Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
January 22, 2001
Francophone parish set to close
Immaculeé Conception to merge with St. Thomas d`Aquin
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON — After 95 years serving francophone Catholics in the inner city, Immaculeé-Conception Parish is closing its doors for the last time.
The small, 65-family parish is slated to close Jan. 28, when it will merge with St. Thomas d'Aquin Parish, a 400-family French-speaking parish on the city's southside.
Parishioners were to hold their last Mass at their 10830-96 St. church Jan. 20. They will be formally received at St. Thomas, 8410-89 St., on Jan. 28.
Their picturesque, 325-seat church, the oldest on Edmonton's famous "street of churches," may soon be up for sale.
Founded in 1906, Immaculeé-Conception is the second city parish to close in the past year as a result of a merger. St. James Parish closed last June after it merged with Assumption.
Like other dioceses across Canada, the Edmonton Archdiocese has been restructuring its parishes in a bid to cope with the shortage of priests and shifting populations.
The first sign that Immaculeé-Conception would close came when the archdiocesan restructuring plan was released in late 1998 calling for the merger of the two parishes in 2001, recalls Clement Dery, lay administrator of the parish since 1997.
The news was a big blow to the community, who felt devastated at the thought of losing their parish. "We felt like anybody would feel who has experienced a loss," Dery recalled. "We went through a grieving process."
But resistance and defiance slowly gave way to acceptance.
"It's still sad and some are still grieving but the majority are in the phase of acceptance and we are ready."
Eloi DeGrace, chair of the pastoral council, said the parish had no choice but to embark on the merging process a year ago.
"We encouraged parishioners to look at the reality. We have no priest, we are a small community and we have many older people. So the parish council decided that 'yes, we have to do something,'" DeGrace recalled.
"We went along with the (archdiocesan restructuring) report. The report thought it would be best for us to merge in 2001 and the reality of life confirmed that."
In February last year when Father Camille Dozois, the priest who celebrated Mass on Sundays, fell sick and couldn't come any longer, the parish was forced to confront that reality.
"We looked for a French-speaking priest but couldn't find any. So what the council did was to take the best solution for the whole community," DeGrace said. "We couldn't satisfy 100 per cent of the parishioners but I think what we are doing now on the long-term is the best for all the Immaculeé-Conception parishioners."
Last June the parish council approached St. Thomas d'Aquin Parish and requested that parish to move its 4:30 p.m. Saturday Mass to Immaculeé-Conception.
The parish agreed and Father Raymond Sevigny, pastor of St. Thomas for the past five years, began celebrating Mass at Immaculeé-Conception in September.
That move helped to make the transition smoother, especially because Sevigny is well known at Immaculeé-Conception. He had served there between 1973 and 1984 and had also for two years in the 1960s, following his ordination.
Two months after Sevigny began saying Mass, the two parishes conducted an evaluation and found the conditions were right to set a date to close Immaculeé-Conception.
The Immaculeé-Conception community likes to think it is "grafting" to St. Thomas instead of merging "because grafting involves uniting something that is living to something else that is living," Dery said.
"Actually we are going to attach ourselves to and become part of a new community and we are going to be involved in that new community like we are here."
Provisions have been made for Immaculeé-Conception parishioners involved in ministries to continue to be involved at St. Thomas. Two members of Immaculeé-Conception parish council, for example, will be members of the St. Thomas Aquinas parish council.
"There will be room for us in all the committees," DeGrace said. "Our God is good and the changes he seems to ask for us to do will bring something good for everyone."
Ted Raby, an Immaculeé-Conception Parishioner for 44 years, would have liked to keep his church open but understands why it has to close.
"There is nothing we can do because there is a shortage of priests," he said. "I'm going to St. Thomas because I have no choice."
Raby said he will miss the quality of the liturgies and music at Immaculeé-Conception. "We have the best music and the best liturgies and I don't think you can find that in any other parish," he said, noting his parish has a 15-member choir that is second to none.
Marcelle Lorieau Kozak, an Immaculeé-Conception parishioner for 40 years and parish organist on-and-off for close to 30 years, is "heart-broken" by the merger.
"We are all heart-broken because our beautiful community has been broken up and we will never find the same closeness in another parish," the 73-year-old said. "We are going to lose each other (at St. Thomas) because people will be attending different Masses."
Kozak doesn't buy the reasons given for closing her parish. "We are told there are no French-speaking priests available but I don't buy it," she said. "For sure you can find a priest to say Mass on Sunday."
She said Immaculeé-Conception is a viable parish with good lay involvement, good liturgies, excellent music and excellent finances. "We were never a burden on the diocese but now our church is up for sale."
Yolande Cadrin, a parishioner for 32 years and former chair of Immaculeé-Conception parish council, is equally disappointed. She will not register in any parish until she sorts out her feelings.
What bothers her most is what she says is a lack of consultation about the fate of her parish. "Even having been heard would have meant something," she said.
"I'm not saying I'm leaving my Church. I'm saying I feel abandoned by my Church and I'm going to take time to reevaluate where I'm going to go."
The parish membership has dwindled from 250 families in the mid 1970s to about 65 now.
Kozak is also worried about seniors, especially those who don't drive. "St. Thomas is at least 20 minutes away. Those seniors who do not have a car will be forced to go to Sacred Heart Church for Mass," she lamented.
Dery said it's understandable that some parishioners may feel disappointed and frustrated but insisted merging is the best alternative.
"People are sad but we have to be realistic," he said. "Our parish is very small and we have no priests."
The last Mass at Immaculeé-Conception will be held Jan. 20 at 4:30 p.m. It will be followed by a ceremony where parishioners will say their good-byes, recall their history and select meaningful objects to present at St. Thomas on Jan. 28.
These objects include the statue of Mary and items that represent the liturgical, historical and social life of the Immaculeé-Conception community.
What else they will take to St. Thomas? "A lot of goodwill, lots of talent, and lots of good parishioners ready to serve in any ministry," DeGrace said.
They will also take to St. Thomas a legacy of lay leadership, said Dery, noting Immaculeé-Conception has been run by lay people since 1987, when it became the first parish in the Edmonton Archdiocese to be administered by a lay person.
Sevigny says he and St. Thomas are ready to receive the 65 families from Immaculeé-Conception. "The parish members here are really welcoming and are looking forward (to their arrival)," he said. "We all recognize the difficulties the parishioners from Immaculeé-Conception are facing."
Following the Jan. 28 Mass in which the Immaculeé-Conception parishioners will be officially received, there will be a meal to celebrate the union of the two parishes, Sevigny noted.
Immaculeé-Conception is one of 14 Catholic, Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox churches within 19 blocks on 96th Street. Established by the Oblate Fathers in 1906, the church was opened on Dec. 8 of that year.
The parish was bilingual for the next six years. It became French-speaking in 1913 when Sacred Heart Church was built across the street.
"Our hope is that the church will be sold to another community and not to a night club," said Dery, a father of three who will become unemployed following the merger. "We would like it to remain a place of worship."
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