Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 5, 2005
WCR recalls our Catholic Alberta heritage
Catholics have given of themselves throughout provinces 100 years
This edition of the Western Catholic Reporter is a first. At various points in the newspaper's 40 years of existence, we have tried to tell something of the history of the Church in Alberta. But this issue, marking the 100th anniversary of Alberta becoming a province, focuses less on the Church's internal life and more on its outreach. It tells a little about what the Church has contributed to the making of this province.
Telling our story is not an exercise in mere nostalgia. It is a matter of claiming our past, so we can better reflect on today and prepare ourselves for the future.
Alberta would not be what it is today without the Catholic Church. The Church - and its faithful servants - have helped to give Alberta its heart and soul. Catholics have built a system of primary, secondary and post-secondary education that has educated hundreds of thousands of young people so they could contribute to society.
Catholics built Alberta's first hospitals. In fact, religious orders built hospitals in the early days of this province in towns that never would otherwise have had a hospital. Through those hospitals, the sisters set a powerful example. By their sacrifice and their devotion to meeting human need, they showed that health care is not about money, but about people.
Service to the needy
Catholics - lay people, priests, religious and lay organizations - have built an enormous network of social service agencies. The Edmonton-based Catholic Social Services is Canada's largest multi-function social service agency. Last year, it served more than 60,000 Albertans of all faiths. Other agencies, such as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the Calgary Diocese's Catholic Charities, and homes for women in distress, have also witnessed to our belief in Jesus' words, "Whatever you did to the least of my brothers and sisters, you did to me."
Catholics have been involved in the professions, such as medicine, law, the media, and engineering. They have been craftsmen and labourers. They have served in public office. Perhaps above all, they have been mothers and fathers, raising their children with the strong moral values and a sense of mercy and reconciliation needed to build a healthy society.
Permeate secular world
The contributions of Catholics have not only been religious in the narrow sense. The Second Vatican Council said it is the responsibility of the laity to permeate the secular world with the spirit of the Gospel. That is the responsibility of every lay person, not an elite.
But the council also said, "the fruitfulness of the apostolate of lay people depends on their living union with Christ." To renew the world, we need to renew ourselves in union with Christ. Spiritual renewal and temporal renewal go hand in hand. If our prayer leads us into our work then our work is our prayer.
The accomplishments and stories of Catholics told in these pages are by no means exhaustive. This special edition gives only a glimpse of what Catholics have contributed to the development of Alberta. There is, for example, no mention of the sacrifices that Catholics, both lay and clergy, made during this country's two great wars. Little research has been done on which we could draw to tell of the specifically Alberta Catholic contribution to the war effort.
If you do not see your most cherished Alberta Catholic heroes and stories mentioned in these pages, you are not alone. We want to give an overview, knowing that it can only be an overview. Perhaps someday some ambitious person will endeavour to give a more systematic, more comprehensive account of all that has been done in the name of Christ's Church in this province.
But the WCR wants at least to begin that project. Popular histories of Alberta give short shrift to the contributions of churches and people of faith. Often, those histories see our contributions limited to the work of early missionaries.
An underground stream
We see faith as the underground stream that, while unseen, gives life to so much of that which is seen. Education, politics, health care and social services in Alberta would not be what they are if not for the life given to them by people of faith.
Society has evolved much over the last 40 or so years. Congregations of religious women no longer run our hospitals and work in our schools. Government plays a much larger role in all spheres of society. While our institutions and our ideas of human rights invariably have Christian roots, the Christian voice is now widely regarded as suspect. It is seen as an imposition of one point of view rather than as an aid to the fullest human development.
What does the future hold? To the extent that Alberta's religious roots are ignored, our society will become impoverished. Our institutions will become increasingly bureaucratic, less attentive to the spark of divine life in every person. Alberta would make a serious mistake by turning its back on God and on the churches.
The churches too hold a responsibility for the future. The renewal urged on us by the Second Vatican Council has been so slow to take root and blossom. Our future, no doubt, will be that of the leaven in the dough, not that of a dominating power. Faithful Catholics and Christians are becoming a small minority.
Although we are a minority, we can still be a potent force. The leaven, properly nurtured, always helps the dough to rise to something much greater than it can attain by its own devices. We can work within the system to transform it.
Our future, however, cannot be neatly described with one metaphor. As well as being the leaven in the dough, we must swim against the prevailing current. Our values - especially regarding human life and the family - are more and more at odds with those of secular culture. And while we work to be the tiny substance that transforms, we must also - to be true to ourselves - be something apart from the big blob of society.
Institutions have been our past. They have been a major way we contributed to the building up of Alberta. They will be part of our future too. We will continue to contribute as we can.
Voice in the wilderness
Another way will also be part of our future. We will be the voice in the wilderness, the voice that says "no" to those aspects of contemporary society that deny life. We will be a mustard seed community that starts new things whose values are in stark variance with those of the prevailing culture.
This will be a community deeply rooted in prayer and fellowship and study and service. It will be a sign of contradiction, a sign to which some will be drawn because they see life in the mustard seed that they do not see in the wider society.
The forebears that we salute in this issue probably did not expect things would go this way. But we are načve if, when celebrating the contributions of the past, we do not also look forward, with hope, to a much different future.
- Glen Argan
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