Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 22, 2000
St. James Parish looks back
Parishioners reflect on 50 years of memories as parish prepares to close
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
When St. James parishioners gather for a social and dinner June 3, it isn't expected to be an overwhelmingly joyous occasion.
"It's going to be heartbreaking," said Michele Bennett, who has been a parishioner for 12 years. "It'll be like D-Day.
"It really was a place where everybody knew your name. In a mega-church, you might see the people who sit in front of you every week and say 'hi' to them, but you really don't know them."
The farewell social and dinner is a gathering of the parish's 160 families and former parishioners of St. James, which will merge with Our Lady of the Assumption Parish June 10. It is the first city parish to close under the Transformation of Parishes plan, which calls for reduction of parishes in the Edmonton Archdiocese.
Although the merging of St. James and Assumption will hardly put it in the same rank of a mega-church, like St. Theresa's in Millwoods and Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Sherwood Park, it will be a bigger parish than the parishioners have been accustomed to all these years.
Like many parish communities, the family atmosphere and camaraderie were part of Sunday services and ministry work at St. James. Socials like Muffin Sunday were a family affair.
"Different families would bring muffins and we would share them after Mass," Bennett said. "We'll miss Muffin Sundays."
Food has always been a big part of many parish communities. St. James was no different. Throughout the years, the CWL hosted chicken and sausage dinners and pancake breakfasts.
"Those were always a lot of work, but a lot of fun," said Barbara Schamber, a parishioner for the past 50 years.
Turkey dinners were also good fundraisers, said Anne Johnstone.
"We had a kitchen, but no dishwasher back then," recalls Johnstone. "I used to take the dishes into the furnace room to wash them. But that was the togetherness. Everybody worked together. That's what made it a family."
For the past 12 years, Margaret Gangl and her friends got together after Mass. "We meet after Mass every Sunday and go out for breakfast," she said. "I don't know if we'll be able to do that now."
The prospect that her church friends will go either to Assumption, nearby Immaculate Heart or another church for Mass means the end of Gangl's Sunday breakfast tradition.
"It won't be the same going to another parish," said Gangl, who hasn't decided which parish she will attend.
The Gangl family is deeply rooted in St. James. Margaret's father-in-law, Henry, was the contractor who built the church in 1951.
The parish dates back to 1948 when Masses were celebrated by Oblate Father Georges Tetreault in the three-room St. James School. Two years later the school moved eight blocks east and the church with it. Tetreault was replaced by another Oblate, Father Emeric Drouin.
St. James Parish was officially established in late 1950 and Father Joseph Burke became its first pastor. Drouin stayed on with the parish because Burke was splitting his time between St. James and the new Immaculate Heart Parish.
Construction of the church began in September 1951. Gangl's husband Al helped his father build the church and remembers the long hours he and the crew put in. "We worked from 6 a.m. to midnight everyday," he said.
They didn't have the big cement mixers or machinery used today. "It was hard work," Al Gangl remembers.
After the basement was dug and forms built, St. James had a "cement pouring bee," which saw 20 men lend a hand.
With their hands pouring cement and their ears cocked to the radio listening to a football game and being fed goodies and coffee prepared by the ladies, they mixed and poured 500 bags of cement and completed the job in one day.
The first major service in the new church was the wedding of Mary Schamber and Dominic Gamroth.
In 1952, Father Michael McAnally became pastor and remained until his death in 1963. Other pastors have included Fathers Vincent Hartman, Raymond Merchant and Basil Butts.
The church was renovated in 1975 to increase seating capacity and two years later parishioners gathered to celebrate its 25th anniversary.
St. James has a long history so it was no surprise that there was bitterness when word got out the parish would be closed. Now, much of that anger has transferred into sadness.
"You can't be too angry anymore because there's not much you can do about it," Gangl said. "You have to look at it more realistically. It's happening, but it's very sad."
Johnstone, a widow for the past 40 years, raised two children on her own and always looked to her fellow parishioners as her support group.
"I'm going to miss seeing the people I've known for so many years. The little talks we have after Mass. I'll miss that."
When Loretta Fischer and her husband arrived at St. James, their two children were three and four years old and felt at home at the church. "And they liked Father Butts, so we stayed because they liked it here so much."
As the parish secretary, Fischer has fielded phone calls and comments from people with mixed feelings about the closure. She said the overall feeling of the parish is one of sadness.
"It's very hard for some of the older people, some of them walk to Mass everyday," she said. "They put a lot into this parish, it's hard for them to see it go."
Going to another parish will be like starting all over for 85-year-old Schamber.
"And I'm not sure I'm able to do that," she said. "This church was part of our family life and now I feel like I'm losing part of my family."
Schamber's children were baptized and received their First Communion at St. James. One son was married there. Her husband's funeral service was held there.
"After 50 years and all of a sudden you have to go to a church somewhere else. At my age, it's not going to be easy," she said.
Dolly Cogill has been at St. James since 1951. She fears she will be shuffled to another church when churches in the area become overcrowded.
Cogill has been active in the church's CWL and ministries. But she doesn't see herself remaining in those roles.
"I'm disappointed and I'm not going to cooperate with another church until I know I won't be moved to another church again," she said. "I'm not going to get involved in anything. I'm just going to go to Mass."
Memories of celebrations at St. James abound. Pictures of Baptisms, Communions, Confirmations, and weddings overflow in family photo albums. With the closure of the parish comes another concern for parishioners.
"Who's going to bring my husband Communion?" asked Cogill, whose husband is in an extended care facility. "Which church will the funeral be at . . . you think about these things.
"Your sacraments are suppose to be a celebration but they're not much to celebrate when you don't know where you're going to celebrate them."