, some of the Atonement sisters began a mission in Edmonton where they have been active ever since.
Today, Sister Diane Bernier, chairman of the board of their registered charity, Franciscan Sisters Benevolent Society advises that their primary project, management of the Lurana Shelter for Victims of Domestic Violence assists more than 1,000 women and children each year in their city facility.
They also are organizers of a Headstart Program CAP for inner city parents and children.
Back in Smoky Lake, since the retirement of the only resident parish pastor in 1969, Our Lady of the Atonement has been served weekly by a series of dedicated priests as a mission, most recently of Sacred Heart Parish in Vilna.