Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of July 2, 2007
Trochu marks a rich Catholic heritage
Devotion, service parish's hallmarks for 100 years
By BILL GLEN
Sr. Mary Ellen O'Neill
Smith celebrated the centennial Mass, assisted by pastor Father Les Drewicki and Deacon Jim Scott. Former parish priests Fathers Leonard Gartner (1961-62) and John Hesse (1963-67) were on hand along with pastors of several mission churches.
Following Mass, Smith was led away in a horse-drawn buggy to the town hall as a gesture symbolizing the regal arrival of Bishop Emile Legal who came in 1907 to bless the church.
Legal had been met some distance from town and driven to the church "a la Daumont" by three spans of grey horses and a full artillery equipage.
Ken Haggerty has lived in Trochu for 45 years. All of his and wife Maxine's 10 children were baptized and confirmed at St. Anne's.
With Helen Lemay, Haggerty has been instrumental in preserving the parish's archives.
He noted the arrival of the Sisters of Charity in 1909 as an important point in the parish's life.
"What has touched me more than anything is thinking about those brave women who came out here. They were true pioneers," said Haggerty, 65.
His brother, Father Bob Haggerty, was ordained an Oblate priest in St. Anne's in 1971. He currently lives in Lillooet, B.C.
St Anne of the Prairies
Maxine said the day was a moment to be treasured.
"It is such a beautiful church, just like a church in France," she said.
The Sisters of Charity established St. Mary's Hospital in 1911 that remains in use today as an extended-care facility. St. Mary's School became Pontmain Roman Catholic School, which opened in 1914. It was replaced in 1959 with a new building, closing in 1969. It now serves Grades 1-3 in the public school system.
Five members of the Sisters of Charity, including provincial superior Sister Mary Ellen O'Neill, travelled from Edmonton to take in the festivities.
"In my heart today, I had praise and thanksgiving to God. There are wonderful people in this community.
"The sisters have always loved it here," said O'Neill who spent 15 years in Trochu.
The church was designed by the orders' first superior in Trochu, a woman who also drew up the original plans for the hospital.
Trochu was a French army officer and aristocrat, who left France when the government ordered its troops to put religious sisters out of their convents and to disband schools where religion was thought to be taught.
He came to Alberta looking for the ideal spot to establish what became St. Ann's Ranch.
The deBeaudrap family soon established the St. Joan of Arc Ranch nearby. The two sites alternated holding monthly Mass, beginning in June 1905.
In his 50s, Trochu once wrote home that he knew where his strength came from - he prayed the rosary every day. He was certain God would help him find where he could "pitch his tent."
St. Ann's Ranch has become a provincial historic site where Trochu's old letters can be found, Haggerty said.
Father Pierre Bazin, a Tinchebray priest, became the first resident pastor. Building of the first church soon followed. It was blessed by Legal on July 23, 1907, and dedicated to St. Ann of the Plains.
The little church was quickly outgrown. In 1913, a site was selected and construction of a new church began.
The First World War interrupted construction.
An upstairs classroom at Pontmain School was used for worship until 1920 when the basement of the new church was completed.
Construction of the upper part of the church was completed in 1927.
In 1915, parish boundaries were outlined and the church was renamed St. Anne of the Prairies.
Tinchebray priests served the parish until 1924 when priests from the Edmonton Archdiocese took over.
The Catholic faith flourished. Six mission churches were built nearby in Three Hills, Lumni, Delburne, Elnora, Rumsey and Big Valley.
Some are closed because of dwindling numbers, while others are used on occasion.
But Mass continues to be celebrated at St. Anne's every Sunday. The parish still serves the community through the Catholic Women's League and the Knights of Columbus.
"We have catechism programs going on here and in Three Hills, and there is a youth group at St. Anne's," said Kay Frere, pastoral assistant.
"We have been doing the ALPHA program the last two years. It's an active parish."
The work done by the sisters placed the stones for the Catholic faith to build upon, Frere said.
"They put a lot into the health care and education of the community," she said.
"And families have always taken great pride in their churches."
Father Hesse says parish life has remained vibrant because Trochu (the man) had incredible faith and the community has remained true to its heritage.
"It was a good time for me, sharing the joys and sorrows. The strong family bonds have kept the parish vibrant.
"We tried carrying on what the older priests had done, by visiting families every year.
"We each put a lot of miles on our cars - 40,000 miles a year," Hesse remembered.
"Coming back today reminded me that time goes by quickly."
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