Lethbridge Herald, The (Newspaper) - December 16, 1971, Lethbridge, Alberta
Thursday, December 16, 1971 THE IEIHBRIDCE HERALD 25 Early Roman Catholic missionaries located ideal spot to build mission By JIM POLING ST. ALBERT, Alta. (CP) Light fingers of January frost touched their black robes as the two missionaries lunched on pemmican and tea and praJsed the panorama stretched before them. Below was the Sturgeon River valley, now hushed by several snowfalls, but in sum- mer an oasis of beaufy on the often stark prairie. Everything was here: good soil, clear water, protection from the north's early frosts and, on the south bank, ob- scuring smoke from the cab- ins at Fort Edmonton, 12 miles south, a fine stand of timber. So enraptured by the view was Alexandre Tache, Bishop of St. Boniface, that he or- dered a Roman Catholic mis- sion built on the site, a mis- sion which had, and still has, a profound influence on the lives of thousands of Alber- tans. Assigned the building task was the bishop's travelling companion on that winter day in Lacombe, the Oblate priest who became a legend during the taming of the Canadian Weft. BOASTED LOG CHURCH A year later, the mission of St. Albert boasted a log church, the centre of a settle- ment of 20 families. Under the direction of the pioneer-priest the community advanced and today is Alber- ta's largest town with a popu- lation of The Indians, Metis and French-Canadian farmers have been replaced by a mod- em middle-class society living in tidy subdivisions just a few minutes drive from Edmon- ton. Albert Lacombe's hill has changed also. His original church is a museum sur- rounded by anotber church, a home for the aged, a rectory- retreat house, a hospital and a home for retired priests. But one of the biggest changes in the town and on the hill is in the thinking of the Catholics, who still make up the largest religious group in the community. Today, SI. Albert parish is not led by one man, but by a 10-member team of clergy which uses tape recorders, slide projectors, folk masses and believes In total involve- ment with all people no mat- ter what their beliefs. SHAKE BURDENS Leader of the team is Rev. Colin Levangie, 31, who as St. Albert's pastor believes that all Christians must share the responsibilities of the church. He's what the younger gen- eration would call "tuned in" with a reasonably-mod hair style, a taste for modern music and an awarness of what's happening in family life today. "We're living in. a new style of community which urbaniza- tion has given he says. "We need a greater personal commitment if the church is to survive in this new world. "There's no longer a call from the pulpit: 'If you do this you're going to heaven; if you don't, you ,i-on't.'' Father Levangie says reli- gion today isn't only not eat- ing meat on Friday. Tt's be- coming an integral part of mankind, being a good Chris- tia.i who is willing to strive for justice, peace and the ele- ment of sharing. The parish team became fully operational three years ago when Father Levangie was appointed pastor. It con- sists of three other Oblate priests, tlie oldest 55. three seminarians and three sisters studying theology. WOIiK WITH LAYMEN Each team member is re- sponsible for providing initia- tive in programs assigned to them. They work closely with the parish council, a group of elected laymen who help plan church programs. "7'oday, xvc're listening to the people says Father Levangie. "Our presence Is to give direction, but we don't say we have to have this or that be- cause I conceived it in my mind." Says Hev. Jake Joly, St. Al- bert's co-pastor: "The church is finding its answers not in the past, but in what's happening now." The team feels it knows the needs of the people well enough to make decisions on its own without always run- ning to the diocesan hier- archy. "We don't move only when the bishop wants us to move, and perhaps this is a good says Father Levar.gie. "If 10 people can make a decision, we don't feel we should be running to the bishop, he has many other things to worry about." GENERALLY PLEASED The hierarchy has had to do a bit of constructive wrist slapping, but Father Levangie says the bishop generally is pleased with the changes. The change doesn't appear all that daring, but mass today at St. Albert is totally different from 10 years ago. A seminarian with a wildly- colored shirt and neckerchief serves communion, parishion- ers are allowed to (ouch the host with their hands at com- munion, and there are laymen at the altar helping to direct services. Also, there are young people with guitars providing music and posters on the altar wall vividly illustrating the differ- ences in the lives of Pakistani and Canadian children. WTiat does it all mean to the families for whom the entire program has been de- signed? "A lot more Catholics today are questioning their says Wayne Benson, a semi- narian and team member. "Some of them arc not going to church for a while. They're sitting back and really thinking their religion, over." HAVE STRONGER FAITH Sister Geraldine Hegel says the result will be fewer nomi- nal Catholics in the next gen- eration. However, those who stay will have a stronger com- mitment to Christ. "Parishioners feel at home in this Father Levangie. "More people are coming because they want to." The team is developing a new concept in making its members available to the peo- ple. They want to be called by their first names and want to be known as human beings like the parishioners, not an exclusive club of clerics. "Six years ago I would go to a parish says Father Levangie. "I'd be asked to bless the table and people would feel more at ease when I left." Most priests don't leave early. They stay, have a cou- ple of drinks, tell jokes, mix and become accepted as friends by the people. NOT PESTERED St. Albert parishioners who fall away from their faith aren't pestered to return. Op- portunities are found tx> meet with them informally and try to discover why they no longer feel at home in the church. "We don't have the judg- mental position that says: 'I've got to go to that person and save says Father Levangie. Thats' a long way from the days when Albert Lacombe travelled the plains competing for converts with Methodist missionary John McDougall. But in later life even .these men came to realize that faith was faith no matter what label it was given. 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