WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ
Fr. Len Gartner, currently pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Wainwright, was ordained May 28, 1961.
WAINWRIGHT - After five decades of priesthood, Father Len Gartner is still grateful God chose him to look after his flock.
"Being a priest is the deepest privilege," says the pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish. "It's a privilege I haven't fully grasped yet. I'm still trying to understand the great gift, the wonder of the gift."
Gartner, 75, has served as a priest in the Edmonton Archdiocese since 1961. He will retire from active ministry Aug. 17.
Parishioners, family and friends will mark the 50th anniversary of his ordination with a Mass and reception the last weekend of May.
Describing the priesthood as "a wonderful gift to the world," Gartner says he has enjoyed the opportunity to proclaim Jesus for the past half century. And given the chance, he says he would do it all again.
"I'm happy and I'm fulfilled as a priest," he says. "It's a great privilege to preach the word, to be a teacher and to preside at Mass and the sacraments."
Born in Cosine, Sask., Gartner was the second youngest child in a farm family of eight. His family loved the Church and had a tremendous respect for priests and the priesthood. The Gartners prayed together, played together and worked together and never missed Mass, even though they had to travel three-and-a-half miles to the church.
"My vocation was nurtured in my family and in the faith community," he maintains. "It came early in life by way of example."
His one grandmother was an extraordinary Catholic woman and one of his aunts was a religious sister.
The Gartners moved to Alberta when Gartner was seven and he went to school in Daysland. Msgr. Lyons, his pastor, was a good role model who stirred priestly thoughts in the young boy. By the time he hit Grade 5 Gartner knew he wanted to be a priest.
His childhood dream started taking shape when he did Grades 11 and 12 with the Franciscans in Edmonton. From high school he went to St. Joseph Seminary for six years and was ordained in Daysland May 28, 1961 at the age of 25.
Since then Gartner has served in Trochu, St. Joseph's Basilica, St. Pius X, Evansburg, Lacombe, St. Clare, Sherwood Park, Camrose and missions, and Good Shepherd. In 2001 he returned to St. Joseph's Basilica. He has been at Wainwright for the past three years.
"I feel very positive, very thankful that I was called to the priesthood," he says. "Fifty years is a long time but God has given me health and great opportunities to serve as a priest, a vocation that is so treasured by the Church."
In the past 50 years the world and the Church have changed dramatically and Gartner has adapted accordingly.
"I was ordained when Mass was offered in Latin and I offered Mass in Latin from 1961 to 1965. And then there was a major change (with the Second Vatican Council)," he observes.
"The Church before Vatican II was wonderful but for me the Church of Vatican II has always been a very exciting Church because it involves the laity and I have been privileged to do collaborative ministry with people."
Gartner seemed puzzled when asked about the sorrows of his vocation and said when he became a priest he accepted the whole package, joys and sorrows included.
Priests, of course, are always on call and sometimes get called late at night.
For Gartner, however, that's a privilege. "That's very much part of the work and I've never regretted being called at night or doing something exceptional for another person. Jesus told us to wash one another's feet."
Nevertheless, there are certain things that unsettle this gentle priest, though not terminally. One of them is that many people do not appreciate the faith as they should.
"We have so many choices that their faith perhaps becomes secondary. Our culture is very challenging for young people. The culture of hockey is powerful to the point they play hockey on Sunday for most of the year.
"But I'm encouraged by the many faithful, competent lay people who are so willing to do the work of Christ."
Gartner says he has had a positive experience in every parish he has served. "I've never left a parish with a negative feeling. Every parish is the beauty of God's people."
Blessed Sacrament, however, is unique in that it has a well-developed laity, three Catholic schools and an exceptional history. "Wainwright has a long history that's rich in faith."