All posts by Lauri

Facilitating an encounter with Christ

Peace Retreats continue a growing legacy of spiritual direction in the Peace Country

Kyle Greenham
Northern Light

For more than 16 years, Peace Retreats has provided a space for encountering God.

In all their years of offering retreats, spiritual direction and exercises, the essence of Peace Retreats has remained the same. Whether they are hosting from a church, a community centre or even their own homes, the members try to create an environment where the Holy Spirit can enter and touch the hearts of all present.

“I often say I am the facilitator, but the Holy Spirit is the director,” said spiritual director Denise Laverdure-Sych. She has been a part of Peace Retreats for the past few years, and also offers French retreats through the group. “I’m just facilitating that encounter with God. The Holy Spirit is the one in charge.”

It’s a perspective all members agree on.

Peace Retreats members: (Top row, left to right) Denise Laverdure-Sych, Harold Imes, Cathy Morin, Louise Lee. (Bottom row, left to right) Larry Shepherd, Sheila Shepherd and Allan Forsberg

“I just call myself God’s servant,” Larry Shepherd, treasurer of Peace Retreats, added. “Throughout each session I’m raising my eyes, calling for the Holy Spirit to speak through me. ‘What is it you want me to say now?’”

Since its inception in early 2006, Peace Retreats have conducted retreats and spiritual exercises across the region – from Peace River, Fairview, High Prairie, High Level, Grande Prairie, Beaverlodge and even Dawson Creek. Their programs come about through a combination of spiritual directors developing their own retreats and offering them to parishes, and through church groups themselves requesting retreats.

Their programs vary, not only in location, but in style, theme and in the tools they use. Working within the skills and interests of both the director and the participants, the retreats often incorporate a diversity of elements. That can be audio and music, artwork, physical exercises, various forms of prayer and much more. All of these are incorporated into fulfilling one and the same mission – to provide a place for people to encounter God and to deepen their relationship with Him.

“We evoke presence – to create a place where God can come. That’s what we try to do,” said spiritual director and chair of Peace Retreats Allan Forsberg. “We ask, ‘Where has God shown up in your life and what is He trying to do in your life through that?’”

The Peace Retreats logo was designed during their first meetings in 2006.

Peace Retreats traces its beginning to a retreat on women’s spirituality given in Grande Prairie in April, 2005. It was a well received retreat, hosted by Sr. Louise Vanderploeg, SSND and spiritual director Arlene Logan, with 40 women in attendance. It confirmed the thought of Sr. Louise and Arlene that there was a clear desire for more retreats in the Peace Country, and work soon began to create a group that would help make that desire a reality.

“When Sr. Louise started the lay formation program in Peace River, she knew people in the area were thirsting for the Lord and wanting to experience something more – a time to be together in a sacred space, in community and in silence. That’s really what started this,” said long-time Peace Retreats member Sheila Shepherd.

Over the following months the pair began developing a “retreat team” with other locals who had training in spiritual direction or were involved with the archdiocese’s Cursillo Movement. Peace Retreats was officially formed in February of 2006. They were encouraged by Fr. Gerard Pettipas, who at the time was the pastor in Grande Prairie, to apply for a grant from the Redemptorist Growth Society, and that yearly grant has helped sustain Peace Retreats ever since.

From this foundation the group grew organically each year, with more people coming to retreats or feeling a calling to be spiritual directors themselves.

Peace Retreats hosts the St. Ignatian Spiritual Exercises every month at St. Joseph’s Church in Grande Prairie.

Through the years the members have helped others, and themselves, experience life-changing moments of faith, hope and forgiveness. Harold Imes once hosted a “Seventy Times Seven” retreat in Fairview, focusing on the theme of forgiveness. Only a handful of people were able to come to the retreat, but the impact it left on them was enormous.

“I had a member of my congregation who attended,” Imes recalled, who is also a pastor with the United Church in Fairview. He is currently the only Protestant member of Peace Retreats. “She had a son who was paralyzed in an accident when he was 21 and she had never forgiven the driver. But that retreat just changed her life.”

Louise Lee can fondly remember one powerful event she helped organize at a prison during Lent. Within the prison chapel she planned to gather the prisoners, read a Scripture passage and reflection, and then have the prisoners walk one by one up to a person dressed as Jesus and dip their fingers in holy water.

