By Quinton Amundson, The Catholic Register
Fr. Andrew Wychucki, pastor of St. Aloysius Catholic Church in Allan, SK, believes his 100-year-old parish could be an archetype of the ideal synodal church.
“The call from Pope Francis for the laity to be heavily involved has been done in Allan for a long time,” said Wychucki. “That to me is the most striking thing about this parish: the responsibility of the people, and the kind reception I receive from them for everything I do as a priest.”
The ongoing Synod on Synodality is a call from Pope Francis for clergy and congregation to work together more dynamically and harmoniously so that each parish across the world can participate in the larger mission of strengthening Christ’s universal Church. It’s something Wychucki sees every day in the small town (population of about 625) located about 65 km southeast of Saskatoon.
Appointed parish priest in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, Wychucki was immediately impressed “by the beauty of the church that the parishioners have maintained in its classical design from 100 years ago.” The inside is “preserved as it was originally built,” said Wychucki, “including the Tridentine altar, the side altars, a beautiful baptismal font and statues older than 100 years old.”
An official celebration to toast the centennial legacy (marking the blessing of the church building in June 1923) was held June 25. A centennial Mass at 10:30 a.m. featured Saskatoon Bishop Mark Hagemoen as special guest presider. After the liturgical service, the parish’s Knights of Columbus hosted a pancake breakfast at the Allan Parkland Hall.
Anne Moldenhauer, a congregant and volunteer who began attending services at St. Aloysius back in 1979, provided The Catholic Register with a historical summary of the current parish and Catholicism in the region. According to the documents, the first Catholic settlers arrived in the jurisdiction of Allan beginning in 1903. All originated from German-speaking colonies in Russia.
These settlers were “immediately contacted by missionary Oblate priests residing in Saskatoon.”
This union made it possible for the first church to be built in 1906, a bit southwest of the current town of Allan. In 1914, Bishop Albert Pascal signed documents that officially christened the building as St. Aloysius Parish of Allan and incorporated it with the Diocese of Prince Albert and Saskatoon.
Soon, it became clear the congregation was on the rise and a new church was needed. The basement was constructed — with a temporary roof — in 1915. Mass would be celebrated in the basement chapel from August 1915 to October 1922. Meanwhile, the original house of worship was converted into the parish hall.
A $35,000 building project to complete the current church was approved in November 1921, and construction began in 1922. The cornerstone was blessed on Sept. 3, 1922, and the first Mass was hosted in the new building Oct. 12, 1922. On June 21, 1923, which coincides with St. Aloysius’ feast day, the church was officially blessed by Bishop Joseph Prud’homme.
For many years, the legacy of the early Catholic German-speaking settlers loomed large. The historical record states that they were “independent minded and many had strong personalities.” While they clashed over parish and cemetery locations, their strength “also resulted in well-run parish organizations and activities.”
Moldenhauer recalls Allan being “a strongly Catholic community” when she first arrived in the late 1970s. An Ursuline convent, established in 1927, was still in operation, but the sisters departed in 1983. Liturgy was also thriving at St. Aloysius.
“Mass was celebrated three times each weekend and we had a resident Oblate priest,” said Moldenhauer. “Now we have one Mass, and there are maybe 40 to 50 people in the pews instead of 200 to 300. (Wychucki) does not reside in Allan as he also travels to two other communities (St. Mary in Colonsay and St. Alphonse in Viscount).”
It appears that 1999 was a pivotal year that changed the direction for St. Aloysius. It became evident before the new millennium that the Oblate priests could no longer provide the same level of ministry because of their advancing age and declining ranks. The parish transitioned to becoming “part of a cluster of parishes with ministry provided by the Diocese of Saskatoon.”
Allan’s makeup was also changing. Moldenhauer said older parishioners began to move to Saskatoon and other urban centres in the early 2000s. The residents who moved into town in recent generations have been secular or believers who do not attend Mass.
Despite a century of change, the resolute spirit of the dozens of parishioners who remain in 2023 echoes the determination of the German-speaking Catholic settlers who came to Allan in 1903.
“One thing that has remained constant is the faith and spirit of the people it has nurtured within its walls,” said Moldenhauer. “May it remain a beacon of hope for the future.”