Category Archives: Faith

Standing the test of time

Historic church in Friedenstal commemorates its 100th anniversary this year

Kyle Greenham
Northern Light

The towering steeple of St. Boniface Church has stood high above the gravel roads and farmland of Friedenstal for over a century.

From its rugged exterior of deteriorating paint and wood, one may expect St. Boniface Church, which has been closed since the 1970s, to be worn out and decrepit. But stepping inside, its altars, statues, crosses, vestments and chandelier are well preserved and almost miraculously pristine – looking as if the church had only closed its doors that previous Sunday.

St. Boniface Church in Friedenstal.

The church not only celebrates its centennial anniversary this year, this month honours the church’s patron saint – St. Boniface. His feast day was June 5.

Living just up the road from the historic church is Ed and Elizabeth Dechant. The couple have spent much of their life in Friedenstal. Ed’s ancestors first settled there from Germany in 1916. His mother’s side of the family fled to Canada from Russia in the 1920s, to escape communist persecution.

Even by the time his father arrived in 1916, Ed says Friedenstal was already well established. The area was settled by more than 50 different families, who were nearly all German Catholics.

Ed and Elizabeth Dechant inside St. Boniface Church, where its statues and altars are still in near-pristine condition.

“Pretty much every corner of the land somebody had taken,” he said. “People started coming here and surveying the land around 1909, and after that it just exploded. And the families didn’t travel much in those days; they pretty much stayed, hunted moose and were self-sufficient.”

Like much of the early Church in western Canada, the first priests to come to Friedenstal were Oblates of Mary Immaculate. The majority of St. Boniface’s priests came from Germany, and the parishioners were very insistent on having a German priest for their area.

The original log church in Friedenstal from 1913-1920.

They set up a small log church around 1913, with the permission of Bishop Emile Grouard, OMI. In 1920 construction began on their current St. Boniface Church. It was designed and built by Brother Eisemon, OMI. The first Mass was celebrated on Christmas Eve, 1921 with its first pastor Fr. Wilhelm Ebert. Ed says every Mass was around 2 and half hours, as the sermon was preached in both English and German.

The church was blessed by Bishop Grouard on August 15, 1922.

Shortly afterward, the Sisters of Providence established a convent and boarding school that was attended by children from Friedenstal and outlying areas. Ed had never learned to speak any English until he began attending that school.

“When the nuns came, a new rectory was built and the nuns took over the old one as a convent,” said Ed. “When I was a kid, the church was pretty active. They had a resident priest, and a younger priest that helped him. It’s the place where people would met. I went to school right next door, and got to know the kids who came that would stay at the dorms.”

A group of Sister of Providence nuns in Friedenstal get ready to travel by horse.

Elizabeth’s most cherished memory of St. Boniface is the church choir. With a parish priest that was fond of the traditional music of the Church, there was great efforts to ensure the 30-person choir was up to the highest standard.

“One of our priests Father [Anthony] Herter just loved classical music,” Elizabeth recalled. “They would sing all in Latin, and they arranged the singing in four different parts. It was quite a commotion. The choir had to be as good as possible.”

The Corpus Christi feast was one of the parish’s biggest celebrations.  Parishioners would plant trees in honour of the feast day, and hold a procession through the whole community, with altars set up throughout the area.

The high altar at St. Boniface Church, as it stands today.

In the winter time, a fire had to be started in the furnace of the church every Saturday evening to prepare for Sunday Mass and “get the chill out” of the building. Ed says that sometimes, depending on who started the fire, it would be pretty smoky in the church and you would be tempted to go outside during Mass to try and cool down.

In the 1950s some refurbishments were done on the church, replacing some of the original woodwork and repainting it. But no serious restoration work has been done on the church since that time. Fr. Martin Doll, OMI, was ordained a priest at the church on June 30, 1952.

When the railway was established along Fairview in the late 1920s, gradually all major resources began to centralize in that area. By the mid-1960s Fridenstal’s school shut down, and then in 1969, St. Boniface Church’s doors were closed. Locals then had to make the trip to Fairview for school and Sunday Mass.

Elizabeth Dechant holds up a German-English Bible, one of many unique items still preserved at St. Boniface Church.

At the time, Ed says opinion was split. The church was still very active, but with the closure of the school many expected that the church would be next.

Today there are only about 25 families in the Friedenstal area. As Elizabeth says, now the farms are getting bigger, but the people are getting less.

Even if it has been closed for more than 50 years, St. Boniface Church is one part of Friedenstal that still remains.

“For a 100-year-old church it’s in pretty good shape, but it needs some work,” said Ed.

Ed and Elizabeth outside of St. Boniface, where a new paint job is certainly needed.

One major issue is that the church was built without a solid foundation. When it was constructed in 1920, they used only big rocks and put timbers over them. Now that the church has been designated as a historical site by the province, Ed and Elizabeth hope in the future it can get some needed restoration work on its foundation and exterior.

In May 1982, the Friedenstal Historical Society was established. They own and look after the property today.

“Any government funding we would get for it we would have to match it locally,” said Ed. “With COVID a lot of fundraising we would normally do has been put on hold.

“The funding we need could get pretty major considering it needs a new foundation.”

The high altar at St. Boniface before its closure in 1969.

‘It’s apocalyptic right now’

Local priest personally affected by India’s pandemic crisis hopes people will pray for recovery

By Kyle Greenham
ArchGM News

Each day Father Michael Dias scrolls through his phone to see the latest devastating news from his home country of India, a nation brought to the brink by the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is one harrowing story after another. His two nieces are front-line workers at the Manipal Hospital, working 24 hours a day with no opportunities to return home. The hospital’s 5000 beds are now all filled with COVID patients.

Caritas India has several initiatives in place to help people through the COVID-19 pandemic. Images provided via Caritas India.

Dias’ home province of Karnataka in southern India is now reporting more than 500 deaths every 24 hours. Dias’ brother contracted the virus and has been hospitalized and on a ventilator for the past two weeks.

Catholic churches Dias visited as a boy have now been turned into isolation centres for COVID patients who have been turned away from the hospitals. Most recently, Dias heard from a family member that 71 bodies were found dumped and floating in a river in eastern India.

It’s these stories that have kept Dias’ prayers with constant thoughts of India, his family and the thousands of COVID victims there.

