Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 30, 2002
Sylvan Lake Church marks 75th
All are welcome at Our Lady of Assumption Church
By RAMON GONZALEZ
"I think this is a community that has been so welcoming that it is not just an older congregation; it's multigenerational."
- Lorelei Weeres
Jessica Coppens, 25, agrees, saying the parish's main characteristic is its unity. "We are very much together here. There are no strangers."
Moret, the parish pastor, says Catholics in Sylvan Lake have worked hard to keep the parish going and their efforts have paid off.
"This is a vibrant, active and welcoming parish and we are trying to be more of that all the time," he said.
Ed Dietrich and his wife Johanna, the church's caretakers, have been members of the parish since 1996 and regard it as their extended family. "This parish is a great part of our lives," Johanna said, describing it as vibrant, enthusiastic and welcoming.
Ed said the parish today is very different from what it was when they first arrived. In those days the parish wasn't as united as it is today and the social atmosphere wasn't very good either. Father Joseph Ayling, who served from 1988 to 1993, "did a lot to bring the people together," he recalled.
He said Father Sylvain Casavant, who left Sylvan Lake in 1999, also helped improve the social atmosphere.
"At the beginning we didn't have much of a social life in the parish, but Father Casavant did a lot to change that. He brought new life to the parish."
The parish was established in 1927, but its beginnings go back to 1912, a year before Sylvan Lake was incorporated as a village. Catholic families then attended services in a modest chapel built on the site of the present church, on land donated by Alexandre Loiselle.
This tiny mission church was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and named Our Lady of the Assumption.
A severe downturn of the economy between 1915 and 1924 resulted in an exodus of the Sylvan Lake population.
A third of the parishioners were gone, but the remaining faithful persevered through this depression.
In 1927, Our Lady became a parish for the first time. Then followed a period of transition in which it was downgraded to a mission, then back to a parish again.
Father J.O. Sullivan, the seventh priest of the parish, arrived in Sylvan Lake in 1963 and immediately recognized the need for a newer and larger church.
A new church was built on the same site two years later. Archbishop Anthony Jordan dedicated and blessed it May 23, 1965. Sullivan, who had been so instrumental in the building of the new church, died quietly in the rectory May 17, 1967.
Father Michael Heffernan arrived in September 1967, facing a seemingly insurmountable debt on the new church. However, with his financial skill, the mortgage was retired in 1976, two years before its due time. According to Ed Dietrich, Heffernan served without a salary to help the parish pay off its debt.
In the early 1990s, Sylvan Lake lost its resident pastor as Our Lady of the Assumption was clustered with St. Margaret's in Rimbey and the missions of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Bentley and St. John Bosco in Winfield.
The four-parish cluster has been served from Rimbey since 1994. To help in the transition, Sister Camille Campbell served as pastoral assistant in Sylvan Lake for two years until 1994.
Father Sylvan Casavant replaced Father Peter Sharpe as pastor of the cluster of parishes in 1994 and worked tirelessly toward the establishment of a Catholic separate school in Sylvan Lake. Mother Teresa Catholic School opened in September 2000 with dedication services led by Archbishop Collins in March 2001.
In 1999 Casavant became vocations director for the Edmonton Archdiocese and was replaced by Moret, who says Mass in Sylvan Lake three times a week, including Sundays.
Plans are currently underway at Our Lady of Assumption to build a new church within five years. The town's population has quadrupled in the past decade and so has the Catholic population.
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