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Father Chalifoux's Sacred Works of Art 

St. Vincent is located near St. Paul, Alberta, 230 kilometres northwest of Edmonton. Established in 1906, the small settlement relocated in the anticipation of rail service but, by 1918, the railroad bypassed the town. That year, arson destroyed the parish church, still under construction. Attempts to acquire a rail spur line and rebuild the church failed, which devastated the fledgling village.

When Fr. Charles Chalifoux arrived in 1933, the community was struggling with the sudden deaths of the two previous parish priests as well as the effects of the Great Depression. Nonetheless, Fr. Chalifoux proposed that the people of the community begin building a church, supported by workbees to prepare the lumber and lay the foundations.

By the time the church was near completion in 1936, Fr. Chalifoux began to furnish the interior. With no money for luxuries, Fr. Chalifoux used a foot-powered fretwork saw to cut patterns from the thin veneers and planks salvaged from shipping boxes.

Inspired by the décor of French churches he had seen, Fr. Chalifoux began work on a chancel screen with images of the twelve apostles. Each of the screens comprised thirty five pieces, each taking four hours to saw. Fr. Chalifoux recruited young men from the parish to pedal the saw. It took two years to complete the panels.

In the following years, Fr. Chalifoux continued his work, creating a baptismal font, communion rails, confessional panels and a raised altar with a wooden canopy that was decorated with a crown of golden tin.

The results of Fr. Chalifoux's craftsmanship served the parish church until the early 1970s, when his work was nearly destroyed with the demolition of the old church. Two astute parishioners salvaged the decorative work and removed it to safe storage, ensuring that his legacy in wood would endure.

Charles Joseph Chalifoux was born in 1897 in Vermont to parents of French-Canadian descent. The youngest of a family of eleven, eight of whom did not survive beyond five years of age, he excelled in school and attended the school and novitiate of the Holy Ghost Fathers near Hull, Quebec.

In 1923, he was ordained and worked in the missions of Cameroon until he was stricken with yellow fever and returned to Canada where he worked to bring vocations to his religious order, the Holy Ghost Fathers. Hearing that Archbishop O'Leary needed priests for parishes in the Diocese of Edmonton, he applied and was posted near Lac La Biche before arriving in St. Vincent in 1933, where he remained for thirty years. Fr. Chalifoux died April 18, 1970 and is buried in the graveyard at St. Vincent.
(Source: Legacy in Wood: The Fretwork Decor of St. Vincent Church and the Sacred Works of Art of Father  Charles Chalifoux, CSSP. Dr. Juliette Champagne and Musée historique de Saint-Paul, 1993)
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