Many of Fr. Michael Dias’s family in India have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. He has served the Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan for nearly three years.

“The situation is not good. It’s very scary. In my home province there were 39,000 cases and 517 deaths just in the past 24 hours,” Dias said in a May 12th interview. Dias has been a pastor with the Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan for nearly three years, serving the parishes in Beaverlodge, Hythe and Rio Grande.

“My nieces working the frontlines seem very distressed,” the priest added. “They are working 24/7; they won’t even let them go home for a day to recuperate. Death rates are rising. People are suffocating. Many sick people are being turned away.”

Rev. Michael Dias celebrating Mass in his home country of India. As the country is faced with a devastating COVID-19 outbreak, his thoughts and prayers are often of home at this time.

As for what parishioners in the Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan can do to help in this difficult and historic situation, Dias offers three words of advice.

“Pray, pray, pray,” he said. “Pray for the victims. Pray for the Indian government that their [leaders] will have the knowledge and wisdom to do what is right. And whatever people can contribute to Caritias India through Development and Peace, they should.”

The Catholic charity Development and Peace-Caritas Canada launched their appeal to combat the pandemic crisis in India on May 6. All donations go to Caritas India, and other Church-supported charities, who have launched several initiatives to help the Indian people get through this crisis, particularly in poorer regions of the country.

Mia Klein-Gebbinck, a representative with Development and Peace-Caritas Canada for the Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan, says the help is desperately needed.

With the help of donations from Development and Peace-Caritas Canada, Caritas India provides food, medical supplies and hygiene materials to poorer regions of India. Images provided via Caritas India

“The need is so great. We all have to do whatever we’re able to do,” said Klein-Gebbinck, who is a parishioner of St. Mary’s Church in Beaverlodge and has worked with Development and Peace-Caritas Canada for more than 25 years.

“It’s a reliable avenue for the donations to go. Development and Peace is a Catholic charity supported by our bishops, and the Caritas network has been tried and tested for a long time. Donations are just drops in the bucket according to the great need that is there, but every drop in the bucket is helpful.”

Klein-Gebbinck has a sister who is a nun with the Medical Mission Sisters, a religious congregation dedicated to providing health care in poorer regions of the world. The Medical Mission Sisters established several hospitals in the New Delhi area of India, which is currently heavily affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.  Klein-Gebbinck’s sister has told her that many of the nuns offering health care in that region are being worked to capacity, and some have fallen gravely ill with the virus themselves.

In Michael Dias’ home province of Karnataka in southern India is now reporting more than 500 COVID deaths every 24 hours. Images provided via Caritas India

“It’s a desperate situation,” said Klein-Gebbinck. “In this over-crowded, dense populations the virus spreads like wildfire. It overwhelms you thinking of the number of things to be done. So we need to work with organizations like Caritas India who are on the ground and know where the needs are greatest.”

Some of Caritas India’s efforts include bringing food to distribution centres and to impoverished communities, as well as sanitizer and hygiene materials. They also donate equipment and resources to Church-run clinics and hospitals in India. As well, they fund and organize public education campaigns to help people know where they can get vaccinated or access other health care resources.

Development and Peace-Caritas Canada says all donations to their appeal in India are desperately needed at this time. Images provided via Caritas India

“There’s shortages everywhere. Whether it’s medical supplies, oxygen, medications, beds – they’re all desperately needed. It’s apocalyptic right now,” said Klein-Gebbinck. “Even though it’s a hard time for us here in Canada, with the scope of the situation in India, the needs there are so great. We have no idea what it’s like.

“Whatever we can do to help, we need to do.”

Donations to Development and Peace-Caritas Canada’s efforts in India can be made here. Father Dias also proposed that parishes offer a Mass with intercessory prayers for the victims of the COVID-19 pandemic – not just in India, but around the world.

Prayer by Pope Francis for protection during the COVID-19 pandemic

O Mary, you shine continuously on our journey as a sign
of salvation and hope.
We entrust ourselves to you, Health of the Sick.
At the foot of the Cross you participated in Jesus’ pain,
with steadfast faith.
You, Salvation of the Roman People, know what we need.
We are certain that you will provide, so that,
as you did at Cana of Galilee,
joy and feasting might return after this moment of trial.
Help us, Mother of Divine Love,
to conform ourselves to the Father’s will
and to do what Jesus tells us:
He who took our sufferings upon Himself,
and bore our sorrows to bring us,
through the Cross, to the joy of the Resurrection.
We seek refuge under your protection, O Holy Mother of God.
Do not despise our pleas – we who are put to the test
– and deliver us from every danger, O glorious and blessed Virgin.

Editor’s reflection: St. Joseph the Worker

St. Joseph the Worker, and how Christianity transformed the meaning of work

By Kyle Greenham
ArchGM News

The Book of Proverbs states, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”

One of the greatest threats to a healthy spiritual life is simply a lack of things to do. With it comes laziness, boredom, temptations and the slow ease into sin. Fr. Don Calloway says in his book Consecration to St. Joseph, “The devil hates an honest and diligent worker.” If that’s the case, then the devil must adore a lazy and inactive idler.

Work is a most practical remedy to the many sins that easily follow from idleness. Before you can let sinful thoughts take hold, quickly shift into some activity – whether it be physical exercise, practicing a skill, finally cleaning out that closet or storage space. Work is a spiritual antidote to this most prominent sin of the modern world – call it sloth, boredom, acedia, or a number of other names. In an age of TVs, smart phones, and a pandemic that has cancelled countless activities and kept many people shuttered within their homes, there’s no doubt that modern life directs us to be passively entertained, not actively working.

Work is a most practical remedy to the many sins that easily follow from idleness. It is a spiritual antidote to this most prominent sin of the modern world.

May 1, the feast day of St. Joseph the Worker, offers us a chance to meditate on the spiritual nature of work, something that I think our Christian faith is uniquely capable of understanding and expressing.

