Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 4, 2000
Stettler recalls good times
Left without resident pastor, 50-year-old parish developing lay leaders
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Three decades after his death, Father Ernest Battle is still revered in this central Alberta farming community of 5,000. And with good reason.
It was Battle, a missionary priest who served the area for 46 years until his death in 1971, who developed Christ-King Parish and who built the church in which the Catholic community celebrates the sacraments.
A builder in more ways than one, Battle acted as the contractor when the church was built, starting in 1947. He got an architect to draw up the plans, hired a bricklayer and a carpenter and supervised volunteer labourers. The church was finished in 1949 and dedicated by Archbishop John MacDonald Nov. 23, 1950.
Catholics here celebrated the 50th anniversary of their 250-family parish on the feast of Christ the King Nov. 26 with an afternoon Mass followed by a banquet at Stettler's Community Hall. About 260 people attended the Mass.
Archbishop Joseph MacNeil presided at the Mass with the assistance of Father Mark McGee, Christ-King's pastor for the past three months, and several former pastors and assistant pastors.
"We have come to give glory to God for the wonderful things that have happened in this parish in the last 50 years," MacNeil said in his homily.
"This is a sacred place for you because you come here to worship together, to pray together and to celebrate the sacraments together.
"So every time you come to Christ-King Church you are saying you are doing everything you can to live the way Jesus Christ did."
Christ-King parishioners are celebrating 50 years since the dedication of their church. Their parish, however, is much older.
It was actually established at the turn of the century by a group of French settlers, related Linda Dean, parish secretary for the past 38 years.
They built a small church and named it Our Lady of Perpetual Help in honour of Jesus' mother, she said.
The settlers' spiritual needs were served by French missionaries and Irish priests until 1926, when Battle became the pastor. He would serve the area until his death in 1971 at the age of 75.
Battle's dream was to build a beautiful church in Stettler that would be a worthy place of worship, Dean recalled.
The priest's dream came true in 1950 at a cost of $70,000. The new church was named Christ-King in honour of Jesus Christ.
Elva Knapp, a parishioner since 1955, said the years under Battle were wonderful. The priest had "a lot of insight" and was able to guide the parish successfully through the changes that emerged from the Second Vatican Council.
The parish enjoyed enviable stability until the mid-1990s when it lost its resident priest as a result of its merger with Castor and other parishes and missions east of Stettler.
Things began to change due to a lack of priestly guidance, noted Knapp. "People were friendly and inviting," she recalled. "We were close-knit and supported each other. Things are different now because of the changes."
"The changes were very sad for all of us," recalled Dean. "We used to have Mass everyday when the priest was here and two Masses on weekends." Today they have two weekday Masses and one weekend Mass.
Former Christ-King pastor Father Ken West, now pastor at Edmonton's St. Thomas More Parish, came to Stettler in the midst of the merger and says those were difficult days for the parish.
"They were used to having a priest right in town and I was living in Castor," he recalled. "They were surprised at first. They never thought Stettler would lose its (resident) priest."
But West said parishioners eventually understood that other communities were as needy as they were and became more involved in the life of the parish.
"We were not happy at first but we have made the best of it," noted Knapp. "It's not the end of the world and we have to adapt. We have to share our priests."
As time went by, lay people "were doing many of the things priests used to do," West recalls. "They were beginning to take ownership of their parish."
By now parishioners are "very much" over the initial pain of the merger and are trying to become "self-sufficient" as a parish, according to Dean. "The way we are, we can carry on. We are just about ready to run things on our own."
Today there are more people than ever in leadership positions at Christ-King, according to West, who served the area from 1994 to 1999.
The parish has as many ministries as a parish with a resident priest, including sacramental ministries, music ministry, Bible study groups, RCIA, catechism classes, food bank, Catholic Women's League and Knights of Columbus.
Parishioners are also learning to "collaborate in ministry" and are sharing all types of ministries and resources with the neighbouring parishes.
"This is very encouraging to me as a pastor," said McGee. "Considering the stability of this parish and what they've had to face in the last few years, they are doing very well.
"These people have really willing and generous hearts. I mean, these people are going to survive (as a parish community)."
McGee lives in Castor but spends at least half the week in Stettler. He says weekend Masses on a rotating basis in Stettler, Castor and Consort.
Since its establishment, Stettler has been served by eight pastors and five assistant pastors. For its part, the parish has produced nearly 10 priests and nuns from among its ranks.