Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 13, 2003
Small parish still vibrant
Evergreen parish celebrates 75th anniversary
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
Struggles of a rural community that kept its church vibrant for 75 years were mirrored in the tears Carol Hoven fought to contain Oct. 4.
Reminiscing outside the Jesuit Martyrs Catholic Church at Evergreen, 14 km southwest of Eckville, Hoven exemplified the thousands of parishioners who have retained the vision of the founding families for a place of worship at the far reaches of the archdiocese.
"In 1982, we were standing across the road in the school yard having a spring picnic when our new pastor (Father Matt Kuefler) looked over at the old church and said, "We should build a new church." Many of us doubted him.
"And here we are today, celebrating our anniversary."
Kuefler was on hand, along with Archbishop Thomas Collins, current pastor, Father Paul Payyapilly, and four other priests to honour the congregation which has managed, over the years, to maintain a place of worship despite a steady rotation of priests and the constant outflow of its young members.
"Father Matt got us all believing that building a new church was a good thing. He instilled in us that it was a dream we could fulfill," Hoven said, whose husband, Cecil, is a grandson of a founding family.
"We really needed a new church and if we were going to spread the faith in the Evergreen community, we had to do it," she said.
"The old church was getting cold and mice had begun to make it their home. The community rallied and we did it."
Hoven echoed the message from Collins that while most people consider a martyr as someone who died for Christ, a martyr is also a person who lived with a vision of Christ. The archbishop observed the Stations of the Cross lining the inside walls of the church and remarked, "They demonstrate how we fall on our journey to Christ."
The history of the parish actually goes back to 1903 when the Jules Lecerf family arrived from France and settled in the area. A family member wrote that they had pretty much stayed to themselves while living far from any road until one day, a speck on the horizon grew until Father Voisin arrived on horseback. He had ridden 35 miles from Innisfail and was quickly welcomed into the home, where the kitchen table was used as an altar for Mass.
In 1909, Matt Hoven moved his family from South Dakota to homestead just east of present-day Evergreen. A daughter was soon born and baptized by Voisin in Red Deer. The Hovens eventually met the families in the area and began hosting Mass in their home - a practice that would last for 18 years.
"My mother was raised by foster parents a couple of miles from the original Hoven home and she used to talk about the weekly Masses as the event of the week," Carol said.
"She said there would be a horse and buggy and off they'd go to the Hovens for Mass. They would then have dinner and people would go home."
In October 1926, Father J.R. MacDonald received a letter granting permission to build a church. It was to be called the "Jesuit Martyrs of Canada Catholic Church." Three hundred dollars were enclosed as seed money.
By the summer of 1928, the foundation was poured and as October arrived, the church was ready for use. Three side windows in the present church, completed in 1988, are from this building.
The church went on to hold numerous summer catechism camps as well as liturgy and Eucharist workshops. It has long been a focal point for the area faithful, holding many regional pastoral council meetings.
The community is known not only for its willing volunteers. They have had students in Bible school, hosted the World Youth Day Cross and sent four young people to WYD in Toronto last year. It supports the Rocky Mountain House Food Bank, the Christmas Shoe Box program and the Pregnancy Care Centre.
Payyapilly, who arrived recently from India, was immediately impressed with the spirit of the people.
"They are very welcoming for a priest. They are nice and loving people," he said. "God is touching them and it is an inspiring experience I'm having here.
"We can see many farmers who are very busy. Even then, I see they find time for spiritual matters and spiritual activities. There is concern for Church matters at all levels."
Hoven described their pastor as the best-kept secret in the archdiocese. She is fearful to lose him to another church in the future.
"I look at our church on the corner as an example to the whole community of what the belief in God is. I believe it should be the nicest place and the nicest kept yard in the area. If this is where we give glory and honour to God then it should be such a place.
"I mean, none of us lived in homes with mice, so then our place of worship should be better," she said.
In a rural community, the majority of children move on. They go to university. They go to the cities and get jobs. But many of them returned to be a part of the anniversary celebration.
"We have to be thankful for the people in the past who handed this faith onto us. And we must be pleased that the present people have taken the faith to be their own and keep marching ahead," Hoven said.
With their efforts, the church has Mass every Sunday.
"I think it's a miracle we have stayed open all these years," Hoven said. "It's the spirit of the people that keeps it alive."