Tag Archives: faith

Revitalizing the Girouxville Pilgrimage

With new dynamics as an archdiocesan event, locals hope to see a strong future for historic pilgrimage

By Kyle Greenham
Northern Light

The light of the sun slowly departed and was replaced by the light of the candlelit procession.

As the people processed through the woods behind the Our Lady of Lourdes shrine and grotto, the reflection of the candles slowly panned across the gravestone of Father Clement Desrochers – the priest who dedicated much of his spirit and energy to growing this very pilgrimage.

The candlelight procession following the vigil Mass, at the pilgrimage in Girouxville, August 14th.

For many long-time attendees, honouring the legacy of Father Desrochers is a vital part of the annual pilgrimage in Girouxville, held on August 15th, the feast of the Our Lady’s Assumption. The dynamic, energetic and devoted priest was a true mover and shaker of the area, and the pilgrimage is just one example of the permanent legacy he has left behind.

In his efforts to expand the pilgrimage, it was Father Desrochers who initiated the creation of the Our Lady of Lourdes shrine. He travelled throughout Europe to gather relics, the statues of the Blessed Mother and St. Bernadette, and a church bell that came directly from Lourdes, France.

“The heyday for this pilgrimage, for this local area, was with Father Desrochers. He’s that one that, you might say, ‘made it happen’,” said Maurice Blanchette, who was born and raised in Girouxville. “It began before him, but he’s the one who really made an event out of it. He went overseas and got relics. The idea for the shrine – that was his baby. And he did it all with little money, and it turned out so wonderfully. He made something quite big for this area, and a lot of this pilgrimage is honouring his legacy as well.

“Some of the local people have already canonized him in their hearts. We look back and see how he was a saint, how the Holy Spirit was with him in all he did.”

Maurice Blanchette

For Blanchette, the candles and crowds of the night vigil and procession always stand out as the highlight of the pilgrimage. Having attended since he was a child, Blanchette says it is an event of great significance, not only for his family, but for the whole community.

“This is an agricultural parish, so weather and crops are the main determiner of what happens in this place,” he said. “Typically the pilgrimage always comes shortly before harvest begins, so it was a pivotal point in community life. It always signified that harvest was just around the corner. The pilgrimage was our last kick at summer vacation before the harvest began and we entered a new chapter.”

The pilgrimage in Girouxville has a long history stretching back to the early 1940s. The first pilgrimage was held in 1941, just among the parish priests, parishioners and Sisters of the Holy Cross, and the following year it became a regional pilgrimage with many religious and faithful from surrounding communities. Father Desrochers erected the first grotto in 1942.

The pilgrimage in Girouxville has a long history, dating back to 1941.

The event has remained a staple for the area ever since. Many grainy black and white photos have been collected over the years, showing the grotto grounds filled with families, priests and Holy Cross nuns in habits. Within Desrochers’s memoire, several miracles are recorded as having occurred at past pilgrimages, including Jean Lapierre, a lumberjack who had been left physically disabled by an accident, who was healed before everyone’s eyes during the pilgrimage’s healing service.

“I have beautiful memories of going to the pilgrimage,” said Helen Couillard, who has spent her life in Girouxville and today helps run the Girouxville Museum – another staple of the area created by Father Desrochers.

Helen Couillard

“My great grandfather lived in a house that was right across from the grotto, and we would go every year – my mom, my dad and the rest of us kids. There were people everywhere; hundreds of people came to the pilgrimage back then. For this community – it meant a sense of prayer and comfort. It helped everybody,” said Couillard.

But, like many rural communities in Alberta and across Canada, Girouxville has dealt with a dwindling population over the past few decades. Beginning in the 1960s, Blanchette says, Girouxville slowly began to lose its population as the dynamics of society changed. The young people moved on to bigger cities like Grande Prairie, Peace River and Edmonton. Religion also began to lose its influence in people’s day-to-day life.

Daily Mass, adoration and many other devotions and services were a part of this year’s inaugural archdiocesan pilgrimage.

“There was a lot going on here at one time,” Couillard recalled.  “I grew up in Girouxville. I went to school right up to grade 12 at the convent here. We had the train. We had stores. But slowly everything went down. The roads came, and with that the school buses came, and soon we didn’t need the convent or school anymore. Slowly things went down, stores closed, and as the years went by there was less and less coming to the pilgrimage. And like a lot of little towns in this area, there was less and less people in general.”

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

Watch the video recap of our 2021 Archdiocesan Pilgrimage in Girouxville here.

