Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
May 3, 2010
Wainwright takes pride in 100 years of Catholic witness
From humble beginnings, parish has grown to offer full gamut of ministries and strong commitment to justice
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
WAINWRIGHT - Missionary priests followed the railway lines from Edmonton all the way to Francour, Sask. In between lay Wainwright, a farming settlement named after William Wainwright, second vice-president of the Grand Trunk Pacific.
An early missionary was so delighted with the Catholic response to the budding rail town that Bishop Emile Legal dispatched a group of Sacred Heart Fathers from France in 1910 to minister to the community. There were only 15 Catholic families at the time.
But life was hard and, for a time, Father Lemaire, the pastor of the new St. Luke's Parish, lived in a tiny lean-to at the back of the wood chapel. His quarters were bitterly cold in winter. Lemaire never complained. When he ran out of food, he harvested edible wild plants.
After the First World War, the congregation grew a little and a new six-metre extension was added to the chapel.
Father Mark Murphy succeeded Lemaire in 1926. Known for his zeal in building chapels, Murphy built four chapels in four communities during his four years in the area.
A new era began with the appointment as pastor of Father Hugo Doyle in 1931. He brought the first contingent of Sisters of St. Joseph to the area. The sisters operated a boarding school in Wainwright until Blessed Sacrament School was built in the mid-1930s.
During Doyle's tenure, a new church - named Blessed Sacrament - replaced the original wood structure.
The current church, a modern facility with a seating capacity of about 450, was built in 1968 during the tenure of Father Frank Stempfle, who arrived in Wainwright in 1964.
"You can justifiably take great pride in this century of history, knowing that the grace of God was a constant source of strength for the pioneers of the area, just as it was for their descendants and is for all of us today," Archbishop Richard Smith said in his message to the 250-family parish, which is marking its centennial.
Parishioners marked the centennial with several activities, starting April 23 with a meet-and-greet wine and cheese gathering at the parish hall hosted by the staff of Blessed Sacrament School.
On April 24 Archbishop Smith concelebrated Mass with Father Leonard Gartner, the pastor for the past two years, and several former pastors, including Fathers Don Boudreau and Francis Stempfle. The blessing of Blessed Sacrament's centennial Bell Tower, preceded the 5 p.m. Mass.
Some 300 people attended an evening banquet at the Elks' Hall, which featured students from Blessed Sacrament School presenting sketches representing the parish history.
The celebration continued Sunday, April 25, with a 10:30 a.m. Mass featuring, among other things, the handbell group of Blessed Sacrament School.
Several priests assisted Gartner. Representing the founding congregation of Sacred Heart priests was Father Wayne Jenkins. Several Sisters of St. Joseph of Peterborough also attended.
Instead of delivering a homily, Gartner allowed priests and sisters to reminisce about their time in Wainwright.
Boudreau, who served in the early 1970s and now lives in Nova Scotia, said there was little social life in Wainwright at the time. There was only one theatre and no MacDonald's, no Tim Hortons and no WalMart.
People spent their leisure time attending sessions in the courthouse. One time he ended up in court following a car accident and still recalls the not-so-friendly looks he got from the audience.
VOCATION TO SERVE
In an interview after the Mass, Gartner described parishioners as disciples of Jesus with a vocation of service. The parish has made many contributions towards social justice, he said. "They have a history of lay involvement since Vatican II. They excel in lay involvement."
Emery Pinkoski and his wife Margaret have been parishioners since 1954. "The community was very welcoming," he recalls, saying it was the parish's friendly attitude that led he and his wife to a lifetime of involvement.
He quickly joined the Knights of Columbus and later served as school trustee for many years. The 82-year-old retired tradesman still does small carpentry projects in the church. Margaret, for her part, has been playing the organ at church since they arrived.
Luella Becher, chair of the 100th anniversary committee, has been a member of Blessed Sacrament since 1966. "We have seen the parish grow and I must say the faithful of the parish have been wonderful over the years," she said. "Most parishioners are involved in some way."
She underlined the parish's strong focus on social justice projects. Since the early 1990s it has raised more than $156,000 for projects in countries such as Brazil, Nicaragua and Afghanistan.
"The parish and the school are still vibrant," noted Rita Pare, a retired teacher and a member of the 100th anniversary committee. "We have a lot of young families and we have Sunday liturgy for children. And we have active councils of the Catholic Women's League and the Knights of Columbus."
Margaret Baynham, a greeter, said Blessed Sacrament doesn't forget those who have left. "Everybody is working hard to try to bring back fallen away Catholics, especially young people."
Blessed Sacrament is "very welcoming" to young people like Emily Hay, 18. "I'm involved in many things in the parish and everybody is happy to see me," Hay said, noting at least four more young people her age are involved in parish ministries. "I like it here."
"This is a very welcoming parish with a lot of projects for the kids," added Debbie Enstrom, a mother of four and music teacher at the school. "We are blessed to have a strong faith family."
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.