At the beginning of time God commanded Adam to work, specifically, to toil and cultivate the earth. “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. (Gen 2:15) …Fill the earth and govern it (1:28).” Thus, all of our daily labours have a spiritual character, because we are fulfilling this most primordial of commandments – to work upon God’s creation and care for it. “Our daily work is a continuation in creation, consequently it has its archetype in God… All functions and occupations can and should be seen as reflections of His Divine Activity.” (Jean Hani, Divine Craftsmanship)

This sanctification of work reaches an entirely new depth through the Incarnation. When Christ enters the world, He spend His early years not as a royal prince or philosopher, but as a labourer. “Our Lord desired to do manual labour for many years before initiating his public ministry. Why did he do it? He did it because he wanted to sanctify work and teach us that work is honourable and pleasing to God.” (Calloway, Consecration to St. Joseph) Christ fulfilled that early commandment in Genesis as a carpenter – a man who takes the wood created by God and through his labour shapes it into something new and useful.

In [Jesus’] humanity, he learned how to work as a man by imitating the example of his earthly father, St. Joseph.” (Calloway, Consecration to St. Joseph)

St. Joseph is the model for Christian work because “he taught the God-man how to work.”

“When he became flesh, Jesus sanctified human work and elevated it to a level of greatness that did not exist prior to his Incarnation. Though divine, God humbled himself, became a man, and worked like a man. In his humanity, he learned how to work as a man by imitating the example of his earthly father, St. Joseph.” (Calloway, Consecration to St. Joseph)

Pope Pius XII noted this too when he declared the feast day of St. Joseph the Worker on May 1, 1955, seeing in St. Joseph the exemplar for all working class people: “The humble workman of Nazareth personifies before God and the Church the dignity of the man who works with his hands, and is always the provident guardian of you and your families.”

But this “dignity of the man who works with his hands” was not the attitude of the pre-Christian world. The ancient philosopher Aristotle famously defended slavery as something necessary in society, because physical labour was undignified for the upper classes and gifted intellectuals. Without slaves to do all the physically demanding toil of life, Aristotle argued, philosophers would not have the necessary time to contemplate. The Jesuit priest and economist Heinrich Pesch noted that, in the pagan world which preceded Christianity, “All work which did not have a predominantly intellectual character was looked on with disdain and as unworthy of a man’s respect. It was done by slaves and burdened with the stigma of bondage.” (Pesch, Liberalism, Socialism and the Christian Social Order)

Christianity ushered in a new dignity to work through St. Benedict’s motto “Ora et Labora” – work and prayer.

However, the Catholic “Middle Ages brought work to its proper status… There was the Christian principle that the natural goods of this earth are destined by God to provide for the needs of all, and not for satisfying the fantasies, or merely enriching, certain individuals.” This Christian principle of work also meant that “Man ought to work for the sake of the glory of God who commanded work, and to have the blessing for his industry which lies in the soul; and what is conducive to Christian joy and happiness, and no less in order to share the fruits of our work with the poor and the sick.” (Pesch, Liberalism, Socialism and the Christian Social Order)

How did the Middle Ages bring about this transformation? With the collapse of the Roman Empire, around 4th century AD, came the collapse of this pagan attitude towards work; namely that physical labour was nothing more than an unfortunate burden only fit for lowly slaves. Christianity demolished this worldview and brought a new dignity to work largely through the Benedictine monks and their motto – Ora et Labora – work and prayer.

After Rome’s collapse, it was the Benedictine monasteries that restored order and rebuilt much of Europe. Through their motto of Ora et Labora, Benedictine monks lived lives of strenuous farm work and agricultural development, but also devoted many hours each day to prayer, the Liturgy of the Hours and the reading of Scripture. These Christian monks exemplified lives of both rigorous physical labour and the meditative contemplation of prayer. They proved the Aristotelian view wrong, showing that a man’s daily life could consist of both intellectual, spiritual and physical pursuits. By the Benedictines example, a new dignity and honour was placed on work that the world had not seen until that time.

The Benedictine monks exemplified lives of both rigorous physical labour and the meditative contemplation of prayer.

This new Christian attitude towards work also cultivated the virtue of humility. Work can not only cure us of the idleness that leads us into temptation, it can also heal us of our pride. Nothing chips away at a man’s selfishness or his delusions of grandeur more than submitting to the (often humiliating) task of learning a new skill. Whether that be learning how to change the oil in your car or trying your hand at a home plumbing issue, these tasks begin with a humble admittance that we still have things to learn. As John Waters put it in his book Give Us Back the Bad Roads, “Making things, fixing things… takes a man out of his self-absorption and renders him answerable to the logic of the world and the rest of its inhabitants. It is the enemy of narcissism and self-will.” Work answers our inner insistence to know and understand things, it saves us from “the devil’s workshop” of idleness, and by work we learn how important it is to cooperate with the world, with each other and fulfill God’s commandment to be the caretakers of His creation. “We must recognize God as the sole source and energy in all we do and in all the gifts we receive… By returning our action to God, we avoid returning to our own ego.” (Hani, Divine Craftsmanship)

By work we learn how important it is to cooperate with the world, with each other and fulfill God’s commandment to be the caretakers of His creation.

In our time, when it often seems like selfish pride and ego reigns supreme in society, where looking good on your social media profile is more important than doing good works in the world, the feast day of St. Joseph the Worker is needed now more than ever. It gives us the chance to acknowledge the dignity of work, the great humility it can teach us, and the way it can bring us closer to God. This is embodied in no one as much as St. Joseph, the man who taught Christ how to work.

I hope this feast of St. Joseph the Worker aids you in meditating on the importance of work, and why all Christians should remember and live by that Benedictine motto – Ora et Labora – for this is key to a healthy and upright life. Both in our spirit and in our day-to-day living, we need to make time for prayer and time for work to embody the complete human person God intends us all to be.

St. Joseph the Worker, pray for us.

Conversations with Bertha: Apostolic Succession

Cliquez ici pour lire la version française

“Conversations with Bertha” is a new feature that will appear from time to time in Archbishop’s Pettipas’ letters. These tales are of a purely Catechetical nature, and any resemblance between Bertha and any person known to the reader is purely coincidental.

Conversations with Bertha – 1
by Archbishop Gerard Pettipas

Let me tell you a little bit about Bertha.

Bertha is a convert to the Catholic Church.  She was raised in a Protestant Church of some sort – one of the many small evangelical churches that these days dot any city or small town.  One of her best childhood friends was a Catholic, and Bertha admired lots of what she heard about the Catholic Church, and especially the Sacraments.  She loved joining her friend for Mass.  It didn’t all make sense to her, but she liked it.  She became a Catholic when she married her husband, who was a Catholic but a reluctant one at times.  Bertha felt it was important for her small family to pray in the same church.

