The Sacred Heart choir sang familiar hymns during the Mass.


The Sacred Heart choir sang familiar hymns during the Mass.

November 5, 2012

For all of the people who supported their ventures, prayed and worshipped with them, and kept the faith alive at Sacred Heart Parish in Edson for the past century, Oct. 27 was an evening to celebrate. The town has been richly blessed and well-served by many amiable priests, the Sisters of Service and the Catholic schools.

"This parish, for 100 years, has been a place of faith where you encounter the Lord, grow in your faith, grow in your love for him, grow in your knowledge of the teaching of the Church, and also where you evangelize, and share with others the Good News and the joy that we have in Christ," said Archbishop Richard Smith, presiding over a celebratory Mass for the parish's 100th anniversary.

More than 200 guests, mostly parishioners and clergy from the church's past and present, celebrated the anniversary at a 5 p.m. Mass, followed by a banquet in the church basement.


St. Mary's 100th anniversary coincides with the jubilee of the Edmonton Archdiocese. A brief presentation about the parish history, shown in pictures and commentary, highlighted some accomplishments.

The Sisters of Service arrived in Edson in 1926, and set up the first hospital. The Catholic Women's League was established in 1948, and Knights of Columbus in 1956, with both groups continuing to play integral roles in parish, school and community life today.

Redemptorist priests spent 36 years in the west-central region, serving not only in Edson but also in Jasper, Mayerthorpe, Hinton and other neighbouring hamlets, including Cadomin and Marlboro.

Among the many popular pastors in Sacred Heart's past was Father George Gunnip who served there for 21 years. More recently it has had Fathers Edward Kennedy, Patrick Baska, Andrzej Lukaszewicz and currently Joselito Cantal.

A display table included various artifacts, including a history of the Sisters of Service and a history of the parish.


A display table included various artifacts, including a history of the Sisters of Service and a history of the parish.

Kennedy shared many humorous anecdotes of his time there. He said that all of the Redemptorists who served in Edson and have since died are buried in Edmonton, with the exception of Gunnip.

"Our graves in Yorkton, Winnipeg and Saskatoon, we moved to Edmonton, in order to have one plot for the West. Gunnip didn't like that idea. In his will, he said, 'I don't trust them to leave me alone in the ground,'" said Kennedy.


Gunnip, who served in Edson from the mid-1960s until his death in 1985, received a mention in most speeches. He is fondly remembered for teaching catechism, providing meals for young people and successfully campaigning to bring Catholic education to Edson.

"He was respected and loved by all. Father Gunnip was a man of vision, he was dedicated, outgoing and he got things done. He was with us for 21 years, and he was a mover and a shaker," said Gemma Christie, chairperson of Living Waters Catholic Regional Division.

At the first Catholic school in Edson, 225 students were anticipated to enroll. In fact, 351 students showed up. Christie said Gunnip would be proud to see that more than 700 students are now enrolled in Edson's Catholic school system.

"Catholic education is a wonderful gift, and not one to be taken for granted," said Christie.

The community of Edson celebrated its centennial last year. With a population nearing 9,000, Edson lies in the McLeod River valley, immediately east of the foothills. Industries that drive the local economy are resource based - coal, oil, natural gas and forestry products.

Gemma Christie

Gemma Christie

Mayor Greg Pasychny said St. Catherine's Anglican Church celebrated its centennial last year. A song, Bring Us Back Our Bell, was composed for its anniversary. A church bell was blessed in England in 1911, with instructions to send it to Edson for the new church.


"It went by ship, by rail and hauled across Canada to get here. By the time it arrived in Edson, the new church here was the Catholic church, so the bell was delivered there. At their centennial last year, they sang their song, Bring Us Back Our Bell," said Pasychny, joking it's a debt that has gone unpaid for 100 years.

Mary Grant, a longtime parishioner and schoolteacher in Edson, said the parish community has undergone many changes over the past century, but many things have remained constant. First, their faith in God is unchanged. Second, their faith in their fellow parishioners has allowed them, through hard work and dedication, to build new churches, rectories and schools as needed.


"Our faith and belief in ourselves have never changed. We are all on our own personal journeys, but we have stayed near and dear to our church and our Sacred Heart community," said Grant.

In his homily, Smith said Sacred Heart is the local example of the universal Church. In Edson, the community shares in the Church's mission, which is to introduce others to the joy of living in union with Jesus, and thereby restoring sight to those who are morally blind and clarity to those who are confused.

"For 100 years, Sacred Heart Parish has been living out that mission." he said.

Father Brian Inglis, pastor in Hinton, said his Our Lady of the Foothills Parish will hold a Mass Nov. 14 in honour of the Edson parish's centennial.