WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ
Parishioners who keep Viking's Holy Heart of Mary Parish flourishing include Jean Klontz, left, Eileen Cunningham, Betty Lutz, Olga Chomik.
One of the biggest challenges Holy Heart of Mary Parish has faced in the last century has been the loss of its resident pastor in the late 1980s.
"It was a huge loss," recalls parish leader Eileen Cunningham. "You always suffer when you don't have a resident priest because Father is (now) too busy and he can't be here for all our spiritual functions."
But as Cunningham puts it, Holy Heart is a parish full of zeal that adapted well.
Disheartened as parishioners were at the loss of their resident priest, they kept sight of what is important.
Today, as they mark Holy Heart's 100th anniversary, they report they have a solid, vibrant Catholic community in this farming town of 1,000 people.
"You know, all our ministries in our church are active," says Cunningham. "We must have a dozen (ministries)."
First church built for only $2,325
VIKING — Holy Heart of Mary Parish is 100 years old but its history goes back to March 1903, when the first Mass was celebrated at the J.C. Hennesey home by Father Bernie of Vegreville.
Viking’s first priest, Father Horace Steinmetz, came from France in 1911. The building of the church began that year and was compl eted in 1912 at a cost of $2,325. A rectory was constructed later for $300.
Steinmetz went back to France in 1922 and was replaced by Father Francis Rockwood, who remained pastor until 1928, when he died of a heart attack during a curling bonspiel.
The CWL began in 1923. “These ladies held bake sales and bazaars, donating monies to different charitable organizations,” relates the parish’s history book. “The ladies also organized the Rozmahel picnics, which included a delicious dinner, bingo, baseball, raffles, races and other games.”
A total of 16 priests have served at Holy Heart, each making a unique contribution. Father Augustine Hickey, who came to Viking in 1952, was involved not only in parish life, but also coached boy’s hockey and baseball teams.
The present church was built in 1967 with Father Stanley Zenko as pastor. In 1969, also under Zenko’s tenure, the Knights of Columbus was launched. They continue to hold pancake breakfasts and support many local charities, organizations and community events.
In the late 1980s Viking lost its resident pastor, Father Larry Pederson, who served the area from 1989 to 1998. Pederson ministered to five parishes — Tofield, Ryley, Holden, Viking and Irma — from Holden, which was more central. However, his pastoral assistant, a religious sister, continued to live in Viking.
In 2000, Holy Heart of Mary was merged with the parishes of Holden and Vegreville, with the pastor living in Vegreville.
“(Some in Vegreville) consider us a mission, but we consider ourselves equally important as Vegreville,” says Eileen Cunningham, chair of the centennial committee. “We are a full-fledged parish with our own independent pastoral council.”
The list includes a successful catechism program, adult ministry education, music ministry, interdenominational youth ministry, pastoral care ministry, lectors, hospitality, social justice and membership in the Viking Ministerial Association.
"This is a dynamic, upbeat parish," remarks parish pastoral council chair Betty Lutz. Many of the 110 families who call Holy Heart home are involved in its life one way or another. Some even go house-to-house visiting the un-churched.
Even seniors who joined the parish 50 or 60 years ago still participate. For instance, Jean Klontz, who has been participating since her marriage in 1948, still brings baked goods to meetings and social functions.
"This parish is our life," the 85-year-old says. "I've tried to involve myself in everything they do."
Klontz' two daughters were baptized and confirmed in the church and the older one was married there. Klontz also served as treasurer of the CWL.
She recalls being well received in the parish but said in those years "priests were much stricter" and sermons were much more daunting than now.
In the early years, the meetings of the Catholic Women's League had to be held in members' homes because the old church was too small and too cold.
Now there is no CWL at Holy Heart but Klontz and other women in the parish still do as much as they did when the CWL was in place in the mid-1980s.
"The church was very important to us and still is," says Olga Chomik, a parishioner since 1953. "In this parish everybody gets along; if there is something to do, they just get with it and do it."
WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ
The parish purchased this Italian madonna as an anniversary gift.
Klontz and Chomik, two of the longest serving parishioners, will be among the guests of honour at the parish's centennial celebrations June 19.
About 250 people, including Premier Ed Stelmach and several former pastors, are expected to attend the event, which will include a Mass with Archbishop Richard Smith followed by a banquet.
The archbishop is expected to bless a statue of Mary that the parish brought from Italy at a cost of $6,000 to commemorate the centennial. The statue will be placed in a garden outside the church's main entrance.
Father Nilo Macapinlac, the region's pastor since 2007, celebrates Saturday evening Mass in Viking. He also visits the parish on Thursdays. Once a month, Macapinlac presides over a youth Mass.
The priest is impressed with the energy of the parish, especially with the singing. "Everybody sings from the pews," Macapinlac notes. "They are very singing people."
He is also impressed with the social justice projects Holy Heart supports through the Viking Ministerial Association. He mentioned the building of houses for the poor in Mexico and the financial support young people give annually to the poor of Edmonton's inner city and to an orphanage in Bolivia.