This story begins with a swimming trip to Eastlink Centre in Grande Praire.

She still had lots of questions about the Catholic Church, though, and she was not shy to ask me these, even if she sensed her question might force me into a corner.  Some Catholics would be shy to ask such things, even of a priest, let alone a bishop.  I think there’s still a Protestant streak in Bertha.

I like to go swimming at the Eastlink Centre.  Not often, but every so often I’ll run into parishioners there.  The other evening, as I came out of the men’s changeroom, I bumped into Bertha as she exited the women’s change room.  “Good evening, Bertha”, I greeted her.  “Oh, Your Grace.  So nice to see you.  Are you off somewhere right now?  Or could I treat you to an ice cream at this fancy parlour nearby?”  “That’d be nice, thank you”, I replied.  We got in our respective vehicles and met up at Menchies.

As we each made our way into our custom-made cups of frozen yogurt, Bertha began.  “Your Grace, in RCIA they told us about the Catholic Church going back to Jesus’ twelve apostles.  The Church that I grew up with didn’t make those sorts of claims, in the sense of a line of succession like a family tree.  We took the Bible very seriously, and so I believed firmly that we go back to Jesus Christ Himself, and his teachings.  We would turn to the Bible when we wanted to know God’s Word about any teaching.  But the Catholic Church makes stronger claims than that.  Can you tell me more what that’s all about?”

“That’s a good question, Bertha.  And to answer it fully, our ice cream would be either devoured or long melted.  Let me try to put this as simply as possible.

Archbishop Gerard Pettipas celebrates the 2021 Chrism Mass with the priests of the Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan.

“As Jesus came to earth to do the Father’s Will, that is to save us from eternal death and establish the Kingdom of God, he gathered twelve apostles from among his many followers, to be especially close to Him and leaders with him.  This corresponds to the twelve tribes of Israel, who were the “Kingdom of Israel”, grown out of the twelve sons of Jacob.  At the Pentecost event told by Luke early in the book of Acts, we see the Holy Spirit coming upon them, giving them the spiritual gifts that they needed to become confident and bold evangelizers, who would go forth from Jerusalem and bring Jesus’ message to the then-known world … which in those days was basically around the Mediterranean.  The twelve apostles had become 11, of course, with Judas Iscariot’s suicide, but the 11 corrected that by selecting Matthias as a replacement for Judas.  And you had St. Paul, after his conversion on the road to Damascus, also becoming what he called himself — an apostle.

“Many people who heard the apostles and others preach about Jesus came to believe and accept the Christian message, and ask to be baptized.  The Christian community spread very quickly during the first decades and centuries, even in the face of persecution by Roman emperors and other leaders who were suspicious of what they saw as a new movement or sect.  In each place, the apostle who founded a Church in that area might ‘lay hands on’ and thus ordain a successor to lead that community, while he himself went on to other cities and towns.  These leaders of Christian communities were called by the Greek word, episcopoi, which means ‘overseers’.  We translate that word into English as bishop.  So, each bishop in the Catholic Church at least is the leader of a local Church, or what we call a diocese.  His spiritual lineage, like a family tree, goes all the way back to the apostles.  This is what we mean when we say in the Creed at Mass every Sunday, ‘I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.’  It’s apostolic because it goes back to the apostles.”

Archbishop Gerard Pettipas offers a blessing to Father Feroz Fernandes.

Bertha looked down at her empty ice cream cup.  She looked over and saw that mine was empty as well.  “Thank you for this, Your Grace.  But what you just said about one, holy and catholic raises other questions for me.”  “Another time”, I said.  “I should get back home.  But thank you for the ice cream.  And for this conversation.”

As I was driving home, I had the thought that the RCIA should last a lifetime.  As this thought developed, I said to myself, “Of course.  It does.”

Stay tuned for future installments of “Conversations with Bertha”.

A growing faith

Charismatic renewal group El Shaddai celebrates six years in Grande Prairie

Kyle Greenham
ArchGM News

For Giegie Perez, El Shaddai has been a source of community, faith, and most importantly – healing.

When Perez first moved to Grande Prairie in 2018, her family was dealing with some difficult issues. At the time, their young daughter Chloe was continuously upset, crying into the late hours of the night.

St. Joseph’s parishioners Giegie Perez, her husband Elvin and children Chloe and Alex, are proud members of El Shaddai’s Grande Prairie chapter.

It was the prayers and support of the El Shaddai community that ultimately lifted them out of that trauma.

“We were praying the rosary, singing praise and worship, and then Chloe stopped crying for the first time in months,” Perez said, recalling her family’s first experience with El Shaddai. “It was a big help in our family. It gave us this sense of forgiveness, and all of the anger in our hearts that we were dealing with at the time, it was gone.

“Our lives changed in a major way when we joined El Shaddai.”

This year, the Catholic charismatic renewal group El Shaddai is celebrating six years in Grande Prairie. Their chapter was started in early 2015 by seven parishioners at St. Joseph’s Church, who had been a part of El Shaddai groups in the Philippines, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

The Catholic charismatic renewal group El Shaddai has grown to more than 50 members at its Grande Prairie chapter.

El Shaddai began in 1984 by founder Mike Velarde, who had a profound religious conversion while overcoming a heart ailment. The experience inspired him to start his own radio program, which has now grown into one of the largest Catholic charismatic movements in the world. Worship in El Shaddai is centered on the celebration of Mass, and followed by a service filled with singing, dancing, studying Scripture and giving testimonials.

Archbishop Gerard Pettipas offered a video message for the El Shaddai group at St. Joseph’s, as they celebrated their sixth year at the parish.

His Grace Archbishop Gerard Pettipas offered a happy sixth anniversary to El Shaddai’s Grande Prairie chapter in a video message. He blessed and congratulated the group, and encouraged them to embrace devotion to St. Joseph and pray that fathers within their community will be the Christian role models God calls them to be.

“We started an El Shaddai chapter here because we wanted to grow in faith and be closer to God,” said Irene Llanto, who has been a part of El Shaddai since 1996. “For us, it’s about creating that faith that’s in our hearts. So we sing, we raise our hands and praise God, we pray in thanksgiving for our blessings, and pray through the midst of our trials.”

