ROAMING THE PRAIRES, Fr. Lacombe loved the simplicity of life, the beauty of the wilderness and the exhilaration of the Buffalo hunt. In his journal he notes: “Hey, I am in my element. My cart, my 3 horses, my good Alexis (handyman and hunter), and our Blackfoot cook (Suzanne), with whom I am studying the Blackfoot language, my tent, my chapel-case, my catechisms and objects of piety – behold: my church and my rectory!”
Fr. Lacombe was a dedicated teacher of the Faith. He became proficient in both Cree and Blackfoot and contributed to the creation, development and eventual publication of a Cree dictionary and a Blackfoot glossary. His greatest teaching innovation, though, is the “Catholic Ladder.”
In his book, Proclaiming the Gospel to the Indians and Métis, author Raymond Huel, Professor of History at the University of Lethbridge, states:
“The (Oblate) missionaries also demonstrated great ingenuity and flexibility in the development of instructional aids. Albert Lacombe transformed the Catholic Ladder into ‘a small masterpiece of pedagogy.’ While preaching to the Blackfoot in 1865, Lacombe supplemented his instruction with drawings made in the sand. Noticing that the visual presentation appealed to his audience, he later suspended a buffalo robe between two poles and used it to draw figures and symbols to present Biblical history. Upon returning to St. Albert, Lacombe used ink and paper to prepare more elaborate versions.”
Later, on his way to Europe to raise funds, recruit clergy and invite immigrants for Oblate Bishop Vital Grandin’s new St. Albert Diocese, he met with the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame in Montreal, and they published a definitive colored edition. Fr. Lacombe shared his illustrated Catholic Ladder with his fellow missionaries and eventually it was approved by the Pope and used all over the world.
In 1870, a smallpox epidemic devastated Métis, Cree and Blackfoot communities, and Fr. Lacombe responded by visiting village after village, comforting the sick and burying the dead. He wrote to Bishop Taché, “Day and night I am constantly occupied, scarcely having time to say Mass!” Then an influx of illegal American whiskey traders in southern Alberta exploited the Blackfoot with their brand of firewater, prompting Fr. Lacombe to communicate with Ottawa. In 1871 he wrote: “While we await … an impressive (police) force to compel the fulfillment of law, we suffer unceasingly!” By 1872, Lacombe was planning a permanent mission, for himself, in Blackfoot Territory somewhere in the Bow Valley region.
It was not to be, though, as Lacombe was called away to the East on assignments for the Oblates that would keep him from southern Alberta for 10 years!
In that same year, 1872, Alexis Cardinal, Lacombe’s Métis handyman, built a small chapel-cabin for him by the Elbow River in the Springbank region, in anticipation of the Blackfoot mission.
In Lacombe’s absence, Bishop Grandin sent brother Oblates, Fr. Constantine Scollen, and later, Fr. Leon Doucet, who established Notre Dame de la Paix [Our Lady of Peace] at the site of Cardinal’s chapel-cabin in 1873. The mission was re-located to the meeting of the Bow and Elbow Rivers, where the North West Mounted Police built Fort Calgary, in 1875.
Fr. Lacombe was expected to return as an interpreter and advocate for the Blackfoot when they signed Treaty #7 at Blackfoot Crossing, in 1877, but he fell ill while travelling and couldn’t make it. Fr. Scollen replaced him.
When the Buffalo all but disappeared from the Canadian plains in 1879, First Nations bands moved onto their Reserves and the West was opened up for a trans-continental railway and the arrival of settlers to populate the prairies.
Learn to do good and seek justice. –Isaiah 1:17
In July 2016 Pope Francis declared, “I want to be a spokesperson for the deepest longings of Indigenous peoples. And I want you to add your voice to mine.” In the video announcing his prayer intention, an Indian woman is shown approaching a podium and pleading for the plight of indigenous peoples to be heard. When the camera pans out, however, the auditorium is empty, a metaphor, perhaps, for the deafness of the world to the plight of oppressed people.
