Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
September 20, 2010
St. Thomas d'Aquin celebrates 50 Yearse
Southside parish serves as focal point, passionate heart of French-speaking community
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
After 50 years, St. Thomas d'Aquin Parish continues to be the centre of life for francophones on Edmonton's southside.
Some 400 people, many of them young couples with children, attended the 50th anniversary Mass and picnic at the Bonnie Doon area church Sept. 12.
Archbishop Richard Smith and St. Thomas d'Aquin pastor, Father Raymond Sevigny, presided at the Mass with help from two former pastors and several representatives of the first founders.
Pioneers in attendance were honoured and given a corsage. At the end of the Mass, elementary students from several francophone schools distributed souvenirs to the congregation, a special pen and a bookmark with a picture of St. Thomas d'Aquin on the front and a prayer to St. Thomas on the back.
St. Thomas d'Aquin, located at 8410-89 St., is at the heart of the city's French Quarter, which includes Faculté Saint Jean and many francophone institutions and services.
In the past few years, health services and housing for francophone seniors have been built around the parish which has increased its seniors' population. Also, many immigrant families from French-speaking countries in Africa have made St. Thomas their home.
"There is certainly a demographic change taking place, particularly with the migration mainly from Africa," noted Sevigny, who has served as pastor for more than two decades. "We have more seniors because of a health care centre that opened a couple of years ago."
The parish is also home to many young couples with children and has an active group of young people who are currently fundraising to participate at World Youth Day in Madrid next year.
"This is quite a vibrant and alive parish with many talented people" and a strong core of volunteers," Sevigny said. "There is very good involvement, a lot of volunteer work."
Parishioners are involved on committees for activities such as music ministry, liturgy preparation, sacramental preparation, social justice and Third World development through the Catholic Organization for Development and Peace. There is also an active council of the Knights of Columbus.
Even though St. Thomas d'Aquin doesn't have a Catholic Women's League council, the ladies of the parish are deeply involved in all aspects of parish life.
Archbishop John Hugh MacDonald established St. Thomas d'Aquin back in 1960 because there was a need for another francophone parish, says Sister Alice Trottier, who wrote a book in French on the history of the parish. "St. Joachim, the first francophone parish, was a bit distant for the people."
René Blais, Francois Baillargen and Germain Desaulniers led the first 12 families that organized the parish. Today, 400 families make St. Thomas their home.
The first church was located in the chapel of Faculté Saint Jean.
In 1980, the growing parish built its own church for 350 people at a cost of $700,000. Offices and a hall with a commercial kitchen were added to the building in late 1992 at a cost of about $500,000.
"I think this is a vibrant parish with lots of cooperation," noted Trottier. "People work well together."
Maurice Gaudet, a KofC member who led the 50th anniversary festivities, agreed with Trottier. "It's a very vibrant parish and you will see that by the number of young couples with children that attend church," he said.
"We have different committees organizing liturgy and baptismal preparation and marriage preparation and Confirmation and Reconciliation."
What makes St. Thomas unique is its community aspect, continued Gaudet. "Everybody knows each other; most of us live in the French Quarter in Bonnie Doon and because we know each other, we are always ready to help, to go to funerals or weddings or Confirmations or what have you. So it's a very active parish and very community-oriented."
Joel Cadrin, 23, has been a member of the parish since he was a child and enjoys the perks that come with it.
"I know pretty much everybody and (almost) everybody knows me," he said. "It's a very tight-knit community so everybody is interested in what everybody is doing. There is a lot of support. It's kind of a big family. I feel at home here."
Cadrin, a third year student of biological sciences at Faculté Saint Jean, and one of his three sisters are among 12 young people from St. Thomas who will attend World Youth Day 2011.
LIVE IN FRENCH
Gisele Rheault, parish secretary for the past two years, consciously chose St. Thomas d'Aquin eight years ago when she came to Edmonton from Ontario.
"For me, it was important to pray in French because I'd lived in French all my life in Ontario and I definitely wanted to live in French in Alberta," Rheault explained.
"I knew there were other French parishes and I went to others, but when I came here, I knew I belonged. It's very family-oriented, it's dynamic, it's a very resourceful parish and I know I have my place here to try to contribute as much as I can to do my share."
The 50-year celebration will continue Oct. 3, when a play depicting the history of the parish will be presented at the church at 3:30 p.m.
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