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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

‘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

Being present

With the anniversary of his nomination on November 30th, Archbishop Gerard Pettipas reflects on his 15 years as an archbishop

Q: Looking back, does it seem like it has been fifteen years?

A: I’m really surprised. Maybe this is a virtue of my age, but I find more and more its hard for me to place the year of things. I’ll have to think hard to recall the year of an event, and sometimes I’ll be surprised it was so long ago or it was so near.

Even though I hold on to some very fond memories of my life as a simple priest, I know that some days its hard for me to place myself back there, like it was so long ago that I was a priest and I’ve been a bishop for so long now, it seems like ancient history when, say, I was the pastor here in Grande Prairie, or in Toronto before that. So I have to remind myself indeed that its been 15 years.

Q: What are some of the greatest lessons you’ve learned through your time as archbishop?

A: I’ll tell you this, nothing replaces being present. Now I can’t be present to everything, it’s physically impossible. But I’ve learned that people take great consolation in my being present, in my being there. So as much as I’ve been able to, I’ve tried to be present. You don’t always have to say something profound, but simply to be there, to show your face, makes a lot of difference to people.

I’ve also had to learn that not everything can be solved right away. Sometimes issues come at me very quickly, and you get a sense of “I’ve got to get on this. I’ve got to solve this.” And sometimes, when you can’t solve it right away and you have to leave it for a while, you see that some issues resolve themselves. Or you see the solution that is arrived at is better than the one you were first contemplating.

Archbishop Pettipas, CSsR

Q: What have been some of the greatest challenges?

A: Raising money. I don’t do it well. When we have succeeded, its because other people have done it. My best example is building the church in Grande Prairie; that’s probably the biggest fundraising we’ve tried to do in all my years of ministry. And it was other people who did it. When it was done, lots of parishioners said you did such a good job leading us, and I have to tell them in all honesty it wasn’t me. It was you; it was others.

I don’t have all the gifts; I know I don’t. And it doesn’t bother me to count on the advice and wisdom of other people. It doesn’t bother me to apologize when I’ve made a mistake. I know none of this is a one man show. This has got to be a community, and a lot of what I try to do is to build up this sense of community, that it is the community that has the gifts. And a lot of times people are just waiting to be asked to give their contributions, whatever they are.

So raising money is not my gift, but what I try to do is be the one to call people together. To me what a lot of ministry is is building community – to build and create Christian community, and for that community to be what Jesus Christ was. As He healed, as He forgave, as He lifted up – we have to do that as well.

Q: What have been some of the greatest joys?

A: You know what I get a kick out of is doing confirmations. I know that’s not what this is all about, and I know that for a lot of people that seems to be what it’s all about because that’s when they see the bishop the most. What I love about it is I get to be present to these young people. And I just feel energized being around them, celebrating this sacrament with them. I find it a delight.

I also love, though we don’t do this nearly as often of course, is the ordinations of guys to the priesthood and the deaconate. There’s even a couple of bishops that I’ve ordained over the years. To be able to celebrate those sacraments for the building up of the church is among the greatest joys of my being a bishop.

Bringing history to light

Archdiocese has high hopes that Indian Residential Schools project will be a positive step towards reconciliation

Kyle Greenham
Northern Light

Archbishop Gerard Pettipas can still recall the painful yet heartfelt and hopeful moments of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s seven national events.

“These were amazing events,” Pettipas recalled. The archbishop was the president of the Corporation of Catholic Entities (named CEPIRSS) during the commission, which ran from 2008 to 2015. CEPIRSS represented 50 religious groups, dioceses, congregations and religious orders who had at one time worked in Indian Residential Schools.

“They were painful in the sense that many of the stories told at these events were deeply painful stories, they were not happy stories,” Pettipas continued. “However, mingled with that were a lot of joyful moments. One of the services the churches were asked to provide was photo albums for these events, and to make copies of these photos for any former students that asked for them.

“Many people went through these albums and if they saw themselves, or a friend they had at school, they were delighted. Many of them were seniors who had never had a picture of themselves as children. They cherished this. I found this to be a very pleasant experience to be in this area of the TRC events.”

Children outside the St. Bernard Mission Church in Grouard, early 1960s.

It was these moments that first sparked the work of the Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan to look into a Indian Residential Schools photo project, which has now made more than 3,000 images from the six residential schools and missions that operated in the region publicly available. Alongside the images being available on the archdiocesan website, the archdiocese is also preparing photo albums for the Indigenous communities in the region.

“We say that a picture is worth a thousand words, so for somebody to have a picture of themselves from a previous age, with people they cared about and loved – this is valuable to them,” he said. “And to me this was one of the most positive elements of the TRC events, and having this gallery now on our webpage, it invites people who had gone to these schools to go through these images to see if there’s something there that will connect them to the past, that they may want to hold on to.”