Fostering faith through Vacation Bible School

Parent-led initiative brings a joyful side of the Church to small children

By Kyle Greenham
Northern Light

Jamie Schoorlemmer looks over the grounds of Moonshine Lake Provincial Park, where some children are trekking through the woods, some are reciting the actions to faith-themed songs, others are making “Holy Spirit” campfires with cheese, pretzels and other food.

It’s a welcoming sight for the Rycroft parishioner, who played a leading role in bringing Vacation Bible School to the area this summer.

For the parents and more than 30 young people who attended, the experience was also a welcomed return.

As Mass begins, the children and teenaged “captains” of Vacation Bible School perform the actions of some of the faith-based songs they’ve learned.

“People are so anxious to be together and have fellowship with each other, and the kids are missing each other too,” said Schoorlemmer. “We decided if restrictions lifted this summer we would make sure this camp became a reality.”

For the past 17 years, Vacation Bible School has been a parent-led initiative offering a few days of fun, faith formation, and community to Catholic families in the archdiocese, and especially their young children. The program, filled with different faith-based crafts, music, and activities, is largely drawn from the Catholic Vacation Bible School program by CatChat.

Organized by the parishes of St. Joseph in Spirit River and St. Peter and Paul in Rycroft, the camp is typically attended by families from the area. Families from Silver Valley, Grande Prairie, Fairview, Dawson’s Creek and elsewhere have also participated.

Arts and crafts are a major part of the activities during the three-day Vacation Bible School, held this year from August 9-11.

What inspires Schoorlemmer most is the joy Vacation Bible School brings to young Catholics.

“It’s been a gift,” she said. “Seeing the smiles on their faces and the love of Jesus that is apparent through it all. And in helping others come closer to Christ – if it makes that difference for even one person, then that makes all of the efforts put into this worth it.”

Both Schoorlemmer and Rycroft parent Denise Beaupre have helped organize and volunteer with the camp over its 17 years. It was in 2004, when the Oblates of Mary Immaculate brought a 10-day mission to the area, that the Spirit River and Rycroft parishes were first encouraged to form a youth ministry team.

Organizer Jamie Schoorlemmer

In 2007, the team decided to create an annual Vacation Bible School for Catholic families in the area and around the archdiocese. In the initial years, the school was held over five half-days at St. Joseph’s Church in Spirit River, but it was eventually moved into a three-day camping excursion at Moonshine Lake.

Sherry Bourke came to the camp this year with seven of her grandchildren, but over the years 10 of her own children have attended Vacation Bible School.

“I like that my children can meet others in their faith, and it builds a stronger sense of community through the parents as well. And it shows the kids that learning our faith can have fun elements too,” said Bourke.

“It’s been nice seeing my children who once participated now come back and lead as captains.”

Parent and grandparent Sherry Bourke

Jill Yuha brought her four children from their home in Silver Valley, having heard about the camp in Spirit River’s parish bulletin. It’s been a joy not only to see the fun her children had, but also the opportunity it provided her to meet with other Catholic parents, who also want to see their families grow and thrive in the Faith.

“It’s great to talk to other like-minded parents and have conversations that are relatable,” she said. “We all have little kids; we’re all raising them in the Church. As a mom, it’s nice to have other faithful families around.”

Parent Jill Yuha, with her youngest son Kyle

Much of the programming focuses on making the faith accessible and tangible to small children, whether by music, arts and crafts, theatre and other demonstrations. This year the school is studying the seven sacraments, and as a way of teaching baptism, each family made a holy water font.

“It’s all intermingled – the faith station is what actually teaches us about our main subjects – whether it be the sacraments, the angels and saints, Mary – but what the little ones often remember most is the crafts they made, the songs they sang,” said Schoorlemmer.

“It’s education for the captains and parents too. It’s a refresher for things they learned in catechism that they can now pass on at a child’s level. And it gives parents the experience to see ways to pass on their faith to their children. Now they have the tools to teach their own kids as well.”

More than 30 children and teens attended the Vacation Bible School this year, which has now been held in the Spirit River, Rycroft and Silver Valley areas for 17 years.

For the teenagers and young adults who volunteer with the school, Beaupre believes they particularly enjoy it as a place where they can fearlessly live out their faith.

“The kids don’t have to be afraid to share that they’re here for faith, whereas at school they may feel pressure to cover that up,” she said. “So to see their smiles, you can tell they just feel free here to be themselves. They can live the part of their life they have to cover up among peers and the world at large.”

