Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 1, 1999
A sense of loss
Rural Catholics seek a new homes after parish merger
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
On the sign out in front of St. Martin's Church, pieces of masking tape have been placed over the weekend Mass times.
Inside, parishioners have gathered to listen to Father Larry Pederson's homily and celebrate the Eucharist on a Saturday evening.
The parishioners are residents of Heisler, some from Forestburg and Galahad, a few from Rosalind. Heisler residents have been attending St. Martin's for years. Families like the Badrys grew up in the pews at St. Martin's.
But for the residents of Rosalind, like the Yuhas, there is no home parish to speak of.
"We lose the (grain) elevator, our high school, now our church," said Christine Yuha. "Makes you wonder what else we'll lose."
The Yuha family attends Masses in Daysland at Our Lady of the Prairies Church and Heisler, still wondering in which parish they would like to settle.
Their home parish, St. Elizabeth in Rosalind, no longer offers Sunday Mass. The parish was under the administration of Father Greg Bittman who, until this summer, also oversaw pastoral duties in Daysland, Heisler, Bawlf and Forestburg.
In mid-July, Daysland and area merged with Killam under the care of Pederson who was also overseeing parishes in Strome, Hardisty and Galahad.
The new merged parish stretches for 86 km along Highway 13 southeast of Camrose. The church in Galahad is another 30 km south of the highway.
The three Sunday Masses are offered on a rotating basis in Daysland, Heisler and Killam.
The area parishes were merged as part of the archdiocesan parish restructuring plan. A lack of priests and population shifts have forced the archdiocese to merge or close dozens of parishes. The plan also calls for some parishes to share resources such as services and programs.
"This is hard for some of the priests," said parishioner Stan Badry. "They have to travel a lot farther now. It's quite a distance they are travelling now."
Yuha said the parishioners in Rosalind have talked to Archbishop Thomas Collins about the fate of their church. Like many merged parishes, St. Elizabeth remains open for events such as weddings. No parishes in the area have been completely closed.
"We're kind of hopeful it won't close," Yuha said. "(The archbishop) said give it a couple of years. We have to see if we have enough priests for the area."
Another parishioner from Rosalind, who did not want to be named, said that like many, she was angered when news hit that the 43-family Rosalind parish would merge with Daysland.
"You start blaming everyone, no one in particular, but just everyone," she said. "First, I thought it was the archbishop's fault, then our parish priest. Then when all else fails, you blame God.
"But I think we'll just have to start getting used to attending another church. I started coming here (St. Martin's) and Mass is Mass everywhere you go. You just have to start feeling like you belong again."
A sense of belonging is what Yuha said she needs to find.
"I like this church, but I don't feel like it's home yet," she said. "We're still trying to find that sense of belonging. . . . You kind of feel incomplete."
And what's toughest for some of the small town parishes like Rosalind, the merger to another parish signalled a split in the church community.
"It seems to break up the Christian community," Yuha said. "You have some people going to Heisler, some going to Daysland. Our parish has split up."
Many of the changes took place in July and August. Pederson said some parishioners are still undecided on which Sunday Mass they will commit to. Many live roughly the same distance from the parishes in Heisler and Daysland.
Either way, Pederson says many parishioners will now have to drive up to half an hour to attend Mass.
But the distance is not something that concerns many parishioners.
"If you want to go to Mass, you go to Mass. It doesn't matter how far you have to go," said parishioner Maxine Badry.
It's not so much a matter of different Mass times or meeting new parishioners that has made the changes hard to swallow for some. Rather, it's that feeling of loss.
"I think we've all been dealing very well with it," Badry said. "I guess we all need to make an effort to make everyone feel welcomed."
Pederson added, "It will take a lot of time. There's a lot of hurt right now. But that will go away in time."
Though the mergers and prospect of closure bring fear and sadness to parishioners, it's an understandable move.
"You have to take into consideration the shortage of priests," said Stan Badry. " I suppose it could be worse.
Worse in Badry's view, would be for Pederson to take on yet another parish in a neighbouring town.
"That would be too much," Badry said. "I hope it never gets to that."