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

Amy McIntyre receives Excellence in Catholic Education Award

Teacher Amy McIntyre was awarded this year’s Excellence in Catholic Education Award. Amy is a faith leader both in her school and community. She provides exemplary work in her role as Faith Coordinator at St. Andrew’s School in High Prairie, is an active member of St. Paul’s Parish, and is a member of the Archdiocesan Youth Committee.

The Excellence in Catholic Education Award is annually given to a certified Catholic teacher who has done an exemplary job in preparing our youth to grow into strong Catholic citizens. The award winner must be passionate about Catholic education and the students they teach, inspire their students, and demonstrate commitment to Catholic education and teaching excellence.

We asked Amy some questions in reaction to winning this prestigious award.

Amy McIntyre

Q: How does it feel to be recognized for the Excellence in Catholic Education Award?

I am truly honored to be recognized for this award. It is certainly not anything I ever expected. I have been blessed to work with great educators all across the country and want to thank each and every one of them. My relationship with each of them has helped shape me as an educator.

Q: Tell us about your background in coming to be a teacher in Catholic education.

I was raised by a strong Catholic family. I would often attend mass on Saturday evening with my grandparents so that I could be an altar server and then attend again on Sunday mornings to be part of the children’s choir. The church was the ‘heart’ of the community where I was raised. I was also part of an active youth group where many lifelong friendships were formed. When I was presented with an opportunity to teach in a Catholic School setting I jumped at the chance to work in an environment that focuses on the whole individual and in supporting their faith formation.

Q: What is it you love most about teaching?

There are so many great things about teaching, but I’d have to say that the thing I love most is the connections that I am able to make with students and their caregivers. My current teaching role is the interventions teacher for grades 1 through 3 at St. Andrew’s School, where I work with a small group of students at a time on a specific learning goal. We get to know each other quite well and the students are so proud to tell me about what they did on the weekend or something exciting happening in their lives. I love when the students rush up to see me outside of the school and tell me about their day.

Q: How does your Catholic faith influence your teaching?

I enjoy sharing my personal experiences with the students. During preparation classes for Sacraments, I am able to show the students pictures of my First Communion or speak about why I choose my sponsor for my Confirmation. These talks help the students connect with their personal journeys.

I am often reminded of a professional development I once attended where the presenter asked a simple question: “What if that child in front of you was Jesus? How would you treat them?” This has not only shaped my perspective on how I treat my students but how I treat people in general.

Q: What do you think are the greatest challenges facing teachers in Catholic education today?

I think all teachers, not just Catholics, are seeing a number of increasing challenges today. The education system has changed over my time in the profession. Classrooms are becoming increasingly complex in student needs. However, I think first and foremost we are seeing an increase in needs for mental wellness and health support which concerns me most.

Raising up the community

NET team find a welcoming reception to the faith

Kyle Greenham
Northern Light

The Catholic faith has been a solid source of strength for 19-year-old Christina Dunn. She says it’s what kept her strong at times when she saw her peers struggling.

So after graduating high school, Dunn wanted to find a way to share that faith with others. NET Canada provided the opportunity to do so.

“I was one of the only really practicing Catholics at my Catholic high school,” Dunn recalled. “And I was struggling with a lot of different things similar to my friends. But I think the reason I was able to do well and get through it was because of my faith.

NET team leader Christina Dunn

“So I wanted to share that faith with them, so that God could also help them and give them hope. But I didn’t quite know how to share it.

“I found NET was just a great way to share my faith and to share this love of the Lord that has changed my life. So right out of Grade 12 I applied.”

Dunn is part of the seven-member team of NET Canada who recently spent two weeks in the Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan, March 14-25th, hosting retreats with students from Catholic schools in Grande Prairie, Sexsmith and Fairview.

NET (National Evangelization Team) is made up of young Catholic adults from around the world, who help engage young people in their Catholic faith through dynamic retreats and youth discipleship.

The NET team saw hundreds of students over their two weeks in our archdiocese last March.

This team is part of a school ministry based in Vancouver, BC, working in two private Catholic schools until the end of the 2022 school year. With classes on pause for two weeks over spring break, they arranged a trip to our region to expand their missionary efforts. NET Canada has brought teams and hosted retreats in the archdiocese in many previous years as well.

Students in Catholic schools across Grande Prairie, including St. John Paul II, St. Joseph’s, St. Clements, St. Kateri and Mother Teresa Catholic School, took part, as well as students at St. Thomas More Catholic School in Fairview and St. Mary’s Catholic School in Sexsmith. The retreats were mainly directed for students from Grade 7-10.

