Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 27, 2005
Memories keep the church alive
Five hundred gather to remember, celebrate St. Boniface Church's 100th anniversary
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
Patricia Finestone had not set foot in St. Boniface Church for 57 years. She did not think anyone would remember her.
Now 80, the former Spring Lake School principal said she was shocked by the warm greeting from some of the 500 people who attended the church's 100th anniversary June 19 about 12 kms south of Daysland.
After giving a passionate speech before Mass, Finestone told the WCR she was humbled when someone told her he had come just to see her again.
"I can't explain it," said Finestone. "I have been an educator for 60 years and we all have had a favourite teacher. But if I am the only teacher he remembers, that would be sad."
Archbishop Emeritus Joseph MacNeil celebrated Mass along with St. Boniface pastor Father Larry Pederson and Father Patrick Baska, pastor of St. Alphonsus in Edmonton. A large tent beside the church was equipped with audio and video to include the overflow congregation comprised mainly of descendants of the German pioneers who began settling in the area at the start of the 20th century.
"The church and school down the road were the centre of activity for the community," said Finestone, a member of the foundation board of St. Mary's University College in Calgary. Finestone used to run the local hockey club and the baseball teams. During her two years (1947-48) in Spring Lake, she also served as St. Boniface CWL council president for one year.
"My time here was so rewarding."
The church officially closed almost 30 years ago, but on this sunny Father's Day afternoon, MacNeil blessed the cemetery, an ice cream cone cost a quarter and the community staged one of its classic softball games.
Lisa Zimmer married Rob McGonigal in the church in 1996. She was born in the area and although the church was closed, she knew it held a significant place in the hearts of her parents and relatives.
"The church is a very important place for all of my family," said Zimmer, 34. "My grandparents are buried in the cemetery. We wanted to be married here because of the memories and the history of our family. We got special permission. A lot of people choose to be married here.
"They worked so hard to build it.
"So many of the founding families still live in the area and that is why they can keep it going: They care so much about it."
The last Confirmation took place Oct. 31, 1976. The final regular Mass was celebrated the following year.
Pederson still celebrates Mass on special occasions such as weddings and funerals.
The community also gathers in the spring and fall for a weekday service.
Spring Lake has an active CWL council, with Marion Zimmer serving as president. The Spring Lake Historical Society keeps busy maintaining the church and surrounding grounds.
Community volunteers clean the cemetery throughout the summer, cutting grass and performing other necessary tasks.
Zimmer said the entire community had a hand in staging the 100th anniversary.
St. Boniface Church was declared an historic site in 1983. The building has been preserved and, in 1998, roof shingles and the chimney were replaced. The exterior was painted white.
Most of the immigrants were from Germany who first settled in Minnesota and then moved to Spring Lake to homestead.
The original structure looked more like a barn than a traditional church. But this did not deter anyone from attending Mass. It was their house of worship and they were proud of it. In 1912, a final construction push took place and the church was capped with an elegant steeple and bell tower.
All of the liturgical furnishings were imported from Germany or France.
Joe Schneider, 67, pointed out that the ground around the church has remained in its natural pasture.
"They must have worked awful hard and it is a good thing that the community still carries it on," he said. "But there are less and less farmers, so it might be hard to keep it up."
Glen Helmig, 74, said his and Schneider's grandfathers were two of several men who spent a week hauling lumber some 80 km from Wetaskiwin by horse and wagon to build the church. Their elders farmed adjacent quarter sections.
"Our grandfathers came in 1902 and they built the church by 1905," Helmig said. "There was nothing but brush and prairie. They lived in sod houses their first year. Seeing this today, I feel proud that my family was involved."
For more than 70 years until the death of Father Norbert Schmeltzer in 1977, German-speaking priests served St. Boniface.
This was not always easy, MacNeil noted in his homily. But it was important to the community and the archdiocese always managed to come through and the German priests helped preserve the heritage.
"Every Saturday, we had catechism classes with Father Schmeltzer and, on Sundays, there was a special pew just for us children," Sharon McDonald said. "I was baptized here. There were a lot of community softball games. I had everything here as a child."
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