The idea was made a reality thanks to a Library and Archives Canada’s announcement in 2016 for new grants in their Documentary Heritage Community Program. Upon hearing of this news, the archdiocese hoped the funding could provide an opportunity to digitize a significant number of the archdiocese’s archived photos, and, most importantly, address healing and reconciliation through the publishing of photos related to Indian Residential Schools.

The archdiocese applied for the grant three times before they were finally approved in late 2018. The project limited itself to 6,000 images related to the Indian Residential Schools and the surrounding missions. Six schools operated within the missions of the region – Wabasca, Joussard, Fort Vermillion, Grouard, Sturgeon Lake and Chateh (Assumption).

Project lead Lauri Friesen

Project lead Lauri Friesen determined what kind of software and equipment were needed for the project, including a scanner, computer, backup external hard drives and DVDs. She also decided which of the 6,000 photos would be uploaded online and sent to the area’s Indigenous communities. Her criteria was to mainly focus on images that featured people, had historical significance and were the most evocative for viewers. Many of the 6,000 photos were also doubles or multiple shots of the same image, and these additional copies were archived but not published.

From May to August of 2019 the actual digitizing and cataloguing of the photos began. As part of the grant funding, the archdiocese was able to hire two students to work full-time over that summer – Emily Elsenheimer and Patrick Davis.

By the time Emily and Patrick got involved, the photos were already sorted according to the six different schools and missions they were a part of. Their jobs were to cut the photos, create or rewrite bilingual descriptions for the images, and then scan them and catalogue them into the digital archives database.

They worked on the project for three months, working from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday.

Emily Elsenheimer

“We would switch roles every other day, because it could get very monotonous,” Emily said. “Scanning them digitally also took up a lot of time, as did individually dating and filing each one.”

For adding descriptions to the images, many of the photos already had details written underneath or on the back of them. For those that did not already have descriptions, the photos were analyzed based off of the surrounding buildings or which priests or sisters were in the images, and from there many of the images were able to be dated, at least by decade. They then catalogued these descriptions with one major finding aid document for each school.

“Typically we would pinpoint within a ten-year range, but sometimes we would be able to get a specific date,” said Elsenheimer. “Like an archbishop came to visit at this specific date, so any photos related to that we would know how to date them. The photos were also already numbered and usually archived chronologically and that helped with the dating.”

The experience also gave Emily and Patrick the unique opportunity for an intimate look at this important history of northern Alberta.

A procession with students near the St. Bernard Indian Residential School in Grouard in the early 1960s.

The full story with many more photos will be in the November edition of Northern Light

Intentional living

Young Catholics in archdiocese find their faith deeply nurtured at St. Therese Institute

By Kyle Greenham
Northern Light

After graduating high school three years ago, Emily Bourke was uncertain of what path her life should take.

She had competing thoughts – to either go to university or to follow in the footsteps of her older siblings and spend a year at the St. Therese Institute of Faith and Mission in Bruno, Saskatchewan. When the Spirit River girl finally decided to go to St. Therese, she figured it would be a one-time experience before heading off to university and the so-called “real world”.

Emily Bourke, photo by Andrea Bator

However, the experience ended up affecting her so deeply and profoundly, Emily is now going back for her third year at St. Therese this fall.

Looking back, Bourke had no idea that decision was bound to become a three-year journey, growing her faith in ever deeper and more intimate ways.

“At first it was just something my mom really wanted us to try for a year. So I said I’ll do it just for a year and then head off to university,” Emily recalled. “I never would have thought I’d be now going back for my third year. But I ended up loving it.

Last year, seven young people from the Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan took part in the St. Therese Institute’s faith formation program; some are returning this fall. Photo by Andrea Bator

“I came to this place where I saw how good life could be when you’re close to God, and, through the teachings of the Church, seeing how nothing makes sense unless God is involved. Before this I was going to church, but I was not committed as I am now. Today I can no longer go back to that former life, living it more so just for myself.”

The St. Therese Institute of Faith and Mission’s faith formation program offers young Catholics from across Canada and the world a chance to deepen their faith and form lifelong friendships and bonds with fellow Catholics, all rooted in the “little way” of St. Therese of Lisieux. Last year, seven young people from the Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan attended.

Much like Bourke, spending a summer in St. Therese was also a tradition among Andrea Bator and her siblings. Bator is now heading back to St. Therese for her third year, leaving from her home in Grande Prairie.

Andrea Bator is going back for her third year at the St. Therese Institute of Faith and Mission this year.

What she enjoys most about St Therese is the intentionality of faith there, and how the program creates an environment of “prayer without ceasing.”

“I always dreamed of being formed in my faith and I tried to go to different things that would help with that, but nothing was really filling that desire in my heart,” Bator recalled. “So when I learned about St Therese, studying the Catholic faith around like-minded young people who are passionate about their faith – that really pulled at my heart and I knew I had to go.

“A big part of the community is the duty of the moment. Whether in class, washing dishes, whatever it is – it can all be made a prayer and a way to grow closer to God and encounter Him in whatever we’re doing. I found that very beautiful.”

Read the full story in the September 2021 issue of Northern Light