Holding two retreats each day, the NET members warm up the students with music, ice-breakers and games. Then they dive into their main spiritual message – on identity and discovering a relationship with God – that they hope will resonate with the students.

Overall, the team has found the students very receptive.

“Especially in the Grade 8s, they’ve been really willing to participate and engage in these kinds of conversations,” said Chris Pettapiece. Dunn and Pettapiece were the team leads for the NET group, which also included Theresa James, Gabby Douglas, Jessica Taylor, Gabriel Fortune and Monica Hartman.

NET Team members introduce themselves at the start of a retreat.

“The theme of our retreats is ‘The Underlying Truth’, which is to find your identity in God as opposed to what others say you are. To know that you’re first a son or a daughter of God,” Pettapiece continued. “They’ve been receiving it well. We have prayer time, when they have a chance to pray and we pray over them. And there’s been some real, we call them ‘mission moments’, where the students have some kind of encounter with God through that. They thank us for praying over them, saying it brought them peace, joy, or whatever.”

This gets to the heart of what the NET members hope the students gain from these retreats – an encounter with the Lord.

NET team leader Chris Pettapiece

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

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

The Beauty of Consecrated Life

School Sisters of Notre Dame reflect on their lives of sisterhood

Kyle Greenham
Northern Light

At one time there were more than two hundred nuns across our region, running schools, hospitals and convents, and filling other essential roles in our church communities. Now, speaking from their quaint hilltop home in Peace River, Sr. Mary Jeanne Davidson and Sr. Connie Harkin are two of the only sisters still working in our archdiocese.

Their order, the School Sisters of Notre Dame, was founded by Blessed Mary Theresa of Jesus in 1833. While their charism focused mainly on Catholic education, today Sr. Mary Jeanne and Sr. Connie fill a variety of other roles.

Sister Connie came to the archdiocese in 2018. Her work consists mainly in being the spiritual chair of the local Catholic Women’s League, accompanying the sick and elderly, working with the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis, and helping out with sacramental preparation. It’s a much different life than the 40 years she spent as a teacher, teaching children as young as four and as old as 11.

Sisters with seminarian Thomas Wollis outside Our Lady of Peace Parish in Peace River.

“I’ve enjoyed it. Some people call it retirement; I like to call it ‘refirement’,” said Harkin. “It’s new fire that comes in and makes me excited about what I’m doing. I’m learning lots, it stirs up my faith, and I feel like I never stop learning. And I pray to God I don’t stop learning.”

Sister Mary Jeanne helped open the school sisters’ house in Peace River, coming with two other sisters in 2002. She’s the only one of those three nuns still working in the archdiocese.

When she first arrived 20 years ago, the two roles that the sisters were asked to fill were in adult lay formation and pastoral assistance. Given Mary Jeanne’s experience working on the missions in Peru, her heart was seeking something else. She longed to be on the periphery, with the poor and the disenfranchised.

Four of the School Sisters of Notre Dame who served our archdiocese. From left to right, Sr. Eileen Pautler, Sr. Louise Vanderploeg, Sr. Mary Jeanne & Sr. Connie.

After speaking to her Mother Superior about where she felt the Spirit was calling her, Mary Jeanne was informed that she would be sent to Peace River to be a presence of Church amongst the Indigenous communities of Grouard-McLennan.

It is a great joy for Davidson to fulfill such a mission, and she hopes to carry the many lessons she learned through working with the poor of Peru into her work here.

“What I learned through those years in Peru is to take off my shoes and listen – the people will show what is needed,” said Mary Jeanne. “When I first went to the missions I was fired up. I couldn’t wait to bring Jesus to the poor. But you know what? He is already there. If you could know how present Jesus is among the poor, how they know Him. They were the ones teaching me who Jesus is.”

Sister Mary Jeanne Davidson has worked intimately with the Indigenous communities of our archdiocese over the past few years.

For both Sr. Mary Jeanne and Sr. Connie, their journey into sisterhood began in their earliest days of childhood.

Sister Mary Jeanne recalls her first day at school, where she was taught by the Holy Sisters of Mary in Kenora, Ontario. She returned home that day to tell her mom that she will one day be “a sister or a mommy”.

But as a teenager, thoughts of religious life fell to the back of her mind. Then in Grade 12, at a time when she had not thought about becoming a sister in many years, Davidson decided to attend a retreat for all graduating students. At that time Davidson was already making plans to go to college in Thunder Bay. She and her boyfriend were discussing future plans for marriage. But then came a moment that would change the direction of her life forever.