Llanto says the group are very grateful that St. Joseph’s Church and Archbishop Pettipas have allowed El Shaddai to flourish within the parish. The Grande Prairie chapter now has more than 50 members, although around 30 attend regularly. Because of the pandemic, they currently host their meetings over Zoom every Sunday. Many members had never heard of El Shaddai until they discovered the group at St. Joseph’s.

Singing, dancing and testimonials are a big part of El Shaddai’s worship. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the group have hosted their services on Zoom.

“St. Joseph’s Church has become like home for me,” said Llanto. “I made lots of friends from joining the choir and doing other things. One of the goals of El Shaddai is to help the parish and parish priest, whether it’s in music, eucharistic ministry, or whatever else. So we stay very involved.”

Since they first joined in 2018, Perez and her family have taken leading roles in St. Joseph’s El Shaddai chapter. Her husband Elvin now MCs their Sunday events and Perez plays guitar in their choir.

Families in El Shaddai’s Grande Prairie chapter celebrate a day outdoors.

It has also been a great aid in passing on faith to her children. Recently, Chloe and Perez prayed for a family friend who was struggling to get pregnant. When the friend finally did have her child, Chloe saw it as Christ answering their prayers.

“It has given us so many good experiences,” said Perez. “When we sing, when we hear the Gospel [through testimonials and studying the Scriptures] and understand it so much more, it helps our faith and has hugely impacted our family.”

What draws Llanto so strongly to El Shaddai is that it helps her experience the presence of God in a very real way.

Irene Llanto is a founding member of the El Shaddai group at St. Joseph’s Church in Grande Prairie

“When I’m singing, I feel something rise up in my heart. I really feel the presence of the Lord,” she said. “When I’m leading the worship, I feel like an angel is holding me.”

An important prayer in El Shaddai is asking God to grow the faith and bring more people to the Church. Similar El Shaddai chapters have recently started in High Level and Peace River.

“Because this diocese is so big we are always calling on God, asking Him for more workers,” said Llanto. “That’s one prayer we are always asking God – to give us more courage and help us in our goal of bringing more people to the Church.”


Missionary nun and Indigenous Catholic fondly remember the canonization of St. Kateri Tekakwitha

Kyle Greenham
ArchGM News

Sister Mary Jeanne Davidson can still recall the canonization of St. Kateri Tekakwitha like it was yesterday.

In those brief moments on October 21, 2012, as Pope Benedict XVI entered St. Peter’s Square and an organ resounded over the tens of thousands of people there, the School Sister of Notre Dame was touched profoundly.

Portrait of St. Kateria Tekakwitha at the Sacred Heart Church in Cadotte Lake, Alberta.

“Wherever this organ was I never saw, but it started playing ‘Veni Sancte Spiritus’ and I could feel it vibrating in my ribcage,” Sister Mary Jeanne recalled, in an interview before St. Kateri’s April 17 feast day.

“We all just felt fully alive and excited. I thought I was in an ocean with the saints in heaven, with all the Indigenous people on earth and the suffering Church – we were all one at that moment.”

As Canada’s first Indigenous saint, Kateri Tekakwitha’s life has touched many Catholics. Her canonization was a particularly moving experience for Billy Thomas of the Woodland Cree community in Cadotte Lake. Years before the canonization, Thomas had visited her grave in Kahnawake, Quebec.

“It’s like a dream to talk about it. People don’t believe I was there,” Thomas said. “It was certainly a proud moment seeing her canonized. She means a lot to native people. It struck my heart when I visited her grave, so when I heard about her canonization I decided right away I had to go.”

The saint is also close to Sister Mary Jeanne’s heart. The School Sister of Notre Dame has worked with indigenous communities in the Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan since 2002, mainly in the areas of Cadotte Lake, Little Buffalo, and Duncan First Nations.

Sister Mary Jeanne Davidson

Sister Mary Jeanne believes devotion to St. Kateri can particularly inspire Indigenous people because of the many trials Kateri had to endure to keep her Catholic faith.

St. Kateri first heard the Gospel through Jesuit missionaries in her village. In 1669, when she was 13, Kateri helped these priests treat Mohawks and Mohicans wounded in battle. It further convinced her of the holiness of their faith.

Kateri then spent her days wandering through the woods and praying to Jesus. She would make crosses out of sticks and branches around her – something people devoted to Kateri still do today. Her family, however, did not approve of her new found faith and arranged to have her married. She resisted, having pledged her life to Christ, and eventually fled her village to live at the Jesuit mission of Kahnawake, south of Montreal, where she remained for the rest of her short life.

“It’d be wonderful to share her story more, to awaken devotion to St. Kateri in our communities,” said Sister Mary Jeanne. “I pray to her all the time, and we have many reasons to pray to her today.”

St. Kateri Tekakwitha

While she continually prays for Kateri’s intercession, actually going to her canonization was never the sister’s intention.

It was in June of 2012, from within the Woodland Cree community’s small log church named after the Sacred Heart of Jesus, that Sister Mary Jeanne announced to the people that a young Indigenous woman who died in Canada was going to be canonized a saint.

As she was about to hand out prayer cards of the soon-to-be-saint to parishioners, telling them to pour out all their hopes and prayers to Kateri, Billy Thomas piped up from the back of the church – “We should make a pilgrimage! And sister, you should come too!”

By the time that Mass was over, there was already five people in the parish determined to make a pilgrimage to Rome and be there for the canonization. Seven people in total went.

“They were so earnest to make this a pilgrimage, right from the get go,” Mary Jeanne recalled. “There were many obstacles along the way, but we prayed. We had faith.”

Billy Thomas provides music during Mass at Sacred Heart Church in Cadotte Lake.

Those obstacles came early on in the pilgrimage. Due to some forgotten passports, the group initially were split up at the Edmonton airport. But, providentially, they found each other two days later at the generalate for the School Sisters of Notre Dame in Rome. The group provided music for the sisters’ Masses each morning.

On the day of the canonization they took a taxi to St. Peter’s Square at 4 a.m. Although it was not scheduled to begin until 10 a.m., there were already lines of people crowding into the Square. Their taxi driver managed to take them near an opening gate and the group got front row seats to the canonization. As the hours went by, as many as 50,000 gathered there.

