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Religion


Boy's first Communion in Saint Vincent

At the heart of the early French-Canadian communities in the West was the Roman Catholic Church. Villages and towns frequently sprung up around missions and the local parish priest performed many functions in the service of his parishioners. The church itself was a gathering place for social activities, and the clergy often took responsibility for organizing different festivals and celebrations. St. Vincent, as a developing pioneer community, relied heavily on the Catholic Church for support during its founding years. Historian Juliette Champagne notes that parishioners incorporated religious beliefs and ritual into their everyday lives. Farmers would have the parish priest bless a handful of grain to be mixed with their seeding grain; they would bury holy medals in the earth and place blessed palm leaves in their farm buildings. Attendance at church provided an important social outlet. Residents would meet their neighbours and it gave them an opportunity to come to the hamlet to conduct other business. Parishioners also volunteered their time for the benefit of the parish, and it was a source of support during times of need. They prayed together for good harvests, for strength and to ward off hail storms and early frosts.

Father Charles Chalifoux

Initially focused on achieving success with the St-Paul-des-Métis colony, Father Lacombe and Father Thérien first cast their eyes on St. Vincent for its pastures and rich farmland in 1901. Many settlers were drawn to the region by its potential for a large agricultural bounty. However, as a colony for Métis settlers, St-Paul-des-Métis was not open to outside settlement and families arriving from Europe and Québec and the United States had to look elsewhere for their homesteads. St. Vincent became one such gathering place, and settlers remained after the St-Paul-des-Métis was opened to settlers in 1909.

As the population was comprised almost entirely of devout Roman Catholics in its early years, a logical step in the community’s evolution was to obtain a parish priest. In 1907, Father Eugene Bonny was appointed by Bishop Grandin to serve St. Vincent. Shortly after arriving, the first church was built; on March 13, 1912, Bishop Emile Legal officially decreed St. Vincent a parish (it was originally called St-Vincent-de-Denisville). Three more churches would be constructed during the mission’s history. A new church was destroyed by a fire in 1918, and it was 1934 before a suitable building was finally constructed to service the growing population. To pay for the building of these churches, the parish priests organized fundraisers such as lotteries, card games, auctions and bazaars and asked for donations from parishioners.

Gril's first Communion in Saint Vincent

In addition to the Oblate missionaries and Catholic priests who served the community over the years, the Sisters of Assumption left  their mark on the spiritual development of the parish of St. Vincent. In 1929, the parish priest Reverend Charles Okhuysen requested from the Bishop of the diocese of Edmonton that the Sisters of Assumption be sent to the parish to help with educating the population. They taught at the local school which was then known as Arctic school, and brought quality French language and religious instruction to the community, where they remained until the closure of the school in 1965.

The Sisters of Assumption

Arriving in St. Vincent a few years later than the Sisters of Assumption was Father Charles Chalifoux, who was to be the most  influential religious figure in the community’s history as a parish. He was appointed parish priest in 1933 and soon began work on building a new church. Finding materials during the depression era was no easy task, but Father Chalifoux had many creative talents. He banded the community together for labour and inspiration, and using recycled materials was able to decorate the new church with artistic fretwork and ornamentation. In 1991 a travelling exhibit of his artistic creations, rescued when the church was demolished in 1973, was sponsored by the Musée St. Paul Museum.

Source:

  • Champagne, Juliette Marthe. "Isidore Cassemottes" De Saint-Vincent Alexandre Mahe (1880–1968) Et La Survivance Canadienne-Francaise En Alberta. Ann Arbor, Michigan: 2001. Reprinted with permission from Dr. Juliette Champagne and UMI Dissertation Services.
 
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