By Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News
A century of parish life and faithful discipleship was celebrated Oct. 20, 2019, at St. Mary Catholic Church in Saskatoon. Parishioners, family members, former pastors, spiritual leaders, and special guests gathered from near and far to share in the joyful 100th anniversary program.
Established in 1919 as Our Lady of Victory Parish, St. Mary’s was first served by French-speaking Oblates of Mary Immaculate. In January 1927 the first church building suffered damage in a fire, and the cornerstone of the present building was laid by Bishop Prud’homme of Prince Albert in May 1930, with the new building completed and blessed by the end of that year. After the diocese of Saskatoon was formed, the first Bishop – Most Rev. Gerald Murray, CSsR – decided to place the parish in the care of priests from his own Redemptorist order — the Congregation of the Holy Redeemer. This year marks the 85th anniversary of the arrival of the Redemptorists in the parish, another milestone marked during the celebrations.
Read more about the history of the parish in an article by Darlene Polachic of the Saskatoon StarPhoenix: LINK
A treaty land acknowledgment and an honour song by First Nations drummers opened the centennial celebration.
Celebrants at the 4 p.m. 100th anniversary Sunday Eucharist included Saskatoon Bishop Mark Hagemoen; Bishop Emeritus Gerald Wiesner, OMI; Abbot Peter Novecosky, OSB; Provincial Superior of the Redemptorist Province of Canada Fr. Charles Duval, CSsR; and Superior General Fr. Mark Miller, CSsR (who gave the homily). Among the many other priests also in attendance were former St. Mary pastors Fr. Ciro Alfonso Perez, CSsR, and Fr. Remi Hebert, CSsR, as well as present pastor Fr. Mick Fleming, CSsR, and Deacon Donat Davatz.
In his homily, Fr. Mark Miller, CSsR, reflected on the history of St. Mary Parish, through hard times, Depression and war, and through years of re-builiding and of community building, as well as of outreach to those in need, and in welcoming wave after wave of newcomers.
He reflected on the mission, identity and meaning of a parish. “First and foremost, a parish community is precisely the opportunity for the faithful to gather on Sunday here at the Eucharist. It is where the Lord calls us together to renew us and refresh us, to instruct us with the Word, and then feed us with His own Body and Blood, so that we will be what we proclaim ourselves to be, the Body of Christ living and working in our world.”
He added: “When we come to the Eucharist on Sunday, we come as a sinful people, but we come always as people of hope, trusting in the mercy and forgiveness of God, and receiving that forgiveness, we can open our minds to hear the Word of God.” The parish gathers around the altar, and takes the simple human gifts of bread and wine, “which with the guidance and blessing of the Holy Spirit becomes the Body and Blood of Christ, who then nourishes us and gives us the strength to go forth.”
The people of a parish then go forth and “distribute themselves among the community,” said Miller. “We go out to be the Body of Christ wherever we roam. If you are a businessman, you go and be a good businessman. If you are a teacher, you put the interest of the children first and foremost. If you are a nurse or a health care provider, recognize that you are part of the ministry of Christ.” Every part of life and work is meant to be an exercise and ministry of the Body of Christ, he said.
A parish is also a place of relationship, Miller added. “This is the part that really struck me upon my reflections on St. Mary Parish,” he said, describing his years of living in the Redemptorist community at St. Mary’s (although never as a pastor). Examples of relationships that stand out include the work of groups like the Catholic Women’s League (first formed in the parish in 1920), and the Knights of Columbus, and the friendships that are so obvious as the community gathers, in the sisterhood and brotherhood of Christ.
Relationship is also the key to the parish’s long-time commitment of outreach to the community, examples of “Christ living and acting in our world,” Miller said. Relationships are at the heart of the love and care expressed through hampers given out every week, or sandwiches shared at the back door, or help offered to those who are struggling, he said.
Miller also pointed to the parish ministry of care, which remembers the homebound, or those too ill to attend Mass, or those in hospital. “It is not just in bringing communion, but bringing the love and caring of St. Mary’s into the community.”
He pointed to the St. Mary Parish Nurse program as “one of the most tangible forms of healing ministry in the Church that I have seen in the modern world.”
In the Gospels, Christ does two things — he proclaims the Good News of the Kingdom of God, and he heals the sick, noted Miller. “We did not become Christian to avoid pain and suffering of the world. But we know that pain and suffering can be transformed, can be healed, can be accepted and renewed for us in our redemption and faith. This is something that I am strongly reminded of in the parish community of St. Mary.”
Welcoming newcomers has been another hallmark of the life and history of St. Mary Parish, with the community opening its arms to welcome those from other countries, other cultures, from the earliest days, Miller said. This has perhaps at times involved tensions or difficulties (which are part of the journey of being human), he said, but forgiveness and reconciliation also happened, as the community came to recognize the gifts of diversity.
Speaking on behalf of the Redemptorists, Miller also expressed his gratitude to the people of St. Mary Parish. “We learn so much from you. What a gift you have been: the friendships you have built up, the work we have done together for the sake of the kingdom. We could go on and on: I just want to thank this parish community from all of the Redemptorists who have been privileged to work with you and for you in St. Mary’s Parish.”