Sister Mary Jeanne shortly after her first profession of vows.

“I was at prayer, it was quiet in the chapel. Then inside of me something came like a little nudging invitation – ‘Come, follow me’.”

In the depths of her heart Mary Jeanne began addressing Jesus, telling Him of all the plans she had laid out for her life, but still the invitation kept coming into her heart – “Come. Follow me.”

Over the next nine days, late at night, Sister Mary Jeanne would return to that chapel and pray a novena to the Holy Spirit, hoping certainty over this invitation would come her way. After much prayer and deliberation, Sister Mary Jeanne heard the voice of Jesus answering within her heart.

“Jesus said, ‘My love for you is leaving you free. If you were to feel called to marriage, with a husband and family, you know I would love you. I’m inviting you to follow me’,” Mary Jeanne recalled. “And in the end, I finally let go. I said, ‘God, I’m coming. I want to follow you. I desire to give you my life’. And in that journey – there was lots of letting go.”

Sr. Connie Harkin, left, Fr. Nel Esguerra and Sr. Mary Jeanne Davidson gather for a photo outside Our Lady of Peace Church in Peace River, to commemorate Sr. Mary Jeanne’s 60th anniversary of professed vows.

This is only an excerpt. Read the full story in the March 2022 edition of Northern Light
Learn more about Sister Connie and Sister Mary Jeanne’s vocation stories in this video:

‘I don’t want anybody missing out on what we missed out on’

Recent reverts help keep music ministry alive at their local church

Kyle Greenham
Northern Light

One couple’s return to Mass one Easter after a 15-year hiatus has proved a providential help for their local faith community.

Through that decision, Nettie and Greg Barr have helped ensure a future for the music ministry at the small rural church in Rio Grande. They hope their return to church life and ministry will be an encouragement for others who have drifted from their faith.

Nettie and Greg Barr with their grandchildren and dog at their home in Rio Grande.

It was over a year ago that the Barr’s began talking more and more about returning to the Catholic Church. They were once steady parishioners at St. Patrick’s Church in Rio Grande, but a combination of busy work schedules, travelling and difficulties in the community had been excuses to put their faith life to the wayside.

We’re not confrontational people, and because of difficulties in the past it was easier for us to go the other way and do our own thing,” said Nettie. “I used to travel a lot also with my work as a horse specialist, so work too became an excuse for missing church. And soon one week away from the church became two, then a month, then a year, and then suddenly – wow, we had been away for 15 years.”

Fr. Michael Dias says he has a list of people registered at his parishes that he does not regularly see at Mass. He continually offers prayers for them and gladly meets with them whenever he has the opportunity.

But they both sensed that a key part of their live was missing without the Mass. And it just so happened that, around the same time the Barr’s were discussing going back to church, Fr. Michael Dias – the pastor for the Catholic churches in Beaverlodge, Hythe and Rio Grande – showed up on their doorstep one day, lost and in need of directions.

“Before then we didn’t know Fr. Michael existed. We didn’t even know if Mass at St. Patrick’s was still going on,” Nettie recalled. “Father had been planning to visit the family who lived across from us but ended up in our backyard, I’ll say ‘by accident’, but was it really by accident? Or was it really God at work?”

Nettie had given Fr. Michael instructions on where to go and mentioned in passing that they were also Catholics. Fr. Michael instantly told them they were welcome any time at St. Patrick’s and went on his way. He then made an effort to reconnect with the family in the following days, pray for them and occasionally visit with them.

Through these visits, Nettie and Greg gained the assurance to come back – attending their first Mass in many years on Easter Sunday.

Greg Barr tends to some of the horses he and Nettie care for at their home in Rio Grande.

“We were hesitant to go back at first, not knowing how we were going to be received, returning to the community after such a long time away. But Father was really instrumental in giving us a different outlook on that and really embracing us,” said Nettie.

“We came to a crossroads where we didn’t want any longer to hold onto grudges of the past. And we realized God does not want us for a fair-weather friend. You have to do your bit if you really desire a relationship with Him.”

And when they finally did return, the anxieties over their reception soon evaporated. Even if some of the responses at the Mass had changed, and the Barr’s both forgot at what parts of the Mass they were supposed to kneel, everyone in the St. Patrick’s community made them feel at home.