It reminded me of a similar moment many years ago in Australia at a conference on listening to the Aboriginal voice, when a young Indigenous scholar appeared before a large crowd of sympathetic white academics and played a video of an activist reading protest poetry. The sound was muted and the video was allowed to play, silently, for a full 15 minutes. All the while the presenter stared at the increasingly uncomfortable crowd. Then he turned off the TV and announced, before he stormed from the room, “This is what you’ve heard from Indigenous peoples at this conference.” Horrified organizers realized, in that moment, that no Aboriginal guests had been invited to discuss the issue of Indigenous voices. It was a blunder that was not soon repeated.
the greatest antidote
to silence is dialogue
I use the latter example because it occurred in the context of incredibly well-meaning, learned and completely supportive academics at a conference specifically called to address acknowledged silence. Despite this, they still neglected to invite the people at the heart of the concern. It is a lesson that I have never forgotten: that the greatest antidote to silence is dialogue, not speeches – action not intentions. Even the most well meaning will be deaf to change unless we learn to listen.
In the context of the United Nations’ declaration for Indigenous peoples — the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee just completed, the announced inquiry into murdered and missing Aboriginal women and girls, and the most recent controversy over the Canadian Catholic Church’s handling of reparations owed over the handling of the Residential Schools debacle — it seems more important than ever that conversations increase, not decrease.
For St. Mary’s University here in Calgary, this meant the development of an Aboriginal Strategic Plan some three years ago, one that led to the establishment of an Elders on Campus program, an Indigenous Advisory Board, an experiential learning program at Ghost River for staff, faculty and students, and the incorporation of a blanket exercise modeling the devastating impact of colonialism, held at a university retreat where 98% of the institution participated. And in mid-January the University was chosen to host the 3-day National Truth & Reconciliation roundtable.
Needless to say, there is still much to do. What is heartening, however, is how fully the university as a whole has embraced this dialogue, and more importantly, how generously Indigenous communities have welcomed St. Mary’s into the dialogue, sharing their knowledge, their talents and their generosity of spirit. Dialogue together with action is the first step towards reconciliation and healing. Our hope is that this journey towards reconciliation becomes widespread and all pervasive.
As Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations recently pointed out, “Make room in your heart, your soul and your spirit.” Or as Pope Francis put it at a ceremony in Chiapas, Mexico: “How worthwhile it would be for each of us to examine our conscience and learn to say, ‘Forgive me!’”
I was away from home and from my husband when my miscarriage happened during my summer pastoral studies in Chicago. I remember answering the door to welcome a colleague during the first few days after the miscarriage. I was not keen for a visit since my pain was still raw, so we both just fell into a long silence after she told me how sorry she was for my loss. When I finally looked up and saw the gleam of tears in her eyes, I broke down and cried with her. Until today I still think of it as the day God wept with me.
When parents experience a pregnancy loss, frequently the grief goes unspoken because secrecy often accompanies the early stages of pregnancy. Support from the community can be rare, as most of the time most friends and family do not know anything about the loss. Even when the grieving parents do share their loss, the many kind comments and sentiments they receive often fail to alleviate the sorrow and guilt parents feel.
Surrounded by ministers who had been shaped by their life experiences and ministries, I was blessed to have been able to confide in those who understood and knew what I had been through. My experience as a liturgical minister did not help in preparing a ritual for my own child. The sorrow was very numbing and I was simply unable to be resourceful.
Looking back, words cannot express my gratitude for my thoughtful colleagues who prepared and organized a Liturgy of the Word to commemorate our loss. It is difficult to put pain adequately into words but rituals speak beyond words alone because they consist of symbolic actions and language. It allowed me to give voice to my pain through prayers and lamentations. It sanctified my experience as I was entrusted to God’s loving care and compassion.
It is truly a humbling experience to be at the receiving end of so much love and support, and to encounter Christ in the face of friends and family. As God’s people, we are not meant to grieve alone. God weeps with us. In the embrace of the community, grieving parents allow themselves to be sustained and cared for as they put the pieces of their lives back together. Our grieving should naturally unite us with the community, a place where both have something to give and receive.
