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The Diocesan Detective Commemorates the Lacombe Home

By the spring of 1885, there was trouble brewing in the West. Louis Riel protested conditions to the Canadian Government on behalf of the Metis and some Cree bands in central Saskatchewan and started the North West Rebellion. Prime Minister John A. Macdonald sent soldiers on the CPR to put down the uprising and protect settler’s communities on the prairies.

The Blackfoot Confederacy had been approached by Riel to join in the fray and people in Calgary and surrounding areas were nervous. What would Crowfoot do?

Once again, Fr. Lacombe was called upon to take his place on the national stage and he made several visits to Crowfoot to ensure his loyalty and control over the heavily-armed young warriors.

One of the most important telegrams in Canadian history was sent to Ottawa by Lacombe. It simply read: “I have seen Crowfoot and all the Blackfoot. All quiet. Promised me to be loyal no matter how things turn out elsewhere.”

The Riel Rebellion was over by the summer of 1885 and one of the outcomes of the danger in Saskatchewan became a benefit for Calgary. Bishop Grandin transferred some Sisters of the Faithful Companions of Jesus, the FCJs, away from the area near the rebellion. Fr. Lacombe had just finished building a brand new two-story Oblate rectory and chapel for the mission. He gladly turned it over to the Sisters for their convent and a school room. Once again Fr. Lacombe would be living in a tent on the prairie… but it was all for a good cause!

In December of 1885, the first school district in the North West Territories was erected… Lacombe Roman Catholic School District #1, with Mother Mary Greene fcj, as its first superintendent. Later the name would be changed to the Calgary Catholic School District.

In 1886, Prime Minister Macdonald invited Crowfoot and the other chiefs from southern Alberta, who had remained loyal during the Rebellion, to tour eastern Canada and receive honors. Fr. Lacombe accompanied them and was effectively their tour guide. On their visit to Ottawa, Crowfoot got up to make a speech and he acknowledged his friend: “This man, the Man of Good Heart, is our brother — not only our Father, as the white people call him — but our brother. He is one of our people. When we weep he is sad for us, when we laugh, he laughs with us. We love him. He is our brother.”

Crowfoot died in 1890, after being baptized by Fr. Doucet. Fr. Lacombe honored his friend, the Great Chief, by writing a biography of his life for newspaper publication. It was the end of an era.

The last 30 years of Fr. Lacombe’s life were not filled with the dramatic history-making events of his hey-day in the national spotlight, but his travel schedule and the list of his accomplishments is still impressive. From the age of 60 Fr. Lacombe tried to retire at least five or six times, but there was always something to do!

He had built himself a chapel-cabin at Pincher Creek, in southwest Alberta in 1885, dedicated to St. Michael, and called it his “hermitage,” a place he could go for solitude and use as a home base. He would return there repeatedly over the years until 1908… but he was never there for long.

In 1909, he was inspired to create what he called, “the most beautiful dream of my life!” It would be located in the Calgary area and called the Lacombe Home… for orphans and the elderly.

He approached Patrick Burns, one of the Big 4 founders of the Calgary Stampede. Burns owned the large Bow Valley Ranche and donated 200 acres of land on a bluff overlooking Fish Creek, close to Macleod Trail and the Midnapore CPR station. Lord Strathcona, of CPR fame, made a significant donation as did many of Lacombe’s old friends.

The Sisters of Providence agreed to administer and serve at the Home and it was opened in November, 1910. An aging Fr. Lacombe was its first resident.

At the dedication he said: “We are now ready to receive all those in need who will come and knock at our door. The elderly will find solace in their time of suffering. The little ones will find devoted mothers to care for them.”

The Lacombe Home was declared a Provincial Historic Site in 1979, but the building burned down in 1999. The area today is home to St. Mary’s University, the Sisters of Providence Convent, the Fr. Lacombe Care Centre, and the Providence Care Centre. The Fish Creek/Lacombe C-Train station honors the history of the area.

