Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
May 10, 2010
After 156 years, Oblates end service to St. Joachim's
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON - The Oblate Fathers planted the cross in the Edmonton area more than a century and a half ago.
Since 1854, they have continued to serve the city's oldest church, St. Joachim. Aging in years and declining in numbers, the Oblates finally handed over responsibility for the parish to the archdiocese Feb. 1.
To give thanks to the Oblates for their 156 years of leadership and service in the parish, a Mass was held May 2.
"It's joyful and yet it's also a sad celebration in the sense that our parish has to change," said Sister Delores Dery, former administrator. "The Oblates are not getting any younger and they're not getting any more members. Of course, they need to have French members in order to serve here, so we have to accept that. But change is always a bit difficult."
Dery came to St. Joachim Parish in 1991, and served there until the end of January this year. Whenever she had trouble with something at the church or in her daily life, she relied on the Oblates for assistance.
"I would always call the Oblates my older brothers. Here, for my work, they were my counsellors, and if I needed help with anything I could talk to them. It was good to have them," she said.
Whether longtime parishioners or strangers entering St. Joachim Church for the first time, all those who enter find serenity within its walls.
Being the city's first church and with its beautiful stained glass windows, St. Joachim's was intended as the cathedral for the Edmonton Archdiocese, but the building was too small. While it is not the mother church anymore, it will always be the founding church.
"These young couples getting married phone in and say they're looking for a church. When they come in, they say, 'Wow!' Yes, this is the wow church. We celebrated the 100th anniversary in 1999," said Dery.
She has reason to marvel at her church's beauty, and parishioners speak of the church with pride. St. Joachim's has the architectural appeal of a classical church with front doors that, when opened, frame a white marbled sanctuary. Dark wooden columns on both sides of the church stretch upward, hovering over the matching pews and give the aura of a cathedral ceiling.
The history of St. Joachim Church dates to 1854 when Father Albert Lacombe converted a small building within Fort Edmonton into a chapel. Bishop Alexander Taché later named Edmonton's first church. Since the mission at Lac Ste. Anne was named after the Virgin Mary's mother, some parishioners suspect that is the reason the Edmonton church was named after Mary's father.
In January 1877, the church was rebuilt at 121st Street and Jasper Avenue, on nine acres of land donated by Malcolm Groat. It was under the guidance of its first resident priest, Father Henri Grandin. A third St. Joachim's Church was completed in 1886.
With the city growing rapidly, in the summer of 1898 construction of the existing church at 9920-110 St. began. The church was unmistakably Roman Catholic in design, using interior wood panelling and the use of side pinnacles, more common of Quebec architecture.
For almost 50 years, St. Joachim's was the only Catholic church in the area, serving both the French and English populations. Not until 1901 were St. Anthony's and St. Joseph's churches established, which attracted English-speaking parishioners. By 1925, St. Joachim had become a solely francophone parish.
St. Joachim's was designated a provincial historic resource in 1978.
Yvon Mahe has been the pastoral assistant of the parish since Feb. 1, the same day they found a new parish priest, Father Félix Kusamba. Mahe said the parish is vibrant, serving as the spiritual home to an estimated 500 families.
"There's a new type of parishioner that's arriving here. There are a lot of francophone immigrant families coming here from Africa and elsewhere. That is a change in the parish," Mahe told the WCR.
NO FEAR OF CLOSURE
There is no fear of closure because the parish has great historical significance and serves many older francophone people in the neighbourhood. Next door to the church is a French manor for senior citizens.
"Some couples, once they have raised their children, leave the suburbs and move downtown. So that's a new phenomenon now too, occurring over the last 10 years at the most," he said.
"Then there are a lot of retired people. St. Joachim has got a lot of old francophone families. Their children have gone away, but the parents remain."
Presiding at the Mass, Archbishop Richard Smith said that, like the Oblates, the Church today must find new ways to communicate effectively the truth of the Gospel.
The current task is no less daunting than that facing the early Oblates, he said.
"Today, our circumstances are different. We are preaching not in the wilderness of the undeveloped Prairies, but in the desert of the underdeveloped conscience and in the wasteland of society of which God has eclipsed.
"At the same time though, the challenges we face are in many ways the same," said Smith.
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