Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 20, 2005
St. Anthony's - a spiritual home
Priests', parishioners' faith and joy sustained St. Anthony Church's core for 100 years.
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
St. Anthony Parish has always been a bit of a maverick. It was the second church built in what is today Edmonton and the first located on the south side of the North Saskatchewan River.
It became known as St. Anthony's Pro-Cathedral when Archbishop Henry Joseph O'Leary took up residence in 1921, ending an era of service by the founding Oblates.
So when a teenaged Rod Matthews took a stroll along Whyte (82nd) Avenue in 1948 to see how construction of the present building at 107th Street was coming, he was struck with a peculiar thought.
A round church
This architectural design came about because Father Canice Foran returned from a trip to the United States near the end of the Second World War, having seen a church with curved walls, something unknown in Edmonton.
Although Foran, who was pastor for more than 30 years, intended to have the congregation gather around the altar in a semi-circle with the Eucharist in the centre, Matthews recalls him offering a different reason.
"Father used to say it was because the devil can't corner you," said Matthews, 75.
The late Msgr. Don MacDonald, former vicar general of the Edmonton Archdiocese, once said: "It really was way ahead of its time and this is a compliment to Monsignor Foran."
From a tiny church and attached schoolhouse built in 1895 to the innovative structure in the area now called Old Strathcona, St. Anthony's has enjoyed a century of life and worship since Oblate Father George Nordmann became resident pastor in 1905.
Matthews served as an altar boy from Grades 3 to 11 when the church was located at 84th Avenue and 105th Street on a two-acre plot donated by the Garneau family. He remembers Foran as a kind man who always put others' interests ahead of his own.
"Father used to have a special Mass at 9 a.m. for the children and we were expected to be there because he had a special sermon just for us," said Matthews, a retired chartered accountant. "I always thought that was super because who else but Father Foran would do that?"
Matthews still remembers Foran's yearly financial reports mostly because it revealed the priest's wit.
"He used to get up and mention the report because Church doctrine said he had to. He said, 'The Church is in good shape and those who gave know and those who didn't know.' And that was it. It was the shortest sermon we got all year."
Dr. Joe O'Brien said the church's architecture was a real departure from the norm.
"The church was unique and that meant something to a lot of people," said O'Brien, 80. "It was a testament to his foresight because Foran's ideas are just as significant today."
O'Brien still attends Sunday Mass. He was an altar boy, served on the parish council and volunteered as a reader. A retired general practitioner, he is the son of Austin O'Brien, superintendent of Edmonton Catholic Schools for 37 years, who was an active member of St. Anthony's. The Vatican knighted him into the Order of St. Gregory.
"The parish changed a lot as the south side of Edmonton grew. About three parishes have now been split off from the original St. Anthony's. I know St. Agnes and St. James were split off and St. Thomas More was a split off of St. Agnes," O'Brien said.
A changing congregation
"I have seen a change in the congregation. I grew up with unmoving, stable and family-oriented parishioners. The families were there for the long haul. We see that now but to a lesser degree. Our location caters to the U of A students and as a result, there is more of a transient base.
"But having said that, at any given Mass there is a core of us who have been there forever, including Louis Naubert. Our faith component has remained. I think the Second Vatican Council allowed people an opportunity to express dissension if they wanted to, but I did not see or hear any of that," he said.
Naubert, 92, now lives in an assisted-living facility in the Holyrood neighbourhood, but someone picks him up every Sunday and Wednesday, taking him to the church to sing in the choir.
"Louis has been with the parish his entire life," O'Brien said. "He has been a great supporter of the parish's music. When he was seven, he used to pump the organ while the Ursulines (of Jesus) played."
Lisa Carpenter has split her music ministry between St. Anthony's and St. Agnes since 2000. The twin parishes, with about 50 members in the ministry, draw strength from each other, forming one community, she said. Having Naubert in the choir every Sunday morning at 10:30 invigorates them.
"There are not many people who can continue in ministry like Louis. He has a strong faith and, no matter what, he is there. I find that admirable and very touching," Carpenter said, adding that she enjoys meeting people at their faith level.
The role the Ursulines of Jesus played was tremendous, O'Brien said. They took over when the Faithful Companions of Jesus ceded their ministry in 1919. The Ursulines came to teach in the two parish schools - Mount Carmel and St. Anthony's - but they did an enormous amount of work for the parish.
"They took care of the altar and vestments; they led the choirs and the music. They did what a lot of people are doing today, such as preparations for First Communions and Confirmations. They were responsible for supervising the children's Mass.
"Their convent was conveniently located one block to the south. They were handy and they were prominent."
Another priest please
Nineteen priests have served the parish and current council chair Pat McCusker would like to see that list grow by one. He said an additional priest would help with the burden carried by Father Tesfu Kelati who celebrates Mass every week at St. Anthony's and St. Agnes.
"Our parish is excellent. I think the fact it is 100 years old is unique in itself. It has carried through a lot of different eras and it continues on to serve the parishioners of south Edmonton."
McCusker mentioned several active ministries, including the Southwest Peace and Development mission, St. Vincent de Paul Society, the Knights of Columbus and the Catholic Women's League.
Parishioners have also volunteered with Habitat for Humanity to build affordable housing in the area.
He sees no reason why St. Anthony's cannot remain as vibrant for another 100 years.
"We have a dedicated core of people and we continue to see more children in Mass."
Letter to the Editor - 07/18/05
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