By 1913, Calgary and southern Alberta had become its own Diocese led by Bishop McNally. St. Mary’s was now a Cathedral and Fr. Lacombe made his last public appearance there in March of that year. He finished his remarks with these words:

“Many years ago, I stood here on this piece of ground and pictured myself the time when a great Cathedral would stand here.

I will not be with you very long now. I want to plead with you for the poor and the needy and the destitute. God bless you for your kindness to those needy ones at Midnapore. God bless you, people of Calgary, God bless you!”

Fr. Lacombe died on December 12, 1916 in his room at the Lacombe Home. After a funeral Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral, his casket was taken by a CPR “ceremonial train” up to Edmonton to lie in state at St. Joachim’s Church for a few days of public veneration… a parish he had founded 60 years earlier.

Later he was buried at St. Albert, crossing the Sturgeon River Bridge for the last time. His body lies in a crypt beneath the St. Albert Church beside those of Bishop Grandin and Fr. Leduc.

That’s in Treaty #6 Territory, traditional lands of the Cree. They called him… “the Noble Soul.”

But his “heart,” at his request, is still in southern Alberta, buried in a small cemetery behind the Sisters of Providence Convent overlooking Fish Creek Provincial Park.

That’s here, in Treaty #7 Territory, traditional lands of the Blackfoot. They called him: “The Man of Good Heart.”

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Formed.org: Can it Form Us?

Some parishes in our diocese have memberships to the website Formed.org, enabling their parishioners to access Catholic resources hosted there. Formed.org is an online platform, which some have nicknamed the “Catholic Netflix.” It hosts an impressive amount of content including Bible studies, presentations on the sacraments, on Catholic thinkers, saints, and theology. Formats include video programs and feature films, audio presentations and downloadable books, all accessible on demand through the Internet. You may already be familiar with some of the programs used in small group parish settings, such as the Symbolon Bible study or Fr. Michael Gaitley’s retreat, 33 Days to Morning Glory. At the website these are all available to revisit whenever and wherever you are. The website is simple and reliable to use and has proved very popular with many parishioners I have spoken to.

Recently I checked Formed.org out in depth. I found many things there to encourage and challenge my faith. I particularly liked the Opening the Word segments which give short video commentaries for each Sunday Gospel reading. Designed for RCIA, a printable leader’s guide and participant’s journal are available for each Sunday. Although the translation used is from the New American Bible, differing slightly from the New Revised Standard Version we hear at Mass, the commentary still applies.

I also listened to Keep Holy the Sabbath by Dr. Tim Gray. Gray has an in-your-face style that some will find compelling and convincing but others defensive or alienating. Similarly the video presentation Why God Still Matters by Karlo Broussard, of Catholic Answers, comes out fighting against public atheists, such as Christopher Hitchens, using philosophy and reason to undermine the strident claims that there is no God. While their arguments here are traditional Catholic teaching, the apologetic sensibility of these speakers bleeds into other content on the site giving it an energetic but combative stance, of a church newly embattled (hasn’t it always been?) and a forceful rather than humble evangelization.

Many parishioners have already experienced Dr. Edward Sri as an engaging speaker. I watched his class room discussions with college-aged students as he presented on relativism in Who Am I to Judge?: Responding to Relativism with Logic and Love. Sri made some strong and substantial points that I could imagine using in discussing my faith with others. As a whole the speakers bring welcome clarity to points of theology. It is interesting to note, though, the lack of diversity in style and presentation. It took me a while to discover authoritative women’s voices, although I found Dr. Mary Healy delivering the Lectio Bible Study on Evangelization looking at the Book of Acts. Cut and dried answers and “I know I’m right” fervour leaves little room for real debate. The audio lecture on G.K. Chesterton seems less about the man and his faith than a thinly veiled partisan political speech. This style could alienate some parishioners.

