WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ
Brother Casimir, embraced by his guardian Fr. Dave Norman keeps the friary furnace roaring.
Have you ever wondered what a birthday cake would look like with 100 candles on it? Then perhaps you should be at Franciscan Brother Casimir Kolodychuk's 100th birthday party Sunday, Sept. 16.
That's when the Franciscan community of Edmonton stops to pay tribute to their beloved Brother Casimir, who for decades spent his winter nights stoking their former Friary's massive basement furnace with coal so his brothers would sleep snug in their beds.
Kolodychuk is one of two Franciscans celebrating their centennial this year. The other is Father Michael Sieferling, a former Edmonton priest and college professor who now lives at St. Michael's Retreat Centre and Friary in Lumsden, Sask. He celebrated his 100th birthday among family and friends Sept. 3.
Kolodychuk lived at the Franciscan Friary for 78 years, until 2005, when the Friars moved to a new residence.
In late 2011, the Franciscan brother broke his left hip and since January he has been living at Northwood Extended Care. Soon after he arrived, he caught a cold and has never fully recovered. He now requires a wheelchair and an oxygen tank.
Kolodychuk doesn't speak much, saying his memory has begun to fail him. "I'm deaf most of the time so I don't know what's going on."
However, he still remembers details such as the fact he had 17 brothers and sisters, four of whom died as babies. He said his younger brother, John, is still in good health at 91 but quit the Church some time ago.
Kolodychuk couldn't remember his favourite food – he mentioned a Ukrainian dish – but eventually recalled he enjoys a glass of wine with meals and loves Black Forest cake.
Kolodychuk began calling the Friary home in 1927 when he arrived to study at the adjacent St. Anthony's College from his home in Haight, Alta.
He attended the college until 1932 and then he was sent to Sherbrooke, Quebec, for his novitiate. He made his profession of vows Aug. 13, 1933.
"I never majored in anything," Kolodychuk said while sitting in his wheelchair besides his friend and guardian Father Dave Norman. "I didn't like the studies."
But as a building maintenance manager he was the best, according to Norman, a professor at Newman Theological College.
The hard-working brother kept the furnace alive and running during the best years of his life. During the summer, he would clean and paint the furnace to have it ready for winter.
"Brother Casimir was extremely important because he kept the place going," Norman said. "He was essential to the operation of the friary."
In the mid-1960s, about 90 young men and faculty occupied the friary and the adjacent St. Anthony's College, all of whom relied on Kolodychuk for heat, plumbing and electricity. They used to call him Brother Kilowatt for his ingenuity with electricity and electrical instruments.
Eventually, the furnace was replaced with natural gas heating and some re-wiring was done, all in concert with a dwindling number of Franciscan friars.
In the 1940's, Alberta Government Telephones (AGT) gave Kolodychuk a lot of old telephone equipment, which he used to create an intercom system for the college and friary, said Norman.
When Telus came to install a new system some 15 years ago, they were so impressed with Kolodychuk's invention they it took away for their museum.
Kolodychuk and Sieferling studied together at St. Anthony's College but chose different paths, with Sieferling going on to study for the priesthood. Sieferling was actually the first graduate of St. Anthony to be ordained a Franciscan priest.
He celebrated his first Mass at the now-closed St. Francis of Assisi Church on June 5, 1938. He was pastor at St. Francis from 1941-42. He also taught at St. Anthony's, served as rector of St. Bernardine's College in Montreal and was a professor at St. Anthony's Seminary in Trois-Rivieres. During the war he was a part-time chaplain with the Armed Forces.
Other postings during his lengthy career took him from Port Alberni, B.C., to Arootook, N.B., where he served for nine years. Sieferling celebrated his silver jubilee while serving as a chaplain at the Belmont Correctional Centre in Edmonton, a ministry he also did later at Spy Hill Gaol, near Cochrane.
Norman said apart from having problems with his balance, Sieferling is in good health and still manages to get around.
"He was a very independent priest and very pastoral in his approach," Norman said.