A deeper devotion

Pilgrimage and commemorative year help bring faithful closer to St. Joseph

Kyle Greenham
Northern Light

Framed in an arch of lilies, the St. Joseph statue standing tall in Spirit River’s Catholic Church has been greeted with many prayers and many pilgrims over this past year.

For March 19th, the Solemnity of St. Joseph, the statue was greeted by faithful from all across the Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan, joined together to celebrate and honour the past year devoted to this most treasured saint.

The occasion marked the closing Mass for the Archdiocese’s “Year of St. Joseph”, from March 19th, 2021 to March 19th, 2022, in celebration with the similar Year of St. Joseph declared by Pope Francis.

Priests and faithful from across the Archdiocese took part in the closing Mass for the Year of St. Joseph.

“The spiritual path that Joseph traces for us is not one that explains, but accepts,” Msgr. Charles Lavoie said in his homily on the life and example of St. Joseph. “Just as God told him, ‘Son of David, do not be afraid,’ so he says it to us as well today – ‘Do not be afraid.’ Do not be afraid to express your faith. Do not be afraid to live your Christian life. Do not be afraid to stand up for what is right and just.

“We need courage like Joseph, to get us through the difficult moments of life, and to rest assured that in the end we will get through. We will pull through and God will be there at the other side.”

For Peace River resident Jenny Oslie, this Mass was not only an opportunity to celebrate the saint she has always held a special devotion to, it was also a chance to complete her pilgrimage for St. Joseph.

Jenny Oslie, in red on the right, took part in the St. Joseph Pilgrimage, beginning with a trip to John D’or Prairie with fellow Peace River parishioners and pastor Nel Esguerra last summer.

Over this past year, the Archdiocese has encouraged a pilgrimage to all three St. Joseph churches in our region, with a special “Pilgrim’s Passport” and prayer to St. Joseph with it. Having travelled to St. Joseph’s Church in Grande Prairie and to the northernly St. Joseph parish in John D’or Prairie last summer, Jenny’s prayers before the statue at St. Joseph Church in Spirit River on March 19th meant the completion of her pilgrimage journey.

Oslie has always had a strong devotion to the foster father of Jesus, and this pilgrimage experience only further reaffirmed her devotion and love for the saint.

“I’ve always loved St. Joseph. I actually chose Joseph as my confirmation name – Josephine,” she said. “So my devotion to St. Joseph was not changed by the experience, it was just refreshed. It refreshed my faith and my loyalty to St. Joseph.”

St. Joseph’s life as a carpenter, father to Jesus and protector of the Holy Family are things that draw her very close to the saint. He also holds a special place for Oslie as Joseph reminds her of her own father.

As part of Oslie’s pilgrimage, they made a detour to the First Nations community of Eleske, which was another powerful moment for her.

“St. Joseph always makes me think of my dad and reminds me to pray for my dad at the same time,” she said. “I just see him as a beautiful father, a working man and a wonderful example. St. Joseph was so loyal and so good, and it just makes me think of my own father and how good he was.”

Perhaps the most memorable, and certainly most adventurous part of her pilgrimage was the trip she made with a group of Peace River parishioners to one of the most northernly communities in our archdiocese – St. Joseph’s Church in the Cree community of John D’or Prairie.

It was after the feast of the Assumption, August 15th, that the group packed into Fr. Nel Esguerra’s van and set off for John D’or Prairie. If the long hours of highway driving wasn’t enough, it began raining during their drive into the Cree reserve. The already rough road to John D’or began to soften like mud due to the rain and it nearly swerved them off course. Still, under the protection of St. Joseph, they made it to John D’or Prairie’s unique teepee-designed church safe and in tact.

Sister Mary Jeanne Davidson, Louise Lee, & Sister Connie Harkin visit St. Joseph’s Church in Spirit River as part of their pilgrimage.

A local woman was able to open up the church for them and let them in to complete their prayers to St. Joseph. Seeing this church for the first time was a stand out moment for Oslie and company.

“The church was so beautifully set up,” she recalled. “The way it incorporated Indigenous culture, it just shows how the first missionaries did work together with the native people, understood their ways and sought to share our faith in a way they’d understand. It was really lovely.”

This is only an excerpt. Read the full story in the April 2022 edition of Northern Light