WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Colourful stained glass windows were installed in St. Mary's in 2005.
St. Mary's Parish in Provost puts a focus on children.
For the past century, the parish has been responsible for the spiritual upbringing of the area children, and for the past 50 years in their educational upbringing at St. Thomas Aquinas School.
Located about 30 km west of the Saskatchewan border on Hwy. 13, Provost is in the beautiful rolling prairie on the edge of the Palliser Triangle.
Presiding over an afternoon Mass Aug. 18 marking the parish's 100th anniversary, Archbishop Richard Smith said that the parishioners have a lot to celebrate.
They can look back on the past with thanks and look ahead to the future with hope. For 100 years, they have gathered collectively to receive the Church's wisdom through preaching, spiritual guidance and catechesis, he said.
"We celebrate that for the past 100 years this community has wept together at funerals, has rejoiced together at weddings, has comforted one another in moments of difficulty, and has banded together to serve the community in the name of Christ," Smith said.
The centennial celebration was highlighted by a 4 p.m. Mass at the church, followed by a reception at the nearby recreation centre.
Father Mahesh Rathinasamy is the new pastor at St. Mary's, taking over from Father Joselito Cantal, who was pastor for seven years before being transferred to Edson. Both were concelebrants at the Mass, as were Fathers Paul Kavanagh, Joseph Leszcynski, Vic Perron, Josef Wroblewski and Augustine Ebido.
Lorraine Turchansky, archdiocesan director of communications and public relations, was the guest speaker at the reception. Turchansky also spoke of the difficulties St. Mary's Church faced over the years, right back to its early years.
"I know that in the 20's, some of your pastors were stricken with tuberculosis, and had to leave for treatment in the sanatoriums that were so busy back then. In the 1930's were the challenges of the Great Depression," she said.
She cited a news story from the archdiocesan archives. In June 1930, the crops around Provost were dying. Then the frost hit Sept. 1 and "shattered all hope."
While the words might have been the sentiment at the time, through this and other setbacks, the church and the town have bloomed, overcoming obstacles, its people never losing hope.
"It is through your continuing faith and hope that we're able to pray together and celebrate here tonight," said Turchansky.
Provost was originally a mission of St. Margaret's Church in Rosenheim. Construction for a church in Provost started in 1909. On Aug. 18, 1912, St. Mary's Church was blessed.
Mass was celebrated monthly in those early years. By 1921, Mass was held twice a month. Today, Mass is held every Sunday morning. From May through October, Mass is also offered Saturday evening.
Despite the town's population of less than 3,000, its parish has never stopped progressing. A rectory was built in 1925, with renovations started on both the church and rectory in 1941.
Four Ursuline Sisters of Prelate served at the parish from 1944-48.
The Catholic Women's League started at the parish in 1923, but later folded, before being reestablished in 1950. The Knights of Columbus was formed in 1924, folded in 1952 before reactivating in 1999.
St. Thomas Aquinas School opened in 1958, with a second addition to the K-12 school completed in 1969. The Ursuline Sisters served as teachers and librarians in the school.
Today, the school offers a pre-kindergarten to Grade 12 program with an enrollment of 255 students. It has a community-centred approach and a strong Catholic focus. The school is noted for its expectations in the hallways and classrooms where religious displays are prominent and Christ is the center.
A new shrine was built at the church in 1994 as an International Year of the Family project. New stained glass windows were installed in 2005.
In his homily, the archbishop spoke of his recent trip to the Knights of Columbus convention in Anaheim, Calif. Renting a GPS, he was able to find his way around the vast, unfamiliar city without difficulty. The archbishop admitted that without the GPS, he would have been hopelessly lost.
As Christians, a different sort of GPS is required to find our way around, said Smith. God sees the whole picture and has a destiny for the human race. Without God's help, no one can find their way. The centennial celebration of St. Mary's Parish was an opportunity to reflect on the same concept.
"One way of describing that Christian life is that it begins with the recognition we need help in getting direction. It is based on the recognition that we must live each and every day according to a GPS, not a global positioning system, but God's positioning system," said Smith.
On the freeway system in Anaheim, about 10 lanes of traffic moved swiftly in one direction, branching off at different intervals. Smith said that most of the other motorists were probably using a GPS too.
"In the midst of this mass of humanity, these hundreds of thousands of cars, the satellite was somehow able to focus on the car I was in, and to be very specific and incredibly accurate about the directions it was giving me," said Smith.
Beyond the GPS, the archbishop asked people in Anaheim for directions. Their local knowledge also assisted him in reaching his destinations with ease.
This same reliance on local knowledge applies to the Church, the Body of Christ. People can rely on Jesus, but also on one another for direction.
"We stay close on how best to follow the Lord by staying close both to Jesus and to his Church. This need to stay close to Jesus, and the need to stay close to the Church, these two needs unite in the parish. The parish is the local manifestation of the Church.
"Here, we are a community of disciples on our pilgrimage, on journey together, towards the destiny that God has laid out for all of his people," said Smith.
Karen Wagner, from Provost, was the cross bearer in the eucharistic celebration. She told the WCR that going to the church throughout her childhood had a meaningful impact on her life and that of the community.
John Holley, a one-time resident of Provost who has since moved to Lloydminster, said the centennial was a chance to reflect on his childhood in a positive way.
"My family went to weddings and events here, so returning now brought back some fond memories of those special times. I miss this church," he said.
"The Roman Catholic Church gets a lot of bad press, but this church has stayed away from all that. People come here to socialize, worship God, make new friends. That, to me, is what church really is all about."