Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 17, 2003
Whitecourt marks 50 years
By LOTHAR LANDSBERG
Special to the WCR
All the parish priests of St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church in Whitecourt have been invited to the Church's 50th anniversary. Included in the guest list is Father Louis Viel, the first official parish priest (1953-56).
Bishop Luc Bouchard of St. Paul will officiate at the celebrations March 15.
The first St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church was built in Whitecourt in the mid-1920s on property donated by a Mr. Glass. With donations of money and materials, he organized the Catholic community to build the Church. The first Church was small with a dozen pews.
St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church survived with itinerant travelling missionaries for many years. In 1937, Father M.P. Rooney travelled once a month by train from Mayerthorpe to celebrate Mass. In the fall of 1937, Father M.J. Conner from Sangudo took over and continued to carry out this service until 1951.
Often, Catholics in Whitecourt had to do without priests on Sundays because road conditions were too dangerous.
In 1951, Father Neil McKenzie became the first resident priest. He lived in on old room at the back of the Church that was so cold in the winter, he moved into the Church dugout next to the furnace to keep warm.
McKenzie stayed until 1953 and was succeeded by Viel. Viel's living conditions were not much better than McKenzie's. He lived in a small lean-to attached to the little Church. It was very Spartan and his bed linen was 400-pound flour sacks sewn together. However this was soon remedied when the local women started tending to his laundry and meals.
There were about seven practising Catholic families with perhaps six other families who attended Church occasionally. However the Christian spirit was strong among them: the people centred their lives on the Church and the Catholic community stayed together.
His (Fr. Viel) bed linen was 400-pound flour sacks sewn together.
Before leaving in 1956, Viel drew blueprints for a rectory and was able to see this built from donated lumber and labour. Father Croteau succeeded Viel and he in turn by Father Tellier in 1958.
Tellier, apart from being a dedicated man, was a born carpenter. In 1959, the original Church was moved to Greencourt in exchange for lumber. Following Tellier's departure in 1962, many dedicated priests served the Whitecourt community, each working in his own way to increase the spiritual growth of the Whitecourt flock.
St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church as we know it today was completed in 1986. In the last few years, the parish has continued to grow both physically and spiritually.
At the end of 1995, the K of C Council 7299 built the chamber, meeting room and enlarged the kitchen in the parish hall. In 1996, the Church and rectory were painted and the area in front of the Church and the parking lot next to the rectory were paved.
In May 1999, the parish made the decision to buy the adjacent land located at the west side of the Church property. Plans for the land include the development of a shrine to the Blessed Virgin Mary and possibly a seniors' home.