Concerning the captains and leaders, Schoorlemmer adds,

“It makes my heart happy to see these young teens, who are out in that secular world where it’s not easy in this day and age, and they’re free to express their faith here. It gives them the courage to go beyond this campsite and move that faith out into the world.”

Archbishop Gerard Pettipas, Fr. Emmanuel Ekanem, and this year’s captains.

As parents who have devoted many years of time and effort to make this Vacation Bible School a reality each summer, both Schoorlemmer and Beaupre hope the Vacation Bible School will continue on into the next generation – as a staple event of fostering faith among Catholic families in the area.

“We heard one of the captain’s say ‘One day I’m going to run this camp,” said Beaupre. “Hearing that is so encouraging – that we’re raising little leaders.”

If you build it, they will come

High Level has big dreams of new parish hall project

Kyle Greenham
Northern Light

Priest and parishioners alike have big hopes for a new parish hall at Our Lady of Good Counsel in High Level.

Since Fr. Henry Kiggundi, FMH, arrived in High Level as parish priest four years ago, he felt a hall was one thing the church desperately needed.

“When I first got here I told the bishop – the only problem with this place is we don’t have a hall, and we will miss out on a lot without one,” said Kiggundi. “The church is a community. It is fellowship. But without a hall we don’t have as easy an ability to get together. Instead, you see people come for Mass and then leave right after.”

Fr. Henry Kiggundi looks over the plot of land where he hopes Our Lady of Good Counsel’s parish hall will be built.

It was an idea of Father Kiggundi’s that slowly began percolating in 2018, but is now becoming a more tangible reality. Last autumn, the parish hall project took a major step forward when Our Lady of Good Counsel’s building committee hired an architect to make preliminary designs and a preliminary budget.

The project has now become much more than a hall, said Myles Bukowsky, chair of the parish’s finance committee and building committee. It would be an overall expansion of the church, including some much-needed storage space, offices, a kitchen, and an area for teaching catechism and sacramental preparation. The preliminary design shows the general layout of the kitchen, storage spaces, meeting rooms and the hall itself. Currently, the expected preliminary budget for the parish hall is $3.5 million.

Now with a visual design on hand, Bukowsky and Kiggundi hope interest in the project will increase.

Myles Bukowsky shows some of the preliminary architectural designs for the parish hall project.

“Without a direct focus on the project, people will worry about other things,” said Kiggundi. “That’s why we needed to have a plan in place for the design and fundraising. Otherwise, it will always feel like it’s too big of a project for us to do, and there’ll be no way to get it off the ground.”

The hall for Our Lady of Good Counsel would provide new meeting spaces for the parish’s Knights of Columbus, Catholic Women’s League and El Shaddai group. As well, receptions for funerals or weddings could be held there.

When the building of the current church in High Level was approved in 1998, a parish hall was a part of its original blueprints. However, due to financial constraints, the hall was removed from the design when construction began.

Preliminary designs

Bukowsky agrees with Father Kiggundi that a hall is an essential part of parish life.

“When I lived in Lloydminster I was on the building committee there and we did a similar project,” recalled Bukowsky. “When that church’s hall was finally completed, it made a huge difference for the parish community. All of a sudden, the church was always busy and bustling. Every weekend someone rented out the hall for weddings, baptisms, sometimes for a certain saints’ feast day – any excuse for a gathering.

“High Level is a centre of activity for this region. This is the largest parish in [Deanery 5]. Once the hall is there, people will find a reason to use it.”

The church has done some fundraising for the hall through their weekly bulletin, where all proceeds from local business ads go directly to the hall project. It generates $250 each week for the project. However, the parish is also focused on clearing up its debt, which must be done before any major fundraising on the hall can begin.

Myles Bukowsky, chair of the parish’s finance and building committees, has played a leading role in getting the hall project off the ground.

Along with the $10,000 that was spent to create the preliminary designs, the parish has more than $42,000 currently raised. The parish must have raised 60% of the project budget before construction can begin. While there is still a long way to go, the parish remains hopeful that the hall will one day be a reality. Though it may take some years and much perseverance.

“We’re just waiting for COVID to end and then we will be posting this two-page layout from the architect in the church and start using it for presentations,” said Bukowsky. “That’s the next phase. Once the COVID restrictions are fully lifted, we’re going to start looking towards events and fundraising.”

Conceptional art depicting what Our Lady of Good Counsel Church will look like after the parish hall is completed.

 

 

‘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.
Amen.
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.

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.”