Since returning to the Church, Nettie Barr now provides music during Sunday liturgy at St. Patrick’s in Rio Grande.

“I don’t think there was a single person who didn’t stop by and say how wonderful it was to see us. I get goosebumps still thinking about it,” Nettie recalled. “It goes to show how great the community at St. Patrick’s is. The people there are really the pillars of that church, and without them there would be no St. Patrick’s. They are beautiful people and they deserve much recognition and appreciation.”

Despite those many years of being “fair-weather friends” to God, since returning to Sunday Mass and the St. Patrick’s community, their faith has deepened and been renewed in immense ways.

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

Faith amid the flames

After their church was lost to a fire, Fox Lake’s Catholic community hope to see a new church built this year

By Kyle Greenham
Northern Light

The Little Flower Mission Church was the heartbeat of the Fox Lake First Nations community.

Since a fire destroyed much of the interior of the church last summer, this source of faith, belonging and cherished memories has been sadly missing for this devout Catholic community. But this fire has not taken away the strong faith of Fox Lake’s parishioners, and they now wait with strong hope for a new church in 2022.

Little Flower Mission Church after it was severely damaged by a fire in August of 2020. The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but it is believed to be caused by an electrical issue.

When asked about the immediate reaction of the community, as the fire uncontrollably raged and consumed the Little Flower Mission Church last August, community elder Leslie Joe Laboucan summarized it in one word: “devastated.”

“We were devastated. We felt lost, heartbroken,” said Leslie Joe, who is a band councillor and former chief in Fox Lake. He was confirmed and married at the Little Flower Mission Church, and he often helps the parish priest Father Andrew Simiiyu, FMH with catechesis and preparations for services.

“I was silent. I was stunned. I didn’t want to even look at it at first. I could just feel an emptiness,” Leslie Joe recalled. “Even though its just a building, a house of worship – whatever you want to call it – it’s a vital part of the community, no doubt. So many memories have come out of there. People were saying, ‘We got baptized there, married there, it’s where we seen our loved ones go.’ So for a while we really felt lost.”

The initial view upon entering the church after the blaze.

That sense of loss was felt by the parish priest as well. It was only within hours of arriving in Narobi, Kenya that Fr. Andrew received word from Msgr. Charles Lavoie, PH, that there had been a severe fire at one of his churches. It was an immediate dampening on the relaxing summer vacation the priest was hoping to have back in his home country.

“I was shocked to hear it,” recalled Simiiyu, who had left for his vacation in the first week of August 2021, arriving in Kenya on Aug. 9th. He heard the news of the church fire one day later.

“My vacation was not that enjoyable because this would often creep into my mind and I had to live with it through that month. Msgr. Charles told me to just be calm and they would sort this thing out, but it was tough not to think about it again and again.”

 

More than 30 young people celebrated their first Holy Communion in Fox Lake just over a month before the fire condemned the church.

When Simiiyu finally got back to Canada at the end of the month, he was eager to go and see the state of his church in Fox Lake. It was not a reassuring sight when he got there. While the church exterior was still intact, black burn marks stained the doors, sides and roof of the church. The glass windows too had all been blown out by the flames.

Inside – the church had been reduced almost entirely to black rubble. Shelves, tables and pews were all badly burnt, broken and damaged. The altar was smoldered with flames to the point that one of its legs was reduced to ash and it had fully collapsed on one side. The ceiling was totally dilapidated, with insulation hanging from torched and broken boards. The bathroom and confessionals too had succumb to the blaze. Everything was covered in broken glass and black ash.

Further damage to the interior of the Fox Lake Church, with parts of the ceiling collapsing.

For a community with such strong devotion to the Church and to their Catholic faith, Fr. Andrew says, it was a deeply felt loss for the community.

“The people loved their Church. They are so religious, so Catholic in Fox Lake,” he said. “I always say 100% of Fox Lake is Catholic. They don’t entertain any other religion there. So the people are hurting. The first thing they asked me is ‘Father, are we going to get another church?’

“By that time, the archdiocese was already in communication here with [Little Red River Cree Nation] and the Chief and council in Fox Lake, and already a plan was being put in place.”

This is only an excerpt. Read the full story in the January-February edition of Northern Light

Fr. Andrew celebrating First Communions with young people in Fox Lake last summer.

New shoes for a new hope

Ontario pastor hopes donation to our archdiocese will be a step forward in reconciliation

Kyle Greenham
Northern Light

.Towards the end of last summer, five boxes full of donated shoes showed up on the doorsteps of the Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan’s chancery office.

