Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of July 23, 2007
Belgian brothers Sacrificed to bring faith to S. Alberta
Van Tighem brothers tell of their lives during provinces 'savage times'
By BILL GLEN
Then: "Most of the newcomers are Protestants or very lax Catholics and, as many of them surpass even pagans in immorality, I fear for the poor Indians. I have not sufficient priests to cope with the situation, particularly as the Protestant ministers are now coming in great numbers."
Culture clashes were developing between the European immigrants and the indigenous people who practised polygamy.
Leonard began studying for the priesthood in St. Albert and on March 19, 1883, he was ordained by Bishop Grandin. He was dispatched to Macleod in 1884 where he and fellow Oblates - Fathers Albert Lacombe and Emile Legal - became the first Roman Catholic pioneers of southern Alberta, establishing a number of parishes and schools.
Legal would go on to become the second bishop of St. Albert and first archbishop of Edmonton.
Father Leonard witnessed the births of Lethbridge and Pincher Creek. He travelled to a number of parishes, including St. Patrick's in Lethbridge, which he helped establish.
On May 1, 1895, he wrote: "The Reverend Father Lacombe, after an absence of about three years, paid a flying visit to Lethbridge, arriving yesterday with a four-horse team. He departed this morning. This visit, short as it was, pleased the Father and Sisters of Lethbridge.
Where would Father Lacombe not be welcomed?"
Victor's arrival in the Macleod area in 1886 saw that the "Indian population" had been "fenced" in reserves since 1877 (Treaty 7) and the rights of Catholics to separate schools were recognized. The book states, however, "schooling was in the first place a strategy to convert, not to teach children."
"Victor was a very humble man who wasn't well educated," Eggermont-Molenaar said.
Victor noted on March 22, 1890, the deaths of the Peigan and Blackfoot chiefs who died within weeks of each other.
"Father Doucet is so fortunate to have baptized (Blackfoot Chief Crowfoot) before his death. Crowfoot was a brave man and venerated among the whites as well as the savages."
Eggermont-Molenaar says that what she has garnered from her extensive research is that the Van Tighems learned as much as they taught. Victor, particularly, came to appreciate the spirituality of the First Nations people.
"Victor cursed them as savages, but he would later sit with them, having become best friends," she said. "That's what struck me the most about them."
Copies of Missionaries among Miners, Migrants and Blackfoot are available by calling the University of Calgary bookstore at 1-877-220-5937.
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