THE DIOCESE’S LARGEST PARISH ONCE STRETCHED TO B.C. BORDER
In the very early days, the area now known as Midnapore may have been an occasional stopping place for missionaries engaged in bringing Christianity to the indigenous people. After pioneers began settling the area, the district officially became a mission, served on an occasional basis by priests from nearby Okotoks, who offered mass in a schoolhouse or in private homes. Boundaries were clearly detailed by church officials when the Calgary diocese was formed in 1912.
Those boundaries, which were not changed until 1974, comprised that area south of what is now known as Anderson Rd., west of the Bow River, east of the British Columbia border and north of a line running just south of Dewinton. This is a long, narrow strip of land that comprises more than 450 square miles, making St. Patrick’s one of the largest parishes in the diocese.
The parish originally took in the Sarcee Reserve southwest of Calgary. Early records show the reserve as a major mission and many indigenous names appear in parish records from the early years. A succession of priests tended the missions, but one of the most famous of all of Canada’s missionary priests, Father Albert Lacombe, distinguished the parish by becoming its first resident pastor.
The original St. Patrick’s church was almost lost to fire in 1970. Fortunately a passing policeman noticed a red glow in the windows and turned in the alarm in time to save the shell of the building. The interior was pretty heavily damaged. While work was going on to repair the interior, mass was held at the neighbouring Anglican Church. Bishop Paul O’Byrne reopened the renovated church just before Christmas of 1970.
Because the fire damaged the church statues, new ones were fashioned by Albert Gerritsen. An indigenous Madonna and child was carved from a piece of Alberta poplar to honour the parish’s early tradition. On a mahogany Celtic cross Albert fashioned St. Patrick, holding in his hands a tiny chapel to symbolize apostleship to the Church of Ireland. A crucifix. was carved from mahogany.
When the parishioners first saw the statues, which differed greatly from the more conventional originals, much controversy arose. Finally it was decided to hold a secret ballot to determine whether the new works should be kept. It is perhaps a tribute to St. Patrick’s lengthy history that the most popular piece, by far, proved to be the indigenous Madonna.