These issues aside all the video that I watched was of consistently high quality and a wonderful starting point for parish meetings and discussion. Parishioners will have to buy workbooks and other resources in order to get the full benefit of some sessions but the content goes a long way to helping form Catholics in our faith albeit with a particular flavour. Formed.org is a great resource for busy parishes although it would be a mistake to think it covers all bases. There is little on Catholic Social Teaching and there is a “preaching to the converted” tone – perhaps not surprising for a “Catholic Netflix,” but which may make it less helpful for new Catholics or inquirers. Still the site is evolving. Perhaps the Augustine Institute, owners of Formed.org could be persuaded to diversify and include Canadian content, or materials on Catholic Social Teaching? It you have the chance I urge you to take a look. Can Formed.org be a wholesome part of your formation in faith?

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The Diocesan Detective Commemorates the Mission District, Calgary

By 1884, the CPR was bringing more settlers to the Calgary region. Unable to obtain homestead grants yet from the government, due to the lack of completed surveys, many newcomers were simply squatting on whatever piece of open land they could find. Fr. Lacombe was concerned about the proximity of settlers to his mission and the future of Our Lady of Peace. Without waiting for approval from Bishop Grandin he took passage on a CPR construction train and made his way cross-country to Ottawa. Visiting the office of the Minister of the Interior, David MacPherson, Fr. Lacombe announced he was there to obtain a homestead grant for the property around the mission. MacPherson, unmoved, told the priest that he would put in a request to the department in due time.

Local historian David Mittel-stadt, commenting on the creation of one of Calgary’s earliest communities, records Lacombe’s legendary response:

“Non, monsieur, I cannot go until I receive that settlement of our land. I came hundreds of miles to you just for this. I will wait here with your permission. I am used to camping on the prairie… I will just camp here until I get my papers.”

Well, with the prospect of having Fr. Lacombe sleeping on the floor by his office door, MacPherson lost no time in arranging the land grant!

In fact, Fr. Lacombe registered two homesteads, one for himself and one for his colleague, Fr. Leduc, in order to double the size of the property he was claiming for the Oblates and the Diocese of St. Albert.

The location of St. Mary’s Cathedral is well known to Calgarians, and it is surrounded by St. Mary’s High School, St. Mary’s Hall, the original St. Mary’s Hall, St. Monica School, the Sacred Heart Convent of the FCJ Sisters, Our Lady of Lourdes School, and, further south, the old Holy Cross Hospital site. This is the community of Mission, appropriately named, and it included St. Mary’s Cemetery on the hill across the river. It is all part of the original Lacombe-Leduc homestead area.

Fr. Lacombe had the Mission Bridge built over the Elbow River and he contracted the grading of the Mission Road, as a shortcut to and from Macleod Trail. It still is a useful shortcut!

Many Calgarians enjoy the 4th Street Lilac Festival every Spring. All the buildings, condos, and houses on the east side of 4th Street SW, south of 17th Avenue, are on sub-divided lots that Fr. Lacombe sold. Yes, he was a real estate magnate! But, honouring his vow of poverty, all proceeds were directed towards the needs of the Church, of course. Today historical signage indicates the original street names: 17th Avenue was Notre Dame Road; 18th Avenue (St. Joseph Street); 19th Avenue (St. Mary’s); 20th Avenue (Oblate); 21st Avenue (Lacombe); 22nd Avenue (Doucet); 23rd Avenue (Rouleau) - for the two French Canadian brothers who settled there; 24th Avenue (Grandin), 25th Avenue (Scollen), and 26th Avenue (Legal).

In that same year, 1884, Fr. Lacombe arranged for the construction of the St. Joseph Industrial School south of Calgary at Dunbow. With Canadian Government funding and policies in place, the Residential School was run by the Oblates and Grey Nuns. It was “meant” to serve the children of the Blackfoot Confederacy by teaching them skills to cope with the inevitable changes to their traditional lifestyle. Fr. Lacombe was the Principal and primary recruiter for the school in its first year of operation and Crowfoot approved of the plan.

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The Diocesan Detective Investigates St. Mary’s Church, Calgary

Father Lacombe was assigned as ‘Chaplain’ to the Canadian Pacific Railway work camps east of Winnipeg in 1880 by Archbishop Taché and for two years his ‘Sacred Heart Mission’ followed the progress of the construction as it moved west.