A banquet and program followed in the parish hall next to the church, with Don Brophy serving as master of ceremonies, and greetings brought by a number of special guests and dignitaries, including Bishop Wiesner, representing the Oblates, and Fr. Duval, representing the Redemptorists; as well as Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark and Bishop Mark Hagemoen.
“We give special thanks to God for faith, generosity and service of the Redemptorist priests and associates over these many years,” said Bishop Wiesner.
Bishop Hagemoen also thanked St. Mary Parish and the Redemptorists for the “prophetic witness” that the parish has been over the past century — most especially in outreach to those who are most vulnerable and in need in the core city neighbourhood that faces many significant challenges.
“I have only been here two years, but I have seen the many ways in which St. Mary Parish, and the pastoral leadership under the Redemptorist community… are being called upon to be a prophetic witness in our time and in our age, and who strongly desire to respond to the circumstances: in some cases, poverty; in some cases, addiction…. God does call us to continue to grow and move forward.”
The 100th anniversary celebration appropriately was held on World Mission Sunday, the bishop noted, quoting Pope Paul VI: “The Church will not proclaim Christ if she herself is not in a constant place of conversion and evangelization herself.” That is a call to each one of us to be ourselves on a journey of healing and conversion, Hagemoen said. He pointed to another timely circumstance: the promulgation of a new diocesan Pastoral Plan, which expresses an invitation to the diocesan community, parishes and the faithful to proclaim Christ in all things, “from a missionary stance.”
Hagemoen concluded by offering nuggets of wisdom from newly-canonized St. John Henry Newman, that he asserted apply in a special way to “the People of God of St. Mary Parish”:
- “To live is to change, and to be perfect (and to live well) is to have changed often.”
- “Fear not that thy life shall come to an end, but rather that it shall never have a beginning.”
- “If we are intended for great ends, we are called to great hazards.”
- “A man (or woman) would do nothing if he (or she) waited until he (or she) could do it so well that no one could find fault.”
- “Growth is the only evidence of life.”
- The truth “has been upheld in the world not as a system, not by books, not by argument, nor by temporal power, but by the personal influence of such men as have already been described, who are at once the teachers and the patterns of it.”
Provincial Superior of the Redemptorist Province of Canada Fr. Charles Duval, CSsR, also spoke during the program, reflecting on the impact that faithful people have over 100 years or longer. “I am really fascinated how God works with people who are very ordinary, to create very extraordinary things, when we just do this by faith, by charity, and by hope,” he said. “We are the giants of tomorrow, if we will be faithful in the same way that our grandparents and our great grandparents have been throughout the ages…. simply by following what God has asked us to do.”
Duval also thanked the parish “for supporting, welcoming and helping” the Redemptorists for the past 85 years.
Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark began his remarks by thanking the parish for beginning the 100th anniversary celebration with the sacred drum and the treaty acknowledgement, saying it is a sign of commitment to the journey of reconciliation.
The mayor also pointed to the lyrics of the celebration’s gathering hymn at Mass – “Sing a New Church” – as a remarkable testament to the vision and strength of the St. Mary Parish community: “Bring the hopes of every nation; bring the art of every race; weave a song of peace and justice; let it sound through time and space. Let us bring the gifts that differ, and in splendid, varied ways, sing a new Church into being, one in faith and love and praise.”
Noting that it is the first time he has heard this hymn, Clark said: “I am blown away that on the 100th anniversary of a church that this is the hymn that you have chosen. This is a church that has gathered from many nations, and it shows in your congregation, it shows in the story of the church, and it shows in the opening of the drum as you gathered today — this sense of renewal at a centenary is very inspiring. And you are undertaking that renewal in a church that stands in the midst of some of the most broken people in our community, some of the biggest challenges of our community.”
Clark said that the entire community must come together “to figure out, in a humble way, in a loving way, how to continue to heal and to renew and to learn, now to bring people together in their differences and to build a strong community” — and he ended by thanking everyone at St. Mary Parish for playing a part in that in large and small ways. “Thank you for providing inspiration to us in the rest of our city about how to build a strong and loving community.”
Throughout the evening many other special guests were acknowledged, including representatives of the Sisters of Charity of Montreal (the Grey Nuns), who established neighbouring St. Paul’s Hospital, and who have served in the parish in a number of ways — including the present time, with Sr. Carol Borreson, SGM, serving as Parish Nurse. Also acknowledged were the Sisters of Sion, who taught in nearby schools, and other religious orders who served the community. The gathering also acknowledge some of the oldest parishioners, and members of founding families who are still part of the St. Mary community 100 years later.
Also recognized were those who travelled farthest to attend the celebration: a member of the Gerwing family, one of the parish’s founding families, came from British Columbia to attend, and Deacon Donat’s son, Fr. Reto Davatz, OFM Conv., was in attendance from Switzerland, where he lives and serves as a Franciscan priest.