Alberta's oldest parish celebrates

St. Albert Church stands proudly on the spot where Fr. Albert Lacombe and Bishop Alexandre Taché decided to launch a new settlement 150 years ago.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

St. Albert Church stands proudly on the spot where Fr. Albert Lacombe and Bishop Alexandre Taché decided to launch a new settlement 150 years ago.

September 12, 2011

Parishioners at St. Albert Parish, conscious of the historic significance of their parish, are marking the 150th jubilee of their parish with a bang.

They have been celebrating monthly since January and will continue celebrating for the remainder of the year.

The parish holds its gala celebration Sept. 11 with an outdoor Mass and a lunch at the grotto behind the church. Almost 650 tickets for the gala have been sold. Archbishop Richard Smith will preside at the Mass.

St. Albert Parish was founded by the legendary Father Albert Lacombe in 1861 and was the seat of the St. Albert Diocese for 41 years.

The church lost its status as the diocese's cathedral in 1912 but its members have retained the vision and the spirit of those that carved it out of the wilderness.

According to Oblate Father Andrzej Stendzina, the pastor for the past nine years, today's parishioners are as committed and dedicated as their ancestors.

"We are basically a people rooted in faith who try very hard to walk in the footsteps of those who came before us," Stendzina says. "We are proud of our heritage."

"This parish is blessed with gifted people who are willing to share their gifts with the community and that's what makes it beautiful," said Laurel Lutes of the 150th anniversary committee.

LAITY CONTINUE THE WORK

"We the laity are continuing the work or charism of the founding communities — the Oblate Fathers and the Grey Nuns."

St. Albert Parish is a vibrant community of 2,000 families. The parish has a growing children's ministry and an active youth group, many of whom attended World Youth Day in Spain last month.

It has a vibrant, growing music ministry and a youth band. There is also a social justice committee that supports and helps staff an annual medical-dental mission to Ecuador and champions other causes closer to home such as affordable housing.

St. Albert Parish is twinned with an Oblate mission in Guatemala and parishioners visit the mission yearly. They also sponsor an orphanage in the country. Two groups recently returned from Guatemala after spending 10 days each working in the orphanage.

Last year the parish, in partnership with the St. Albert Catholic School Division, collected more than 2,000 backpacks for needy children in Guatemala.

"People are involved in all kind of ministries, from the simple ones, like lectors and hospitality, to sacramental prep, pastoral care, social justice issues, adult ed as well as different committees and groups," Stendzina said.

"This is a very active parish community, very socially conscious."

The Oblate pastor also described his parish as a "very welcoming community" and a "very spiritual community."

Parishioner Ray Pinco of the St. Albert Historical Society grew up in the parish and he loves it.

"As I reflect as an adult now, I find that the parish has always been progressive," he said. "That's one of the things that I've noticed. It was one of the first parishes in the diocese to have a parish council after Vatican II."

RENEWING THE CHURCH

As far as keeping up with the reforms of Vatican II and renewing the church, St. Albert Parish has always been at the forefront thanks to the Oblates, who have manned the parish since day one, Pinco reflected.

St. Albert Parish - 150 Year Anniversary Logo

Gerry Woodlock, a parishioner for 23 years, said he has seen the parish become much more welcoming and alive over the years. "There is a lot of encouragement to get involved."

He described the mission hill, where St. Albert Church stands, as a "holy spot" that exudes "a sense of peace and serenity."

Jan Moran, chair of the 150th anniversary committee, said the parish decided to celebrate for a whole year "because we think it's quite an event to be celebrating 150 years."

Moran said St. Albert is the oldest parish in the province and "it was actually the first diocese before the Archdiocese of Edmonton. The city (of St. Albert) is the oldest settlement in the province and so we thought it was an event to be celebrated."

Fr. Andrzej Stendzina and Ray Pinco help to carry on the tradition.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

Fr. Andrzej Stendzina and Ray Pinco help to carry on the tradition.

Rooted in faith, living in hope and growing in love is the overall theme of the year-long celebration. There are colourful banners all over St. Albert on the light posts announcing the parish's anniversary.

PARISH REVITALIZED

"It's kind of revitalized the parish," Moran said of the monthly anniversary activities. "It just really brought so much spirit to the parish."

Lutes said the parish exudes a sense of history as many parishioners trace their roots to the early pioneers.

"We truly feel and believe in the holy ground that we stand on," she said.

The story began with Lacombe planting a cross on the hill and building the first mission chapel and then the church continued with the Grey Nuns starting orphanages and the hospital, Lutes said. It also continues today.

"Geographically our hill is holy ground," she said. "As we work out of that holy ground Sunday after Sunday in our faith community, we are sent back out from that hill much like the missionaries and the Grey Nuns and our grandparents and parents and families of faith."

Parishioners also honour their history. Close to the bronze statue of Lacombe stands Bishop Vital Grandin's residence, which also houses a museum that tells the story of the Oblate Fathers.

Behind the church is a crypt with the bodies of the parish's founders: Lacombe, Grandin and Father Hippolyte Leduc.