Generations of devoted Mundare parishioners filled Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church to celebrate their parish's centennial.

RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Generations of devoted Mundare parishioners filled Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church to celebrate their parish's centennial./h3>

September 14, 2015
RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

The picturesque little church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Mundare has stood largely empty since it closed some 15 years ago.

But on Aug. 30, it was standing room only as the community gathered to mark the parish's 100th anniversary.

Almost 200 people showed up for the Mass, many of them children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the early pioneers. Some had to sit outside under a protective canopy to hear the Mass.

The mood was festive, with people dressed in their best attire for the occasion. Auxiliary Bishop Gregory Bittman welcomed the faithful telling them jokingly that "For 100 years, you still look pretty good."

In his remarks, the bishop paid homage to the parish's first believers and those that have followed them.

Immediately following the Mass, people processed to the cemetery for the blessing of the graves. After that, a banquet was held at the Mundare Recreation Centre.

Visiting the graves was former parishioner Helen Kisilevich, who spent her childhood in Mundare. She has countless relatives buried in the parish's graveyard, including her husband and her parents.

"We all lived here. After my father died, my mother moved to Vegreville," she recalled. "I love this place. I liked that Mass today. It was so good."

YEARS OF FAITH

Ed Kucheraway, who was visiting the "old timers" at the cemetery, is also fond of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish. The 80-year-old farmer lives in the Krakow area, the first Polish settlement in Alberta.

He started to attend Mass at OLPH after the archdiocese closed the Krakow church in the late 1950s.

"When they closed this one in 2000, we started to go to Vegreville," he said.

Priests attended the 100th anniversary Mass at OLPH in Mundare.

RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Priests attended the 100th anniversary Mass at OLPH in Mundare.

Celebrating the centennial of the Mundare parish is a good thing because it brings the people together, Kucheraway said. "There are people that we've never met who came for the celebration today."

The church has a lot of meaning for Kucheraway who married here in 1962. His five children were all baptized and confirmed at Our Lady of Perpetual Help. "As a place of worship, this church means a lot to me," he said. "It's is a sad thing that they closed it."

Peter Dziwenka was born and raised in Mundare and still farms north of the town. He attended catechism classes in the summer at OLPH church and served as altar boy back in the 1960s.

He was married in the church in 1979, and his four children were baptized and confirmed there. Two of his children also married in the church.

"Lots of memories here," Dziwenka whispers. "It's is a very special occasion to celebrate 100 years with a church that's still in such good shape."

The church is well looked after by a handful of local families, including Dziwenka and his brother Lloyd.

"We all come as members (of the parish) and do what has to be done," he said. "In 1985 they did this major renovation on the outside, painted the whole church, and they hired somebody to do the roof."

Since the parish was closed, the church has only held once-a-year cemetery services, lamented Dziwenka. "What do you do?

"They said there weren't enough priests so we have to go to Vegreville now for Sunday Mass. But that's okay too."

SPIRITUAL NEEDS

The history of the parish dates back to 1900 when the early pioneers came from eastern and central Europe. The new immigrants settled in an area north of Beaverhill Lake, 100 kms east of Edmonton.

The homesteads were farmed by many people of Ukrainian and Polish descent.

To meet the newcomers' spiritual needs, the Edmonton Archdiocese sent out its first Polish diocesan priest, Father Francis Olszewski. He arrived in 1900.

The priest chose Krakow, a community about 13 km northwest of Mundare, to build a small convent and a chapel.

When the Canadian Northern Railway came through the district in 1906, Mundare was established.

The village's population boomed and became a hub for immigrants from Galicia, a region which straddles the current border between Ukraine and Poland.

In 1910, the Ukrainian Basilian Fathers completed St. Peter and Paul Church, whose beautiful dome dominated the village.

Roman Catholics also wanted a church and in 1914 set up a building committee. They bought six acres of land for a church and cemetery funded by donated money.

Construction of the church building began in the spring of 1915. The cornerstone was laid and blessed by Father Hippolyte Leduc of St. Albert, in the presence of Father Paul Kulawy, the first pastor, on July 4, 1915.

The church's interior was finished in 1919. Archbishop Henry Joseph O'Leary visited the Mundare area Sept. 14, 1921, and blessed the church, dedicating it to Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

MAGNIFICENT PAINTINGS

The colourful paintings on the walls of the sanctuary were finished in 1940 by famous Ukrainian church painter Peter Lipinski.

About 20 priests served OLPH from its inception until 2000, when it was amalgamated with Vegreville.

No services are held at the church, except for a once-a-year blessing of the graves and the occasional wedding or funeral. Most parishioners travel to the nearby St. Martin of Tours Church in nearby Vegreville for Sunday Mass.

"There is still a lot of pride in the (Mundare) parish for their church and for the heritage and the history that's there, which is good," said Schumacher, the Vegreville pastor.