The original homestead at Beaver Lake.

PHOTO COURTESY THE BASILIAN FATHERS MUSEUM

The original homestead at Beaver Lake.

November 19, 2012
CHRIS MILLER
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

MUNDARE – The Ukrainian Basilian Fathers and Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate have historical significance in Alberta. Recently their contributions have been honoured by Parks Canada.

In 2011, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada recognized the Beaver Lake-Mundare Ukrainian Catholic Mission as a place of tremendous historical and cultural importance.

Consequently, a bronze marker acknowledging their arrival in Canada was installed in Mundare. The granite monument, in front of the Pioneer Chapel, adjacent to the Basilian Fathers Museum, highlights the men's order in Canada.

"It ties in nicely because this year we have the 100th anniversary of the ordination of the first Ukrainian Catholic bishop (Nicetas Budka) in Canada," said Karen Lemiski, curator and associate director of the museum.

"For us it's a great honour, recognizing the importance of the Basilian settlement in Alberta and also in Canada. It's a major accomplishment."

ACHING SOULS

More than 60,000 Ukrainians arrived in Western Canada between 1891 and 1905. While gradually settling in the new land, the early pioneers were disheartened at missing the liturgies and religious feast days they had fervently marked in their homeland.

The original chapel at Beaver Lake is shown in this photograph.

PHOTO COURTESY THE BASILIAN FATHERS MUSEUM

The original chapel at Beaver Lake is shown in this photograph.

Few priests emigrated initially, and the Ukrainian settlers were attracted to other churches, including the Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox.

In 1902, a small group of missionaries from the Order of St. Basil the Great, commonly known as the Basilian Fathers, came to Canada to work among the Ukrainian settlers. Their first mission was established at Beaver Lake, a few kilometres from present-day Mundare.

The priest was Father Platonides Filas. The chapel was built in 1904 on this original Basilian homestead. From this centre, they later served communities across the province, eventually across Canada and the United States.

Next June, at the annual parish festival, Ukrainian Catholics will mark the 100th anniversary of Bishop Budka's ordination. The monument will be blessed at that time, said Lemiski.

Four sisters accompanied the Basilians on their journey to Canada. For eight months, the sisters stayed in Edmonton, which then had a population of about 5,500.

During this first winter in Canada, the Sisters Servants became acquainted with the Grey Nuns, who were associated with St. Joachim's Parish and who conducted an evening school for about 40 young girls, some of whom were children of Ukrainian immigrants.

MANY TASKS

Upon their eventual arrival at the Beaver Lake mission in July 1903, the sisters' first task was to gather the local children for schooling. They also addressed the social, cultural and medical needs of the Ukrainian settlers. Living within the community, they offered support to the women, taught manual tasks to the girls, took care of the sick and tended to the chapel.

Other exhibits in the museum tell the story of the Basilians' journey to Canada. They lived among the people, ministering to their spiritual needs and helped to build schools, churches and community institutions.

Lemiski questions whether most Canadians are familiar with the significance of the Basilian Fathers and the Sisters Servants. They nurtured the faith of thousands of Ukrainians and fostered the Church's growth both at home and abroad.

CULTURE AND LANGUAGE

"The clergy, the priests, the sisters – their role went beyond the religious. There was a culture and a language element to it, and that was all important for the community," said Lemiski.

In 1913, an orphanage was built at the Basilian mission, financed from both the Sisters Servants' dowries and donations from the settlers.

"For the pioneers, where there was frequently the death of a parent, often a mother, the orphanage served as an important institution to have in the Prairie community. Again, I'm not sure if people outside of Mundare would even know that," said Lemiski.

During the 1920s, in nearby Mundare, the sisters built a convent-school as well as a hospital, which employed one of the first Ukrainian-speaking doctors in Canada.

The Basilian novitiate opened in 1923, and a grotto devoted to the Virgin Mary was built in 1934.