Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 22, 2008
Beiseker pioneers put priority on church
Catholics today benefit from commitment made 100 years ago
By JEANNETTE RICHTER
Special to the WCR
On a sunny spring day in 1908, eight German-speaking families from North Dakota disembarked from a train at Crossfield.
Their destination lay east, over the rolling prairie to the future town of Beiseker where they had bought land at $13 an acre the previous year. With them they brought horses, cows, pigs, chickens, ploughs, household goods, one dog, Queenie, and 48 children.
In December 1907, Father Forget, a priest from Carstairs, had travelled 50 km on a small sleigh to visit the family of Ludwig and Julianna Schmaltz. He celebrated the first Mass before a makeshift altar in their front room.
The Schmaltzs came out to welcome the new settlers.
The newcomers had much to do. Barns that accommodated animals as well as people had to be constructed quickly and the land prepared for cultivation.
During this desperate drive to establish themselves, the founding families still managed to build a church. It was completed in 1910. In 1914, a rectory was built.
As no priest was assigned, the parishioners met to pray the rosary, sing German hymns and chant vespers in Latin.
In 1924, Father McQuaid was appointed to St. Mary’s. In 1944, the rectory was destroyed by fire and with it all the records of the past. A new rectory was rebuilt and ready for use in the fall.
The first church was located at the site of the present cemetery, northwest of town. As the old church had been enlarged twice to accommodate the growing parish and it was impossible to do more, construction started on a larger church on a new site within the village.
Parishioners volunteered labour, material and equipment. The beautiful church was built for $100,000 and was debt-free when Bishop Carroll blessed it in 1956.
Priests from St. Mary’s have ministered to Catholic congregations in Carbon, and Swalwell. In 1995, the parish was twinned with St. Rita’s in Rockyford. As well, St. Mary’s welcomes Beiseker residents and other denominations seeking a large venue for weddings and funerals.
Over the years, the social, spiritual and economic life of St. Mary’s has been sustained by the strong participation of its men and women.
The Catholic Women’s League, chartered in 1930, still boasts a small, faithful membership of devoted women. The Knights of Columbus, founded in 1951 and named after Father McQuaid, continue to support the church.
Expanding from 140 registered parishioners in 1956, to a high of 450 in 1972, St. Mary’s present membership is 150.
Since 1999, the parish has seen a small increase in the number of parishioners. This has brought hope that St. Mary’s will continue as a testament of the courage and faith of the immigrants who built the first church a century ago.
The parish of St. Mary’s, Beiseker, celebrated its 100th anniversary Sept. 7. An assembly of 500 packed the church as eight clergy participated in a concelebrated Mass led by Bishop Frederick Henry.
Former parishioners, old friends and supporters had returned to celebrate with the descendants of the founding families, the glorious achievement of 100 years of faith.