“A whole bunch of people from Canada were there, Indigenous people from all around the world,” said Thomas. “Somehow in that huge crowd we ran into our Archbishop Pettipas there, and then all of a sudden someone shouted my name ‘Billy! Billy!’ and a friend of mine from Manitoba was there too.”

“We made a circle there and prayed in thanksgiving and for the Church. It was just an incredible experience,” Mary Jeanne added. “In all things that happened we saw the hand of God.”

Billy Thomas initiated the pilgrimage to Rome that several Sacred Heart Church parishioners made for St. Kateri’s canonization.

They took with them sealed letters of prayer intentions from the Woodland Cree community. The group bonded on one specific prayer intention – that St. Kateri would help them in increasing faith and a love for the Eucharist in their community.

Sister Mary Jeanne believes that St. Kateri is still answering this prayer today. Recently, due to COVID-19 restrictions, Sacred Heart Church’s pastor Rev. Cyril Joseph placed a sign in the local store in Cadotte Lake, asking parents who would like to have their children baptized to provide their contact information. Then, those baptisms would be arranged one by one to comply with health restrictions.

After putting up the poster, Sister Mary Jeanne spoke “St. Kateri, please take care of this list.” Over the next two months, 17 families signed up to have their children baptized. It was a much larger number than they expected.

“So there is a quietly growing faith. God is working all the time and He is blessing our archdiocese,” said Sister Mary Jeanne. “We just have to keep listening to the Spirit, and find how the Spirit awakens faith in the people.”

St. Kateri Tekakwitha, intercede for us and pray for us, especially for the Indigenous people of this Archdiocese, of Canada and of North America. May your conversion story inspire many to seek and know Jesus. Amen.

Father Feroz bids farewell

Passionate priest reflects on his three years in northern Alberta

Kyle Greenham
ArchGM News

As Fr. Feroz Fernandes bids farewell to his first parish, the place he has made home for the past three years, many fond memories run through his mind.

But, the priest would not describe them as things he will miss. Instead, these are memories he will always carry with him.

Rev. Fernandes with parishioners on Christmas Day, 2019.

“As a priest, your heart goes 100 percent into the place you are assigned. And the people, they come to adopt you. The moment they adopt – you feel like you belong,” said Fernandes, who has ministered to the faithful of Grimshaw, Whitelaw and Duncan First Nations since 2018. “This sense of belonging I will carry with me from Canada – a sense of belonging to the people, to the land, to the faith experiences.

“I won’t say I’ll miss it, because I’ll carry it with me.”

Originally from the state of Goa in India, Fernandes was ordained a priest in the Society of Pilar in 2002. Since then he has lived an adventurous life of ministry, as a missionary in remote communities without electricity or running water, an editor for a Catholic newsweekly, a member of the Society’s formation team, a YouTube vlogger, amongst many other roles.

Rev. Feroz Fernandes at Holy Family Church in Grimshaw, the parish he has called home for the past three years.

His time in the Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan marked not only his first experience as a pastor, it was also his first time in Canada.

It was while studying at Chicago’s DePaul University for a masters degree in public service management that Fernandes decided, if he truly wanted to better his leadership skills, he needed to spend some time as a parish priest.

“I needed grassroots experience,” he said. “I wanted to go to a diocese, understand the pattern of it, to live with the people, to walk with them.”

Rev. Feroz Fernandes stops by the 2020 Alberta Pond Hockey Championship at Lac Cardinal Provincial Park.

Fernandes prepared a letter and forwarded it to a friend priest in Calgary. From there, it was shared with other bishops in the province. Archbishop Gerard Pettipas was the first to respond.

“My thinking was the first diocese that reaches out to me – I will take it. I am not a home bug. I couldn’t even pronounce the name of the archdiocese. I still have trouble sometimes trying to spell it,” he said with a laugh. “But it was immediately very interesting to me. This archdiocese is very northern and isolated, with many different communities.”

As soon as he settled into Holy Family Church in Grimshaw, Fernandes made sure to partake of every uniquely Canadian experience he could. Having grown up in India, where it is always hot and humid, he particularly came to love Alberta’s snowy and bitter cold winters.

Father Fernandes takes part in the “polar bear plunge” in Lac Cardinal Provincial Park.

“I’ve tried skiing, snowshoeing, dogsledding. I jumped into the Peace River polar bear plunge. I went ice fishing countless times. Tell me what I have not done in the snow,” the priest recalled. “I enjoy winter. Once it was -52 and I woke up in the middle of the night and went out to Bear Lake to watch the northern lights. Only a crazy guy like me would do that.

“I even made an announcement to the parish – whenever there are northern lights, give me a call, I will go.”

Fernandes’ outgoing and charismatic personality is a key part of his priesthood. Through his time as pastor, he came to understand how much the priest is a point of connection, and not only in people’s spiritual lives.

“You connect people to God, but you also connect people to people,” he said. “What you do, what you say, how you say it, how you process what others say – it all matters. This has been the greatest lesson, that when someone comes to me with an idea or concern, I must take the time to process it, to be patient and journey with it.

Rev. Feroz Fernandes enjoys the company of Rev. Nel Esguerra of Our Lady of Peace Parish in Peace River, at Camp St. Martin.

“Because Canada is a very diverse place, the faith experiences amongst each of our people are very different. If a priest can pick up on this diversity and incorporate it into his ministry, and be the person who can bring equilibrium to the community, he will do well. If you can understand and incorporate their worldview, you will express faith much better.”

Fernandes lived this philosophy through his work with the Duncan First Nations community. Over the past three years, he has taken part in their pipe ceremonies, sweat lodges, and even fasted in the woods for three days, without food or water.

“These ceremonies were very fascinating. You discover how they look at the world and experience the Divine. And then you are better placed to express their faith experience, because you begin to see what God, the spirit, what all of these words mean to them.”

Father Feroz is visited by youth missionaries with NET Canada at Holy Family in Grimshaw.

All of these efforts reflect Fernandes’ core work ethic – the greater the challenge, the more he wants to tackle it.

“Challenge is a joy, it is like a dessert for me,” he said. “One of my prayers is, ‘God, if I don’t have a problem, give me one.’ Because problems only make you come closer to God, they make you a better person. If there are challenges, it means that I am trying to do better. Only if you are going out of yourself can you receive new knowledge.”