The Diocese of Calgary invites parents, their families and friends to join us in a prayer gathering by attending the Memorial Liturgy for Miscarried and Stillborn Infants on Friday, March 24, at 7:00 p.m. at Sacred Heart Church, 1307 - 14th Street SW. For more information or to RSVP, please visit our website at www.miscarriageliturgy.ca.
With an impending retirement, we often pause to take stock of our accomplishments. Leaving a legacy is about life and living; creating meaning in our lives. How do you live a full and meaningful life? Each of us answers that question differently.
One legacy that we are very grateful to Bishop Henry for, and that will live on for many years to come, is St. John Vianney in Providence Care Centre. This is a unique care centre that provides medical and health care services for senior adults and retired priests in a home-like setting which encourages relationships, independence and dignity through spiritual, physical, social and recreational programs.
Like all the neighbourhoods in Providence Care Centre, the priests living in St. John Vianney have developed a community they call their own; a place to enjoy their meals; their own personal suite furnished with special mementoes that form their legacy; several gathering areas for social time; a small dedicated chapel; and access to all that Providence Care Centre has to offer.
On January 11, 2017 Bishop Henry imparted a blessing on Providence Care Centre, and all in attendance. More than 100 guests took part in the moving ceremony. Now that the Providence Care Centre is complete and fully operational, the push now shifts toward the fundraising efforts to build a chapel at the northeast corner of Providence Care Centre, looking out on the beautiful Fish Creek Provincial Park.
As Bishop Henry enters retirement, he will be remembered for the legacy he created at Providence Care Centre. It will live on for generations to come.
This is a time of change in our diocese, but also of celebration, for the Protection of Minors Diocesan Committee. We say farewell to Bishop Henry and welcome Bishop McGrattan. We also say goodbye to and thank Dave Wilson, our committee chair, who has provided outstanding leadership over the years.
It has been gratifying to have national and local newspapers recognize Bishop Henry’s care for the poor, and in particular, his leadership in founding programs for the homeless in our city.
Our particular cause for celebration is the success of the Protection of Minors initiative in the Diocese. This work has amply reflected Bishop Henry’s identification with those who particularly need our care and concern. Bishop Henry has consistently acknowledged that we must take action to restore the confidence of the world in our Church, as we are the face of Christ’s mission.
In February 2011, he launched our program to protect minors and vulnerable adults, under the diocesan banner of Strengthening Our Parish Communities. He has supported the transformation of how we run all of our diocesan programs. At the same time, the value of those in ministry has been enhanced to reflect their roles in keeping the vulnerable safe. In so many areas, great strides have been made to provide measures to protect the vulnerable:
- Screening of all, whether volunteers, staff or clergy, who serve the vulnerable
- Training in both child abuse prevention and elder abuse prevention
- Supporting pastoral care, especially of the elderly
- Ongoing efforts to end homelessness and provide affordable housing, such as Acadia Place and
- Offering strong programs like Elizabeth House, Feed the Hungry and Youth Ministry.
On the Feast of the Holy Innocents, Pope Francis addressed the bishops of the world directly, “To contemplate the manger also means to be attentive and open to the pain of our neighbours, especially where children are involved. The same thing is asked of us pastors today: to protect from the Herods of our own time, those who devour the innocence of our children. Let us find the courage needed to take all necessary measures and to protect in every way the lives of our children.”
The challenge for our committee has been that of educating parishioners with respect to the need to protect young people and vulnerable adults from any kind of abuse. We can safely rejoice in the development of awareness and success of the program. Today we can say with confidence that our leader has had that courage called for by Pope Francis. Again, we thank Bishop Henry!
For more information about the initiatives, including the online abuse prevention training, please contact your parish volunteer screening coordinator or call Deacon Stephen Robinson or Barbara Raleigh-Smith at (403) 218-5549 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.