Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 20, 2005
Mearns parish provides home, sweet home
Volunteers have made little parish a going concern
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
For more than 75 years, St. Charles Catholic Parish has been the centre of life in this small settlement north of St. Albert.
"From the time the first little mission church was established until the present day, parish life and sense of community and family has been the hub of life in Mearns with the church being its centre," says parishioner Phyllis Borle.
"Everyone in the community participates in community socials and fundraisers for the maintenance of the church and rectory, which was the home of Father Stacey and many priests after him," says Borle, who wrote a history of St. Charles Parish for its 75th anniversary.
It is volunteers who have maintained and repaired the little church and it's the ladies of the Catholic Women's League who have cleaned and sewn the altar linens and done all the housekeeping.
"When you walk through the doors of St. Charles it is like coming home," says parish council chair Claire Stitsen, a parishioner since 1958.
"It's a small rural community so people pull together and are always ready to participate."
On June 12 some 300 parishioners and guests filled the small St. Charles Church to capacity to mark the parish's anniversary.
Archbishop Thomas Collins and Father Jan Sobkowicz, who serves Mearns from Villeneuve, concelebrated the anniversary Mass.
Father Oscar Monroy of Red Deer, who will take over from Sobkowicz in August, assisted in the celebration. Sobkowicz has been transferred to Lloydminster.
Following the Mass, Collins and the priests blessed a newly built grotto for Mary outside the church.
A picnic on the church grounds, the blessing of a tree in honour of those who have been at the parish for more than 50 years, a blessing of the cemetery grounds and a recount of the church history were also part of the celebration.
"This parish is very active; it has many, many groups," noted Sobkowicz. "These are very good people. It's a joy to be their pastor."
While the parish celebrated the anniversary of its current church, built in 1930, the year Father John Stacey became the first resident pastor, the parish traces its history back to at least 1902. It was in 1902 that the mission church of St. Charles was erected by volunteer labour and donated materials.
Beside the church, a small rectory and barn were established for the use of the Oblate priests from the Alexander Indian Reserve who travelled by horse every two weeks to say Mass and serve the needs of the parishioners.
There were 133 Catholics in the area at the time. Today, about 50 families regularly attend Sunday Mass, including some who come from the neighbouring community of Busby, whose church closed some six years ago. Most are farm families and acreage dwellers of French, native and German background.
On Aug. 25, 1918, Archbishop Emile Legal came to St. Charles to bless a bronze bell. The bell is currently housed in the tower of St. Charles and is still rung with pride today.
The parish today has many groups, including a strong liturgy group, a catechetical team, a readers' group, a CWL council and one of the Knights of Columbus, a choir, a prayer group and a youth group.
A few of the young people, and some adults, have gone overseas to Scotland, Guatemala and Jamaica in recent years to do missionary and volunteer work.
"A lot of good things happen in this parish. After World Youth Day many of our young people felt called to do some ministry," Stitsen said.
Retired farmer Oliver Brenneis has been a parishioner of St. Charles for 65 of his 70 years. "I was five when I started coming to this church," he said proudly. "Things haven't changed much. We have always farmed here and come to church."
Brenneis described the parish as "a really good parish" with lots of friendly people. "This is home to whoever was raised around here."
And he said they all take care of their home. "We upgraded this church through volunteer work as money came up," he observed. "And then we put a whole new basement."
Grain farmer Richard Friedrich, 69, arrived in the Mearns area at age two and has been attending church here ever since. "This is like a family," he said. "Everybody knows everybody else and everybody gets along with everybody. We all get together and help."
Like Brenneis, Friedrich agrees things haven't changed much, except for the fact there were more parishioners back when he was a young boy and that the Sisters of Notre Dame used to run a school in Mearns. Another change is the arrival some years ago of the Hutterites, who bought land from many Catholic parishioners who moved away.
"This is the centre of our spiritual life," Friedrich said as he looked at the church. "If we lost our church we would lose everything."
Parishioners were concerned a few years ago, he said, when the archdiocese restructured its parishes. It looked like the parish was going to close but it didn't. But neighbouring Busby did close and many of its parishioners ended up attending St. Charles.
"We were quite welcome," recalled Don Case, a Busby carpenter and grand knight of the local K of C. "It was quite a shock for us that our parish closed down but we found a new home here in Mearns. We feel quite comfortable here."
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