As a parting gift, Rev. Feroz Fernandes gave Archbishop Gerard Pettipas an artwork detailing a popular Christian conversion story from his home state of Goa in India.

Looking back on a venturesome life of travelling, delving into new jobs and experiencing different ways of life, Fernandes says he ultimately sees himself as a pilgrim. While some people travel to discover interesting things, he travels so he can discover God – who will then make things interesting.

Now Fernandes will be moving to Manila, the capital city of the Philippines, where he will be chief content editor for Radio Veritas Asia. The broadcasting company runs 21 Christian radio stations across Asia. As he prepares for this new pilgrimage in the Philippines, the parting advice the shepherd offers to his Albertan flock is to discover holiness and hold on to it.

On Good Friday 2019, Rev. Fernandes took part in an ecumenical prayer walk.

“It’s a message that’s stayed with me forever – holiness is amazing,” said Fernandes. “You taste it, it’s tranquillizing, it gives you a high that no other physical element can give. Holiness is not something that can be pursued. It is a gift, a gift you can only use for others. That is the beauty of life.”

The long way home

One family’s 20 year journey to the Catholic Church

By Kyle Greenham
ArchGM News     

Since Randy Steinke was set afire with the Holy Spirit 20 years ago, he has lived a life of street preaching, handing out Bibles, joining congregations and unrelentingly searching for the truth.

He and his family have gone from church to church, denomination to denomination, struggling through theological dispute after theological dispute, all with the uncompromising hope that they would one day find authentic faith and the one true Church founded by Jesus Christ.

Randy and Allison Steinke of Fourt Creek profess the Catholic faith at St. Joseph’s Church in Spirit River.

On April 5, 2021, at the moment Randy, his wife Allison, and their 10 children were received into the Catholic Church, that two-decade journey came to an end.

“When I received the Eucharist, it was like a tremendous weight was lifted off of me,” Randy said. “I still haven’t recovered from it, and I hope I never do.

“I can’t say my journey into the Catholic Church just began recently, because in a sense I’ve always been searching for the Church. I just didn’t always know that’s what I was searching for.”

The Steinke family celebrated their confirmations and the baptisms of all 10 of their children at St. Joseph’s Church in Spirit River. The Mass was celebrated by Archbishop Gerard Pettipas, and concelebrated by Rev. Arockiam Savarimuthu and Rev. Mark Sych.

It was the first time Savarimuthu had seen an entire family baptized at once. The experience left a deeply spiritual effect on the pastor.

“Seeing that is something that has very much strengthened my own faith,” he said. “They came to the Church because they desired the right faith, not a personally-interpreted faith. They wanted the Church that holds the original faith as given by Jesus.”

The Steinke family’s 10 children receive the light of Christ. All were baptized into the Church on Easter Monday, April 5.

Randy was raised by a devout Christian father, and he recalls praying with his dad when he was a boy. But it was not until 2001, when Randy had a radical conversion experience while praying, that his life became fully devoted to Christ.

The next year, while handing out Bibles on the street, Randy met his wife Allison and the pair soon fell in love. In the following years, they became a part of many faith communities throughout western Canada. They most recently spent nearly four years as part of the Mennonite community in Fourth Creek.

“Every church we attended it was like, ‘Okay, this is the church we can most agree with at the moment’, and that’s where we would go,” Allison recalled. “But after we joined the Catholic Church, every time I think about it it’s like this warm peace has come over me. Like I know this is the end of the road.

“We don’t have to search anymore.”

When asked what ultimately convinced him of Catholicism, Randy says it’s something he’d have to write a book to explain. G.K. Chesterton, who was also a convert to the Catholic faith, once said that there are ten thousand reasons to become Catholic, but they all boil down to one reason – because Catholicism is the truth.

In his self-described “radical belief”, Randy always felt he could never be a part of a church that compromised on the scriptures. He read the Bible front to back many times over, and he often butted heads with some churches due to his firm belief in the sanctity of marriage. While he had many anti-Catholic biases through his involvement with Protestant denominations, he began to rethink his position when he discovered that the Catholic Church was strong and uncompromising in its teachings on marriage and divorce.

The Steinke family’s 20-year journey to live sincerely and uncompromisingly for Christ came to its crucial moment when they were confirmed into the Catholic Church at St. Joseph’s Church in Spirit River.

“I would die an island unto myself before I violated the principle of marriage,” said Randy. “After a friend of mine told me the Catholic teaching on marriage, I came to love the Church’s position. It’s clear and it has way more depth than I could ever conjure up. But initially my thinking was, well, just because the Catholic Church got this issue right doesn’t mean they’ve gotten everything right.”

From there, Randy began to read more and more books on the history of Christianity and Catholicism. In many ways, the “Road to Damascus” moment for Randy was coming to terms with the Eucharist and its central, unifying role in Catholic worship.

“The Eucharist was the main triggering point, because if this thing is true – it completely changes your concept of the church,” he said. “Once you begin to be convinced of the Eucharist, it haunts you. You develop this strange hunger for the Eucharist. It becomes something you desperately need spiritually.”

The decision to become Catholic has certainly come with its crosses, alongside its graces. Some family friends have vocally expressed anger at the Steinke’s decision to join the Church, and others have given them the cold shoulder.

Daughter Anna May Steinke receives the chrism oil.

But there were also those who have not let the decision end their friendships. In fact, recently the Steinke’s family vehicle had broken down, and some of the Mennonite families in their community pitched in to purchase them a new van.

“There’s a handful of guys that have not taken it well,” Randy said. “They feel that we’ve been led astray and they’ve made some comments that have been very negative. So it’s been a dark, isolating time. Satan was definitely attacking us leading up to this.

“But there were also some who heard that we felt ostracized by the community and they didn’t want us to feel that way. They’re lovely people and our hearts bleed for them.”

It’s been a long road for the Steinke family, and now that they’ve returned home to the Church they have a whole new adventure ahead of them. Their eldest son Josiah has been borrowing many of Randy’s books, and has come to appreciate the Church much like his father.

“I’m a man who desperately wants to save the souls of his children, and I once felt I may have to start my own church just to do that,” said Randy. “Often I was accused of being un-submissive, but it was only because if I saw there was something that wasn’t true, I wanted to change it.

