Reflecting on 100 years of history at St. Mary’s in Saskatoon

St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church is located on the corner of Avenue O and 20th Street in Saskatoon. (Photo by Dan Classen)

By Darlene Polachic, Saskatoon Star Phoenix

[Previously published in the Oct. 19, 2019 issue of Saskatoon StarPhoenix: LINK ]

One hundred years ago, on March 12, 1919, St. Mary’s Roman Catholic parish was officially incorporated by Bishop Albert Pascal of the Diocese of Prince Albert, the jurisdiction under which the parish fell at the time. The parish was initially given the name Our Lady of Victory in recognition of the ending of World War I.

St. Mary’s was the second Catholic parish to be established in Saskatoon. The first was St. Paul’s on Spadina Crescent. The cornerstone for that church was laid in 1910 by then Prime Minister Sir Wilfred Laurier.

St. Mary’s Church was intended to serve the part of Saskatoon that was developing on the west side of the river. It was placed under the care of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. Fr. Joseph Paille was appointed its first pastor. It was under Paille’s direction that construction of a church building began in 1920. An oversized basement was dug on the corner of 21st Street and Avenue O. It was covered over with a sloped roof, and this Basement Church—as it was known—was blessed by Abbott Ott of Muenster in December of that year. Early parishioners recalled that the structure was used not only for Mass and the Sacraments, but for recreation, as well.

Plans were in the works to construct a building on the Basement Church’s foundation, but the plans were scrapped when a fire in 1927 destroyed much of the existing structure. New plans were drawn up by architect Gentil Verbeke, and the cornerstone for the new church was laid in 1930 by Bishop Joseph Prud’homme on a different location. The red brick St. Mary’s Catholic church that stands on the corner of Avenue O and 20th Street today was blessed by Prud’homme and opened in November 1930.

In 1934, the parish was placed under the care of priests from the Redemptorist Order.

From its earliest days, St. Mary’s has served a multi-cultural congregation. As the late Tom Loran remarked at the church’s 75th anniversary celebration in 1994: “The parish…was a heterogeneous group if there ever was one—Italian, Polish, Ukrainian, Portuguese, German, English and French who knit together a quilt of Catholic unity in what was considered ‘the poor parish’ of the city.”

In the mid-20th Century, a strong Vietnamese component was added to the congregation, and in the 70s and 80s, immigrants from South and Central America joined its numbers. In more recent decades, St. Mary’s has welcomed people from Africa, the Middle East, Palestine, Iraq, Syria and Asia, as well as more newcomers from Europe. At last count, there are 40 to 60 different countries represented in the parish.

“We’re like a shared facility,” adds Loretta Skipper, a long-time member of the parish. “Spanish language Mass is held here every week, and Our Lady of Guadalupe (Indigenous, First Nations, Métis Catholic parish) also holds their Mass here.”

Skipper says St. Mary’s also has a long history of outreach ministry to the city’s core community. “One of the things we do is distribute food hampers to people within the parish boundaries. We get so many requests, we’ve had to limit distribution to a maximum of five hampers per week day.”

Loretta Skipper is a member of the committee in charge of the parish’s 100th anniversary commemoration. “Our theme is Celebrate 100 Years: A Journey of Faith, Hope and Charity, and we’re celebrating it all year long,” she says.

The first centennial event was a three-day mission that was held in March of 2019. Bishop Jon Hansen, CSsR, a former pastor at St. Mary’s, was the guest speaker. Hansen is now Bishop of the Mackenzie-Fort Smith diocese in the Northwest Territories.

In June 2019, the parish held a special weekend celebration to mark the Feast Day of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, a devotion promoted by the Redemptorists . The celebration included a barbecue and picnic, plus a procession through the parish neighbourhood on Corpus Christi Sunday.

“Our 100th anniversary celebrations will culminate with an event Sunday, October 20,” Skipper says. “That roughly coincides with the date the Redemptorists were placed in charge of St. Mary’s parish, so we’re celebrating two milestones at once.” Invitations went out to former pastors and others who have served at St. Mary’s, and the general public was invited to attend 4 p.m. Mass Oct. 20. A dinner and program followed.

Read ore about the celebration: Catholic Saskatoon News ARTICLE