Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 21, 1999
Religious orders gave a century to parishes
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
Between them, the Oblates of St. Paul Province and the Redemptorists have spent more than a century working with parishes in Edmonton.
But with the declining number of active priests in their orders, they are closing that history book June 30.
Redemptorist Father Dino Benedet will leave St. Alphonsus Parish to join St. Patrick's Parish in Toronto.
Oblate Father Bernard McCosham leaves Annunciation Parish at the end of the month for the damper climate of Vancouver where he'll be assistant pastor of St. Augustine Church.
"We had given notice to the archbishop two years ago," said McCosham, who has been with Annunciation for three years, but has worked in the archdiocese for 20 years. "The reason we're leaving is because we can no longer supply personnel."
Benedet and McCosham say declining vocations, supplemented by an increase in retirements, has led to a drop in the number of active priests in their orders.
The problem is not theirs alone. The archdiocese's present restructuring plan was mainly brought on by the declining number of active priests.
"I will be leaving, but we (Redemptorists) will still have a presence in the city," Benedet said.
The Redemptorists have leased suites in the Grey Nuns Regional Centre for their retiring priests. Fathers Mark Miller and David Purcell will remain as psychologists at Clement House.
The Redemptorist Fathers have overseen St. Alphonsus since 1924. Twenty-five years ago, Redemptorist priests ran 13 churches in Western Canada. After Benedet's departure, there will be four.
"It's a sad situation, but it's inevitable," Benedet said. "We don't have the numbers we use to."
The archdiocese has several parishes run by religious orders such as the Salesians, Franciscans, Spiritans, Dominicans, Piarists, Scalabrinians, Holy Cross Fathers and Pallotine Fathers.
The Oblates of St. Mary's Province (based in Saskatoon), Grandin Province (based in Edmonton) and Assumption Province (Polish) will continue to be responsible for parishes in the archdiocese.
Some might argue there is little difference in order-run parishes and those run by diocesan priests.
Benedet notes a stronger family atmosphere and increased resources are advantages to an order-run parish.
"Orders tend to have resources with people and expertise that other (diocesan) priests might not," he said. "In terms of manpower and back-up, that's something we may have more of.
"It's kind of a family atmosphere here. We have Redemptorist fathers who come to visit when they're here, and they come back quite often. (Parishioners) know just about all the Redemptorists."
McCosham said, "Some will say we run it as an Oblate mission, which is to preach the Gospel to the poor. Poor can be described in many ways. Those who haven't found God can be spiritually poor."
William Angeles, who has attended Annunciation since he immigrated to Canada 18 years ago, described the departure of the Oblates as a shock.
"They not only built a church and school, but they really built a faith community," Angeles said of the order, which has been at Annunciation for 40 years. "They have really been fathers to the Annunciation family.
"When they are here, I felt the presence of God as how he would father his children. I see them as spiritual fathers to us."
There may be no changes in terms of spiritual guidance with the incoming pastor, but Angeles suspects there might be some administrative differences.
"When you're with the Oblates for quite awhile, that's all you really know. You get use to one way of doing things. You wonder how will (new pastor) deal with administration? How will he deal with finances? But you'll never know till it happens."
The mission of both orders has been to tend to the needs of the poor.
Located in the inner city, St. Alphonsus has become a centre for community groups working with lower-income families.
The church hall has served as a meeting place for social services workshops, social gatherings for mentally challenged groups, seniors prayer meetings, Gamblers' Anonymous meetings and as a food bank distribution centre.
"I guess we've kind of become a community place," Benedet said. "It does kind of fit our charism."
In her 20 years as a parishioner at St. Alphonsus, Frances Cliffe has felt the family atmosphere of the parish. She also thinks the presence of the Redemptorists lured some parishioners to St. Alphonsus over the years.
"We have a good majority of people from all over," said Cliffe, chair of St. Alphonsus' pastoral council. "The Redemptorists are a drawing card.
"When the Redemptorists leave I think some of them will leave as well."
Cliffe attributes the growth of the spiritual community at St. Alphonsus to the Redemptorists who "have come and gone, but always seem to still be there. Even though individuals change, the order was always there."
Cliffe is unsure what changes will come about, if any, when the Redemptorists leave. But she looks back at their history with the parish and feels blessed with the number of priests who were present for Masses or celebrations.
"They've been the teachers," Cliffe said. "They've been the doctors and nurses of this community. They've always been there."
Father Martin Carroll will become pastor at St. Alphonsus, while Holy Cross Father Joseph Doucet will preside over Annunciation.