“But now I can submit in sublime humility and peace. I’ve found I’ve always wanted.”

Randy and Allison Steinke and their 10 children were received into the Catholic Church on Easter Monday, 2021.

Read the full April newsletter

‘It shows God is still involved’

Holy Week offers a sign of hope for parish priests

By Kyle Greenham 
ArchGM News     

Two cantors sang high at the Easter Vigil, their voices reverberating throughout St. Paul Catholic Church in High Prairie. Rev. Lawrence Odoemena looked up from the altar at the more than 50 parishioners gathered there to celebrate the most sacred time of year in the Catholic faith.

The sight and sounds should delight any priest, but this year they were particularly joyous.

“This gives us a little hope,” said Odoemena. “If we can come from zero people in the church at Holy Week last year to what we have now, it shows God is still involved with the Church and with each one of us.”

Rev. Lawrence Odoemena, pastor of St. Paul Catholic Church in High Prairie, says it was a joy to celebrate Easter with his parishioners this year.

That spark of hope was felt among High Prairie’s faithful as well.

“I spoke with people after the Mass and they were so happy that we could have Easter Mass again,” Odoemena recalled. “Even if we were only allowed to have two voices singing, it was so nice to have music again. A complete change from what we had last year.”

While some COVID restrictions were still in place, the celebrations were much different from Holy Week of 2020, when lockdowns were enforced and Odoemena had to celebrate the Easter Tridium alone within a dark, empty church.

“I never, ever imagined – from the whole of my days in seminary, in my entire vision of the priesthood – that Holy Week would come and there would be no public celebration,” said Odoemena. “It was odd. After celebrating the Easter Vigil alone, I was a little bit depressed. I was thinking to myself, ‘How could this be? Is this really an Easter liturgy when I’m alone like this?’

“Fast forward to this year and there is a big turn around.”

It was a much smaller turn around for Rev. Antony Iruthayam and the Catholic community of St. Martin’s Church in Wabasca.

For Good Friday, Rev. Antony Iruthayam organized an outdoor Mass and Stations of the Cross procession in Wabasca.

The small hamlet in northern Alberta has a population of around 1,500 people, but Wabasca and surrounding communities have seen nearly 500 cases of COVID-19, and more than 80 are still active. Because of the outbreak, their municipal government has issued its own lockdown and restrictions, which have been in place since January.

To find a way to overcome the limitations of only 30 people allowed at Mass, Iruthayam met with Wabasca’s municipal government to get permission for an outdoor Good Friday Mass and Stations of the Cross procession, where people could gather within their cars and celebrate. It was held in the parking lot of the Kekinow Native Housing Society.

“Having this Mass outside brought a few more people,” said Iruthayam. “It went really well. People felt it was great. For many it had been one year since they had the chance to celebrate Mass.”

More than 30 people were able to participate on Good Friday. The church saw only eight parishioners on Holy Thursday, 12 for the Easter Vigil and 20 people for two Easter Sunday Masses. On a typical year, the church would see around 60-100 people at each of their Easter masses.

“We have many seniors in our parish who are particularly worried about the virus,” Iruthayam said. “But there are some who have been fully vaccinated and come to Mass now.”

To allow more parishioners to take part, Good Friday Mass in Wabasca was held outside the Kekinow Native Housing Society.

For a priest in a community that is dealing with a major outbreak, it can be a time of great anxiety.

“There’s much frustration, much uncertainty,” said Iruthayam. “Seeing how the cases are rising again, it certainly feels like lockdowns are still a possibility for the future.”

Despite this uncertainty, Odoemena remains hopeful that by Holy Week of 2022, much of the stress and limitations of the pandemic will be nothing more than a memory of the past.

“With vaccinations and the pandemic under better control, I think we are going to have bigger and better celebrations next year,” he said. “There is hope. I’m excited about this prospect of a full church, and of seeing our people without masks.”

Read the full April newsletter

Editor’s reflection: Holy Week in times of pandemic

It had almost become a common adage in Catholic media to refer to Lent of 2020 as the “lentiest lent that ever lented.” There was certainly many things Catholics gave up that Lent – and few of them were voluntary.

The initial shockwaves of the COVID-19 pandemic nearly coincided with the beginning of Lent that year, when the virus was causing high death tolls in countries like Italy and resulting in global lockdowns that put many nations to a complete halt. It was the time when things seemed most uncertain. The severity and lethality of the virus was generally unknown, information on its symptoms and contagion was changing rapidly, and Catholic churches around the world made the unparalleled decision to suspend the public celebration of Mass.

With lockdowns in full effect, most of us could only experience Mass from a screen. Of course, this substitute is a far cry from the presence, communion and spiritual regeneration one feels when celebrating Mass in their local parish and among their fellow faithful. As a friend of mine said about watching Mass online – “The fact is you can’t download the Eucharist.” The experience of those months without Mass in 2020 was undoubtedly filled with a sense of loss, that the world around us had been taken away, the Lord remained hidden in His tabernacle and we could only wait with uncertainty in the underground catacombs of our own homes.

But with this came an important lesson in humility, and perhaps this is where God’s providence is most at work during this once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. The hustle and bustle of city life, the daily routines of our 9-to-5 jobs, the most basic experiences we take for granted like shaking a hand, hugging a friend or visiting a loved one – all of this was put in jeopardy. The entire world was brought to its knees by a tiny virus that can’t even be seen with the naked eye. This moment has offered us a great spiritual reflection, a definitive proof that the foundations of life on earth are shaky and ever-temporary, and it is faith in God, His guidance and promises – that is the only certainty and constant hope we can hold to. And what does Easter represent if not the true source of all our hope – “Christ is Risen!”

The pandemic is still a reality today. Many attest there are signs it could be intensifying again in the near future, while others say the mass vaccinations will soon lead us back to normalcy. But, at the very least, we can take some solace in the fact that the public celebration of Mass has remained available in our province and archdiocese throughout Lent and Holy Week of 2021. Although it still came with many restrictions, we had the chance to come together, pray, and celebrate what are the most sacred days of our faith – Christ’s death on the Cross and His Resurrection.

Kyle Greenham, communications director and editor
ArchGM News