Pope John Paul II walks in Elk Island National Park outside of Edmonton on September 17, 1984.


Pope John Paul II walks in Elk Island National Park outside of Edmonton on September 17, 1984.

July 11, 2016

The path walked by a saint is being renewed in Elk Island National Park.

Parks Canada and five councils of the Knights of Columbus are installing five commemorative panels and replacing the bench on which St. John Paul II sat when he spent an afternoon at the park in September 1984.

A bench and plaque had once been installed years ago to honour the pope's visit to Edmonton. But years of harsh northern Alberta weather took its toll on the wood.

"The elements over the past 30 years left the site overgrown and the bench rotted away," said Jim Sheasgreen, grand knight of Father Duncan MacDonnell Council 6363.

So the idea to fix up the site was brought forward, to "create something more permanent, because this is blessed ground," said Sheasgreen.

They sent out an appeal to neighbouring councils encouraging them, "Let's do something with this."

Four other councils took part, each contributing $1,500 - Our Lady of Lourdes Council 6382; Archbishop MacDonald Council 6083; Our Lady of the Highway Council 4249; St. Sophia Council 15885.

The story of how the pope came to be in the park is classic Canadiana. When he was touring Canada, initial plans were for him to journey to Jasper for a quiet, peaceful break after celebrating Mass just north of Edmonton. But inclement weather put an end to that idea.

Archbishop Joseph MacNeil then suggested Pope John Paul visit Elk Island Park, telling him it was much like the pope's homeland of Poland.

The pope's security people blanched at the suggestion, noting the assassination attempt made on the pope three years earlier. Those debating MacNeil's proposal pointed out that no one else knew about the change in travel plans other than the people in the room.

So Elk Island's parking area was closed, and Pope John Paul was able to walk, relax, meditate in peace.


Holding his breviary and rosary, the pope walked on paths through the park, sat on the bench to read and to pray the rosary.

Not long after the pope's visit, a K of C council erected a sign on the bench and a plaque where the pope sat and prayed.

"It was nothing big," said Sheasgreen.

Two years ago, the Knights took a look at the bench and plaque and decided to renovate the site. The combined councils and Parks Canada joined forces and went to work.

The finished effort will include five interpretive panels and the new bench.

The words for the panels were chosen from St. John Paul's homilies and encyclicals.

"They are good meditative quotes," said Sheasgreen.

The group worked with the Edmonton Archdiocese to secure the images and vet the words for the interpretive panels.

The plaques will be placed by the bench and in and around Oster Lake Road. The walk will be well signed with pamphlets available at the park's visitors' centre.

Installation and maintenance will be taken care of by Parks Canada, said Sheasgreen.


Parks Canada's official in charge of the project is Cameron Johnson.

He found working with the Knights to be a collegial experience.

"Some of the committee members were part of the original installation," said Johnson. They had valuable knowledge, explaining what worked and what did not.

A working bee is planned with all of the participants taking part in the landscaping. Johnson said it "will be nice to get outside and work together."

Johnson said the project was "smooth sailing, and all the people were very genuine, kind and giving of their time."

Johnson contributed his time too when he spoke about the project at a parish pasta dinner in St. Michael six months ago.

Completion date is set for Sept. 17, the 32nd anniversary of the pope's visit. Chancellor Father Adam Lech will officiate at the ceremony.