People often come to St. Mary's Parish to marvel at the church's free-flowing design.


People often come to St. Mary's Parish to marvel at the church's free-flowing design.

November 3, 2014

St. Mary's Parish, which celebrated its 50th anniversary Oct. 4, is a landmark structure in southeast Red Deer.

"People come just to look at the unique architecture," said Christine Moore, who chaired the anniversary committee and also chairs the parish council.

"The architecture of the church brings people together," said Moore. "It feels that we're all drawn closer to the altar just by the grade. The floor slopes towards the altar."

Long-time parishioner Olive Frenette agreed, saying, "It's a very different church. I have never seen another one that looks quite like it. The church is round and doesn't have any windows. The crucifix is very different – it's big and almost kind of intimidating because it's so huge."

The anniversary gala was held with Archbishop Richard Smith celebrating Mass. The gala evening included dinner and a program at the Black Knight Inn. Keynote speakers were former pastor Father Paul Kavanagh and historian Michael Dawe.

"It was a great feeling to be at the Mass that evening because one of the last hymns they sang was This is Holy Ground," said Frenette, who has been attending the church longer than anyone.

"It sent tingles up my spine because I remembered it as a wheat field, and then saw it over the years it took to build the church. Here we are, 50 years later, celebrating in it.

"I have been going there since 1963 before our parish even started. We were in Red Deer and going to Sacred Heart Church, and then as soon as our parish started, I was going," said Frenette.

Before the establishment of St. Mary's Parish on Sept. 6, 1964, members of the clergy from Sacred Heart Church in Red Deer arranged to provide spiritual guidance to parishioners living within the bounds of what was to become Red Deer's second parish.

It was first known as St. Thomas Parish because Masses were celebrated in the gymnasium of St. Thomas School.

When planning for the church began in 1964, Douglas Cardinal was hired as the architect. Born and raised in Red Deer, the now-famous architect made St. Mary's his first project. The design of the church enhances the worship space by bringing all parishioners into close proximity with the altar.

Land for the church was donated by James Morrisroe. In gratitude for his generosity, the parish named the centre built in 1995 Morrisroe Hall, giving permanent recognition to his donation.

The sod was turned for the beginning of construction on the church on June 26, 1966 with completion of construction in November 1968.


On Dec. 8, 1968, Archbishop Anthony Jordan blessed the church.

The total cost of the church was about $360,000. Improvements and upgrades have been made over the years, including replacement of the parapets and roof.

Moore admitted that with the "challenging architecture," many companies are reluctant to take on the task of doing repairs and restorations.

The church has a seating capacity of 650, which can be augmented with additional chairs to increase capacity to 720. The number of families in the parish has grown from 400 when it opened to 2,800 today.

To accommodate these numbers, there is a Saturday Mass at 5 p.m., and three Sunday Masses at 9 a.m., 11 a.m. and 7 p.m.

The church has been described as warm, sheltering, protective, inviting and free flowing. It's intended to bring everyone closer to the altar and closer to each other.

As the needs of the faith community go beyond celebrating Mass together, parishioners in the early 1990s raised funds for a parish centre that would provide a gathering space for social and educational events.


"There was no parish hall, and there was obviously a need for one. I don't think the architect (Cardinal) agreed with the planning because the architecture was compromised," said Moore.

"But we believe the parish hall is conducive to the building. Of course, a parish hall is absolutely essential to a parish."

The project was completed and blessed on Dec. 17, 1995. The parish centre has added a new dimension to the life of the parish, and is a beehive of activity.

German artist and sculptor, Alois Marx, the brother-in-law of Father Gottfied Seifert, added permanent artwork to the church over the course of three summers. In the summer of 1996, Marx carved the eight-foot statue of Mary holding the child Jesus. It is displayed behind the holy water font at the front entrance.

The parish has been blessed with the presence of the Oblates, Holy Cross Fathers, Pallottine Fathers and diocesan clergy as guides through the years.

Pastors have included Fathers Werner Merx, Norman Bordage, Paul Kingston, Hugh MacGillivray, Gottfied Seifert, Erik Riechers, Joseph Dephoff, Paul Kavanagh and currently Les Drewicki. Three deacons serve the parish: Mike Whalen, Roger Reilander and Claude Baril.

"The parish is busy every single day, and it seems that every night there is something going on. We are very blessed to have such a vibrant parish, with a lot of committed people. We have great leadership under Father Les Drewicki. He is a great pastor," said Moore.

In the early 2000s, the youth group took on a new focus with older members attending World Youth Day celebrations in various countries. A new youth minister has recently been hired.

Moore said parishioners are eager to join various ministries, and the parish is never short on volunteers for music ministry, pastoral care, Catholic Women's League, Knights of Columbus, lay-led Bible study and marriage preparation.

"It seems we have a lot of participation. One of our goals is to start a formal bereavement program, with good resource material and leadership. We see that as important in our church when we see so many funerals happen," said Moore.

A special feature outside of the church is the rosary garden, completed in 2008.


"The rosary garden is absolutely beautiful. Volunteers worked on that as a parish project. It is gorgeous in the summertime especially. It is a great place to pray and reflect. It extends the church to the outdoors," said Moore.

The garden is a series of stepping stones, each stone representing one prayer of the rosary. The idea for the rosary garden came from a parishioner, Isabel Bolhuis, who approached parish council in October 2006.

"The garden is a nice feature to have. We had a CWL meeting here in June, and the weather was nice. We always start our CWL meetings with the rosary, and so we said it outside in the rosary garden," said Frenette.

The statue of Our Lady of Grace was chosen to be placed in the garden, which is a place of quiet meditation and prayer.

The church is associated and has a close connection with several Catholic schools in Red Deer: Holy Family, Maryview, St. Elizabeth Seton, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Ecole Secondaire Notre Dame.