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Roman Catholicism

The missionary Oblates of the Immaculate Heart of Mary came out West towards the mid-nineteenth century and with the signing of treaties with the aboriginal peoples, their role towards the indigenous population shifted from roving missionary work to the management of schools for the native children which were mainly, but not always, financed by the federal government as part of the treaty obligations. The Oblates, who were mainly French-speakers, also became involved in the promotion of settlement in the Canadian West and actively recruited settlers mainly for rural areas where they established missions, and then, parishes.

As the papal charter of the Oblates was missionary work, once the parishes became functional, they were supposed be administered by secular clergy which were chosen by the bishop, and many parishes were. There was no problem as long as the bishop was also an Oblate, but after the death of Émile Legal in 1920, the management of the archdiocese was turned over to Henry John O’Leary. This brought major changes to the Archdiocese of Edmonton, where previously the clergy was mainly French-speaking (and bilingual in a number of languages). An English-Canadian prelate, John Thomas McNally, had been named bishop of the Diocese of Calgary in 1913, so there was already a precedent in Alberta. So accordingly, in the Archdiocese of Edmonton, the Oblates turned over most of the parishes they had helped to develop to the incoming secular clergy, and maintained their missionary work with indigenous groups.

In the Edmonton region, the Oblates continued to be involved in the work with the aboriginal population. The residential school in Saint-Albert which was managed by the Oblates and staffed mainly by the Grey Nuns operated until the 1960s. The Oblates also ran the Juniorat Saint-Jean which became the Collège Saint-Jean in 1942, when the rival Jesuit College was closed. The Collège Saint-Jean was affiliated with the University of Alberta in 1963 and at that point the Oblates turned over the institution they had built up. Members of the Oblate order remained on staff for many years and some former Oblates are still active with the educational institution. The Oblates also had an important role in the management of the French newspaper La Survivance, (now Le Franco) providing several of the newspaper’s editors. They participated actively in the organisation and the continued activities of the Association canadienne-française de l’Alberta.

The present archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan was only created in 1967, and previous to that date as it still does today, the diocese of Grouard has been mostly staffed by the Oblates, mainly because of the many missions still found in the area. In the Diocese of Calgary, the Oblates also continued their mission work in residential schools until their closure and a few of them still cater to a few parishes in Calgary, as well as at Standoff and Fort McLeod. Today, the diocese of Saint-Paul has only two Oblate residents. As for the extreme north-easterly corner of Alberta it is administered by the diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith and a few remaining Oblates also tend to the parishes there.


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