July 15, 2013
ALISTAIR BURNS
THE B.C. CATHOLIC

HIGH RIVER – June 20 started as a normal day for many citizens in High River, including Father Edward Hospet, pastor of St. Francis de Sales Parish.

By the afternoon, however, he'd almost drowned, been rescued, then fought to help save others from the worst flood in more than a century.

"I was in town shopping," he told The B.C. Catholic, when floodwaters struck the town about 9:30 a.m.

The priest quickly drove to the parish. Within 10 minutes the water level rose to one and a half feet outside the church.

He told the parish secretary and cleaning lady to leave, and followed them a short time later. About 10 a.m., Hospet's car stalled and wouldn't restart because of the rising water.

He described the calamitous scene: "Oh my God, it was terrible; the water was up to my hip! I'm freaking out! Two guys pulled me out of my (flooded) car."

As the minutes ticked by, the clergyman, along with a few others, waited for rescue. "Everyone was panicking. We were holding each other, grabbing hands."

The group stopped "one car that was floating by," and helped two other men escape.

"One man stood on the top (of my car which) saved his life."

A large truck driving by stopped to pick up the group. But then the flood submerged its battery.

Another driver came to save them.

"We rescued many people, including seniors," Hospet said. He checked later: all had survived.

"All credit goes to the local people. They had five rescue teams before the RCMP and the military came."

Originally from India, Hospet has been homeless in High River since Feb. 11, when his rectory burned down. "I only have a wallet, camera, cellphone, and a passport. I lost everything."

"I sleep on the floor; I don't have even a mattress at the (emergency) centre."

CLEANING ALONE

He has 1,000 parishioners in High River, where "the Masses are always packed."

When he was allowed to return to St. Francis de Sales, he began to clean the church by himself.

Soon, Hospet had the help of 14 people, mostly seniors, cleaning pew to pew. The water level was two and a half feet. Thick deposits of dark silt lined the ruined carpets and walls.

They were encouraged to hear help was on the way; volunteers from St. Mary's University College arrived July 6.

The Catholic schools in High River were both flooded. The grounds at Holy Spirit Academy "looked like a lake," Hospet explained.

PRIESTLY DIPLOMACY

On another front, his diplomacy eased tension after some of his parishioners became angry when the RCMP began seizing firearms from evacuated homes after Premier Alison Redford declared the Alberta Emergency Measures Act.

There was a meeting between church leaders, and Hospet talked to the mayor.

He told his parishioners to remain calm: "I'm very proud of them."

The priest still has "tremendous faith" and prays the rosary every day.

"People say to me: 'Father, why are you so happy?' (Because) God is with us in good times and bad."