The donations came from a small parish in southern Ontario, with the hope it would be both a help to Indigenous children in our region and a symbol of reconciliation.

When the Dene Tha’ Community School in Chateh received a box of these shoes this winter, principal Carlito Somera says this gift was a much-needed blessing for his students.

“We are thankful,” said Somera, who has been the principal with the Chateh school for 14 years. “There’s definitely a need for it.

“When we have a fire drill, many of our students have to go out without shoes. Or we have gym class and kids are just wearing socks, and that can be dangerous.”

Students in Chateh show off their new sneakers, donated by St. Mary’s Parish in Barrie, Ont.

The northern Dene reserve of Chateh was one of five Indigenous communities in our archdiocese who received a box of donated new shoes, all of various sizes and styles. The shoes were donated by St. Mary’s Parish in Barrie, Ontario, and given to the communities of Chateh, Sturgeon Lake, Fort Vermillion, Horse Lake and Grouard.

It was in the aftermath of the news out of Kamloops last May, when suspected unmarked graves were located near the grounds of a former Indian Residential School, that this initiative was sparked. As the pains and difficulties of the residential school system were brought back to light and the forefront of public conversation, the St. Mary’s community sought out a way to respond.

“Here in Barrie and the Archdiocese of Toronto we had no residential schools. But as Catholics, as Canadians, as people who encounter Indigenous peoples in need in our own community – we wanted to find a way to reach out,” said Father Larry Leger, pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Barrie, Ontario.

Pastor at St. Marys – Fr. Larry Leger.

The first Sunday after Kamloops had reignited conversations around the history of residential schools, Fr. Larry went to the Spirit Catcher – a prominent Indigenous artwork in Barrie – to pray.

He noticed that people had placed shoes underneath the art, representing children who went through the Indian Residential Schools system. It was a striking image for the priest.

Later that week, Ernestine Baldwin, a First Nations elder and parishioner at St. Mary’s, sparked the idea of using this symbol of the shoe in a positive and charitable way.

“She called me and said, ‘You know Father, as a way of going forward, wouldn’t it be possible to do a ‘shoe drive’ that would go to Indigenous children,’” Fr. Leger recalled.

This idea was brought to parishioners the following Sunday – June 6th – to collect donations of shoes for Indigenous communities in northern Canada. Over the following weeks, parishioners began donating new shoes or making monetary donations for purchasing them, until they had gathered a total of 100 pairs.

More students, alongside staff at Dene Tha’ Community School, show off their new shoes – thanks to St. Mary’s Church in Barrie, Ontario.

“We wanted to make sure Indigenous communities had new shoes. And we wanted to show our solidarity, our accompaniment with them,” said Father Leger. “Shoes became an important symbol. And it was a way for us to reach out as a community to show we wish to accompany them on this road to reconciliation.”

This is only an excerpt. Read the full story in the January-February edition of Northern Light

Helping those in need

Sexsmith bread ministry an important charitable work for parish and community

By Kyle Greenham
Northern Light

Lucille Partington walks up to another household in Sexsmith, carrying a box filled with bread and buns. It’s now Saturday evening and she’s delivering her final bundle for the day.

It is all a part of the weekly “bread ministry” at Immaculate Conception Church in Sexsmith – just one of several charitable initiatives the parish community is involved with.

For the past nine years, volunteers and parishioners have sponsored and organized this bread ministry, delivering bread each week to families, seniors and impoverished people in the community. While the Immaculate Conception Parish sponsors and organizes this ministry, many different people in the community help with it.

Lucille Partington

Partington says it’s an effort immensely needed in her town.

“There’s a lot of poverty in Sexsmith,” she said. “We’re a bedroom community of Grande Prairie in essence, so most of our people work in Grande Prairie. However, our taxes, rent and housing prices are lower, so we have a higher number of low-income people.”

The bread is provided by the bakery company Cobs Bread – who first sparked this bread ministry initiative. Each week, Cobs Bread stores across Alberta and Canada produce roughly 10% more bread than what they typically sell, and they give this remainder to a variety of churches, schools and charitable organizations who then distribute the bread to those in need.

Immaculate Conception Parish in Sexsmith is just one of the groups who work with Cobs Bread in this important charitable work. Every Friday evening, around 150 loafs and packages of bread and other bread products are brought to the church. On Saturday morning, a group of volunteers deliver the bread to low-income persons as well as seniors throughout the community. Sexsmith’s pastor Fr. Jeyapaul Packiasamy stays at the church for those who prefer to come grab the bread themselves.

