Tag Archives: pilgrimage

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.

Pilgrimage for St. Joseph

St. Joseph pastors hope Catholics across archdiocese will take part in once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage

By Kyle Greenham
ArchGM News

A unique spiritual adventure is underway for the Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan.

As pandemic restrictions are expected to lessen this summer, a special pilgrimage to all three St. Joseph parishes in our archdiocese may soon begin.

This spiritual excursion, from the northern reaches of John D’or Prairie to the western plains of Spirit River and Grande Prairie, is in celebration of the Year of St. Joseph. This year marks the centennial anniversary of St. Joseph being named patron saint of the Catholic Church.

Your “pilgrim’s passport” must be stamped at every St. Joseph parish you visit on the pilgrimage.

The St. Joseph pilgrimage is the brainchild of His Grace Archbishop Gerard Pettipas, CSsR. When Pope Francis announced 2021 as the Year of St. Joseph, Pettipas wanted to find a way to uniquely commemorate this year. With three parishes in the archdiocese honoured with the name St. Joseph, a pilgrimage seemed like the most fitting form of celebration.

“Like any spiritual exercise, a pilgrimage is about strengthening our spiritual life,” Pettipas said. “In the spirituality of the pilgrimage, the journey is as significant as the destination. The journey is a time of reflection, and hopefully just making the journey to each of these churches will feel like a spiritual experience for our people.”

Archbishop Gerard Pettipas holds up the olive-wood cross, made by Catholics in the Holy Land, that will be gifted to pilgrims who visit all three St. Joseph churches.

The pilgrimage protocol is quite simple. Pilgrims must travel to all three St. Joseph churches in the archdiocese – St. Joseph’s Church in Grande Prairie, Spirit River and John D’or Prairie. At each parish, the prayer of the seven sorrows and seven joys of St. Joseph are prayed. These prayers are contained in a “pilgrim’s passport” that can be picked up at any of the three churches.

After you recite the prayers, your passport is stamped, and you can move on to the next destination.

When all three parishes are “stamped”, the pilgrimage ends at the chancery office in Grande Prairie – where you must get your passport signed by Archbishop Pettipas, and then you will receive a blessed olive-wood cross from the Holy Land. Each cross is made by Catholics in Palestine.

“These poor Palestinians, because of the pandemic and the lack of pilgrims to the Holy Land, have made next to nothing this past year,” said Pettipas. “So we purchased some of these crosses and will offer them as a gift and memento to those who take part in the pilgrimage.

“But the real focus here is the spiritual life – to reflect on St. Joseph and his life as a father and protector of the family.”

The unique “teepee” church in John D’or Prairie is the most northern stop on the St. Joseph Pilgrimage.

Rev. Andrew Simiiyu, FMH, has been encouraging his parishioners in John D’or Prairie to pray the seven sorrows and joys of St. Joseph at home. It has already created a major impact in his parish community.

Fr. Andrew K. Simiiyu

“People have phoned me and said, since they’ve started saying this prayer, their family’s faith and devotion has increased. They are getting much spiritual nourishment from these prayers,” he said. “It shows devotion to St. Joseph is not only important in the church, but in the home.”

If covid restrictions ease over the summer, Simiiyu hopes Catholics throughout our vast archdiocese will venture out for this once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage. It is important, however, that pilgrims call ahead to this parish to ensure the John D’or Prairie reserve is not on lockdown due to the pandemic.

“My message to the people of this archdiocese is to come out in a very special way for this pilgrimage, to honour and be blessed by the Year of St Joseph,” Simiiyu said. “Our ‘teepee’ church is a great thing to come and see. It’s not like any other church. We have a very unique parish with a very unique culture.”

Rev. Remi Hebert, pastor of St. Joseph’s Church in Grande Prairie, plans to do the pilgrimage himself this summer.

Father Remi Hebert, CSsR, also hopes people will take up the opportunity. The Grande Prairie pastor has already begun planning his own pilgrimage.

“As things open up this summer we can plan to do more, and a family pilgrimage is a great idea,” Hebert said. “The more we can do, especially as families, to honour this year will be a blessing for our spiritual lives.”

Rev. Arockiam Savarimuthu has already received one family of pilgrims to his parish – St. Joseph Church in Spirit River. He hopes to see many more pilgrims throughout the summer.

Father Arockiam is particularly inspired by St. Joseph’s immense respect and love for the Virgin Mary.

Rev. Arockiam Savarimuthu at St. Joseph’s Church in Spirit River hopes to see many pilgrims this summer.

“St. Joseph is an outstanding, exemplary person in the respect he showed to our Blessed Mother,” he said. “He handled the situation around Mary’s pregnancy with so much dignity and respect. It’s something I admire much and would like to learn from him. He respected everyone extremely well, even if it offended his personal feelings.”

Father Remi is also inspired by St. Joseph’s role as a dedicated family man.

“We don’t know a whole lot about St. Joseph. But it’s clear in the Gospels that it was important for St. Joseph to always do what was best for his family.”

The St. Joseph pilgrimage continues until March 19, 2022. More information can be found at archgm.ca/pilgrimage-year-of-st-joseph/.