Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 13, 2004
Parishioners love St. Pius X
After 50 years, congregants even enrol in Newman College courses to enhance their membership
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Lina Wood and her husband Jim like the environment at St. Pius X Parish so much they won't attend church anywhere else. Nearly a decade after they moved close to West Edmonton Mall, the couple continues to attend Sunday Mass faithfully at St. Pius in the city's northwest.
"We feel at home here," said Lina, who joined the parish 32 years ago. "This church for me is everything. I like the building, the inside, the people."
Both Lina and Jim serve as greeters at the parish and their job consists of welcoming people on Sundays before Mass and serving them coffee and goodies after the service.
"What's unique about this parish is the strong sense of community and the strong sense of being together and the strong sense of being a family," said Jim, who joined St. Pius 10 years ago. "It's a church family, what we are."
Like the Woods, most parishioners describe St. Pius as a friendly, homey and caring community and say these are the traits that have kept the parish together over the past 50 years.
The St. Pius community will mark the 50th anniversary of its parish with a wine and cheese on Sept. 17, banquet on Sept. 18 and Sunday liturgy with Archbishop Thomas Collins Sept. 19.
"Things have changed a lot in the past 50 years but we continue to be a friendly, caring community," noted Pat Woodman, the parish secretary and a parishioner since St. Pius was founded in 1954.
"People really care about one another here and new parishioners are always made to feel welcome."
St. Pius, which serves the Sherbrooke, Dovercourt and Prince Charles neighbourhoods from its 13072 Sherbrooke Ave. location, has seen dramatic changes over the past half-century.
A combination of aging and migration has turned this once large and vibrant parish into a small, close-knit faith community made up largely of retired and semi-retired working class families.
"The congregation has really come down in size," noted Woodman. "Families moved away and people stopped having big families."
Parish membership is down to 160 registered families from 200 a decade ago and from 600 in the early 1980s, when St. Pius was home to Edmonton's Spanish-speaking community.
Only 12 baptisms were performed last year and marriages are down to about 10 from 31 in 1975. "People aren't getting married anymore," Woodman quipped.
Gone are the times when St. Pius could sustain hockey clubs, brownies, cubs and clubs for men and women. The council of the Catholic Women's League disappeared many years ago and there is no Knights of Columbus council.
But things are improving. "As some of the seniors sell their homes and move into retirement, many young couples are moving into the area and getting involved in the parish," said pastoral minister Bernice Mahoney. "So we have seen a few young couples."
One of these couples is Carrie Gear and her husband Bryant, both in their early 20s. Bryant began attending St. Pius about 10 years ago with his parents and recalls being a member of the youth group at one time.
"It was fun," he said. Carrie began attending about three years ago after she and Bryant got married. Now they take their two small children to church as well. "The people are really friendly here," Carrie observed. "My kids get a lot of attention from everybody. They really make us feel welcome."
"What makes this parish unique is its sense of hospitality and its high level of involvement," said Mahoney, who became pastoral minister in July 2000 at the request of former pastor Father Martin Moser.
She said dozens of parishioners are involved in ministries such as liturgy, social justice, ecumenism, Bible studies, the Legion of Mary, the recently reinstated Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, and the young adults and senior choirs.
There is also good participation in the liturgy of the word for children on Sundays. Parishioners also collect food for the Food Bank and volunteer regularly at the Marian Centre serving meals to the poor of the inner city.
What's remarkable is that a significant number of parishioners educate themselves for their involvement in the parish by taking ministry courses at Newman Theological College in the summer, Mahoney noted.
Archbishop John Hugh MacDonald officially established St. Pius X on April 18, 1954. Father Francis Gillis was the first pastor and his sister Mary his housekeeper. Both came from Provost, where Gillis had been a pastor since 1943.
With a loan from the parishioners in Provost and a grant from St Andrew's Parish in Edmonton, Gillis bought land for the church.
He turned the sod on May 29, 1954, the day Pope Pius X was canonized. That made Pope Pius X an obvious choice as patron saint of the new parish.
While the church was under construction, Gillis celebrated Mass at the old Sherbrooke School, later renamed St. Pius.
Father John Hesse celebrated the first Mass in the new church, whose design resembles a bishop's mitre, on June 5, 1955. Oblate Archbishop Anthony Jordan blessed the church on Jan. 15, 1956.
One of the first parish groups established was the Men's Club, whose top priority was to raise funds for the church building fund. Later a sports committee was formed and soon the parish had three completely equipped hockey teams.
The Catholic Women's League was established in April 1954 with 28 women. In addition to raising funds for the church, the CWL sponsored the Girl Guides and Brownies and canvassed for several charities, including the United Way and Red Cross.
Soon the CWL began ecumenical meetings with ladies of neighbouring churches, which led to the formation of the Westmount Christian Council, an organization still active today.
In August 1970, Father Albert Laisnez replaced Gillis, who had retired earlier that year.
One of Laisnez's main accomplishments was the creation of the first parish pastoral council, which effectively opened the door to lay participation.
During his tenure, lectors were trained and auxiliary ministers of the Eucharist were trained.
For several years, beginning in 1978, St. Pius X was also home to about 200 Spanish-speaking families living across the city. In 1996 the Lebanese Christian Community was also welcomed at St. Pius.
In September 1998, as the archdiocese began transforming its parishes due to the lack of priests, St. Pius shared its pastor and resources with St. Angela Merici Parish.
Lay pastoral administrator Phillip Lamoureux ran St. Pius and St. Angela from November 1998 to July 1999.
Mahoney, the pastoral minister, has also provided administrative and pastoral services for both parishes since her appointment in 2000.
Her workload has increased since the appointment in November of Father Thomas Maliakkal.
"The golden jubilee of our parish is a new chapter in long years of living the faith of Jesus," Maliakkal writes in the parish's 50th anniversary booklet.
Letter to the Editor - 09/27/04