Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 3, 2005
St. Michael blessed with 100 years
Tiny parish presses on into 2nd century
By JOHN ZALEWSKI
Special to the WCR
Just as Albertans are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the province so many local faith communities are marking their centennials.
In the hamlet of St. Michael, population 39, that celebration occurred Sept. 25 when Archbishop Emeritus Joseph MacNeil and several priests joined with a congregation of 450 to pay respect to the pioneers who built the church and community.
The name for this community, whose post office opened in August 1923, is taken from the name of the local Polish Roman Catholic church - St. Michael the Archangel.
While many of the early settlers in the region were Polish - Joseph Dziwenka, Bartlomiej Pruss, Adlbert Tymkow, Michal Jakubowski, Niceta Jakubow, Nick Staskow, Jow Sobkow, John Kucy and Nick Adamyk - there were not known as Poles to Canadian authorities. Because Poland did not exist on the maps of the world, those newcomers were registered as Russians, Germans or Galicians.
There was not much difference between Poles and their neighbours, as they were living friendly in the old country, and so it remained in Alberta. They all spoke Ukrainian, as they did in Galicia.
They were happy to be in their new land with freedom and opportunity to keep their language and, most important for them, the great Catholic faith and strong family values.
One of the first chapels the Polish immigrants built in Alberta was at St. Michael, 90 kms northeast of Edmonton. They started in 1901 and by the fall of 1905 the basic work was completed. Father Francis Olszewski said the first Mass in the chapel, which was dedicated the next year by Bishop Emile Legal to St. John Kantius (Jan Kanty), a Polish saint.
The present church was built in 1915, and includes paintings by famed local artist Peter Lipinsky. Local families donated other religious paintings in the church in the early 20th century.
At the Sept. 25 celebration, Chris Klita, chairman of St. Michael parish council, took people a little bit back to the past of this church. When:
"The pulpit was used, the choir was in the choir loft, midnight Mass was celebrated at midnight, the main altar was a main altar, south of the church was a cow pasture that Kucys walked through to get to church, we held annual bingos and socials, the rectory was used for a priest, we had at least 10 altar servers during a Mass, and people went to the church rain or shine or winter blizzards."
In those days, the church was full every Sunday, not only at Easter or Christmas, Klita recalled.
While the parish community is small, it escaped closure in the late 1990s when the Transformation of Parishes in the archdiocese led to the closure of many parishes. St. Michael is now served from Fort Saskatchewan.
In recent years, said Klita, the parish has replaced the church roof, added lightning rods, painted the church, built a wheelchair ramp, put in two new furnaces and church doors, and repaired the church after a lightning strike in 2003.
Future plans include replacing the front steps of the church and building a garden in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
After the Mass, a procession to the nearby cemetery took place to pay respect to pioneers and their families.