Every Friday, an average of 150 packages of bread and other bread products are donated to the Immaculate Conception Parish as part of their bread ministry.

“We have about a dozen people we deliver to, as well as those who come to the church. Then there’s about two dozen seniors who are in need that we also help,” said Partington. “Including children, I’d say its approximately 60 people we help each week.”

For Shannon Ferguson and her eight children, this weekly delivery is a godsend and great help to her family.

Ferguson lives with her partner and their eight children in Sexsmith, and they have a ninth child on the way. The bread ministry through Immaculate Conception Church helps Shannon save at least $220 each month. The ministry has been helping her for the past four years.

“I really love it, it helps quite a lot,” she said. “With eight kids, soon-to-be nine, we go through a lot of bread so it saves me a lot of money.”

Immaculate Conception parishioner Lucille Partington prepares to deliver another box of bread as part of the parish’s weekly “bread ministry”.

This is only an excerpt. Read the full story in the January-February edition of Northern Light

Uniting in ministry

Pastoral Ministry Month provides opportunity for growth and collaboration in archdiocese

Kyle Greenham
Northern Light

On the morning of Nov. 20, the heavy overnight snowfall did not stop faithful from across McLennan, Falher, Girouxville, Tangent, Guy and St. Isidore from gathering at the St. John the Baptist Cathedral.

Thirty-two Catholics were there for the final event of the Pastoral Ministry Month – four weeks of conferences and retreats to encourage a sense of community, dialogue and inspiration for those who work in various ministries in our churches.

This closing retreat showed that, in an archdiocese that covers such a broad region and where winter weather can often be a major obstacle, the people still came together to share and be connected. And this, says Fr. Emmanuel Ekanem, was precisely the mission of these ministry retreats.

Fr. Emmanuel Ekanem speaks at the Deanery 1 retreat for the first “Pastoral Ministry Month”

“We decided to create a ‘Pastoral Ministry Month’ to bring people together – to talk about what we do, to reflect, to pray together and to build each other up,” said Fr. Ekanem, who is director of the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis for the archdiocese.

“We need to reignite the spirit of ministry in these very challenging times we are in now. The biggest part of this program is being in touch with people in ministry and to see how we can support, strengthen and encourage them.”

Pastoral Ministry Month is the first initiative of its kind in recent years for the Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan. Beginning in mid-October, a retreat was held with each of the five deaneries in our archdiocese, as well as retreats with the Holy Family and Grande Prairie Catholic school boards. A Diocesan Ministry Conference with guest speakers Bishop Stephen Hero of the Diocese of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan and Sister Angela Marie Castellani, FSE of the Archdiocese of Vancouver was also held. The Deanery 1 retreat brought 32 people, 40 people attended the Deanery 2 retreat, 46 attended the Deanery 3 and 4 retreat, and 26 attended the Deanery 5 retreat. The conference, hosted via Zoom, was attended by more than 100 people across the archdiocese.

Parishioners involved with ministry from across the archdiocese came together at each deanery retreat.

Just being able to bring people of the archdiocese together was the highlight for Fr. Emmanuel.

“We want people to know they are not alone in what they are going through,” he said. “Having our speakers like Fr. Leo [English], Sister Connie [Harkin], the Archbishop, Msgr. Charles [Lavoie] and myself, and hearing so many stories of ministry and how ministry has impacted them – it was all very beautiful and very enlightening.”

This sense of unity and inspiration was felt amongst attendees. Monica Bisley has helped McLennan’s parish priest, Father Eucharius Ndzefemiti, SDV, for several years with his ministry at Manoir du Lac – the long-term care home in McLennan. Twice a week she helps him prepare Mass for the residents.

Monica Bisley takes notes during Fr. Emmanuel Ekanem’s presentation.

“I find it is uniting – each of us gathered here with a common interest, a common vital interest,” Bisley said of the Nov. 20th retreat and the Nov. 15th conference she attended. “I found what Sister Angela [Marie Castellani] had to say very relevant – that we have to look at the Church in a different way. We’ve been doing the same thing for so long, but this situation has shaken us up to branch out, to reach out and be more inclusive.

“Given the isolation of the past two years, this has been very beneficial.”

This is only an excerpt. The full story will be in the December edition of Northern Light