William C. Van Horne, Chief Engineer of the CPR, describes his introduction to Fr. Lacombe: “Near the Lake of the Woods one morning in 1882 I saw a priest standing on a flat rock, his crucifix in his right hand and his broad hat in the other, silhouetted against the rising sun… It was a scene never to be forgotten and the noble and saintly countenance of the priest brought it to me that it must be Fr. Lacombe of whom I had heard so much; and it was.”

Fr. Lacombe was already a legend to the CPR owners but he was equally in awe of them and the project they were undertaking. He was also keenly aware of the monumental impact the railway would have on the North West.

In his book, simply titled, Father Lacombe, author James MacGregor records the priest’s words: “I would look long in silence at that road coming on — like a band of wild geese in the sky — cutting its way through the prairies; opening up the great country we thought would be ours for years. Like a vision I could see it driving my poor Indians before it, and spreading out behind it the farms, the towns and the cities you see today.”

An entry in Fr. Lacombe’s journal about this time gives us an indication of his state of mind: “My God, send me back again to my old Indian missions… I am longing for that!” His prayers would soon be answered. Although he was not a fan of the rowdy conduct of the work crews, they obviously liked him… when he left, they chipped in to buy him a ‘horse and wagon’ outfit to take him back to St. Albert!

In 1882, Fr. Lacombe’s hopes were finally realized and Bishop Grandin of St. Albert appointed him Superior of the Southern Missions, based in Calgary.

His first priority was to make plans for the expansion of buildings at “Our Lady of Peace,” soon to be known as St. Mary’s, and to visit each reserve to assess its needs. It wasn’t long, however, before he was involved in more critical events of national importance.

By 1883, construction of the CPR had passed Medicine Hat and it was on its way to Calgary. The ‘right of way’ was infringing on the Blackfoot Reserve boundaries. Crowfoot and his fellow chiefs were threatening to resist any trespassing on their land… violence was possible.

When the government hesitated to act, Fr. Lacombe came to the rescue, taking advantage of his friendly relationship with Crowfoot. Without getting government approval first, he brought gifts and food out to the reserve and negotiated a land swap so that the tribe would be satisfied. The Canadian government happily complied with Fr. Lacombe’s compromise to keep the peace, and the directors of the CPR were grateful as well that construction would continue unimpeded.

When railway construction finally reached Calgary, Fr. Lacombe was invited to a luncheon with all the CPR executives in their dining car. To honour his contribution to the ongoing construction of the railway, President George Stephen resigned his leadership of the company and Fr. Lacombe was voted as honorary President of the CPR for one hour! He took immediate advantage of his situation and assigned himself two free passes on the trains, free freight for the Oblate Missions, and free use of the telegraph wires, for life!

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The Seven Last Words of Christ

Devotion to the Seven Last Words, the seven last phrases Jesus uttered from the cross, can be traced at least to the twelfth century. St. Bonaventure made a commentary on them, the Franciscans helped spread their popularity, and soon promises of salvation were made to those who meditated on the Words. This devotion can appear a heavy, gloomy spirituality, dwelling on suffering and sin. And yet as Fr. Thomas Rosica points out in this small book of reflections there is much more here. These words – seven – the number of perfection – stand in relief against the silence of death.

The Cross is the pivotal point of our faith, the bridge between death and resurrection. The three hours Jesus spent on the Cross are sometimes marked by Christians in a Tre Ore liturgy. Fr. Rosica sets the scene for his reflections with Pope Francis’ powerful prayer at the conclusion of the Stations of the Cross in 2016. Here we see the Cross of Christ echoed in contemporary examples of evil and violence but also in the faithful response of those who love and serve, heroic and hidden.

Throughout the seven reflections Fr. Rosica reveals Jesus as the perfect model of forgiveness, reconciliation, and peace. Even at this time of maximum agony, isolation, and disgrace he shows us how we can live. Using imagination, theological insight, and direct language Fr. Rosica, known to many of us through his work with Salt + Light, and recently in Calgary for Bishop McGrattan’s Installation rite, draws out the life-giving nature of the Words. For example, while I don’t suppose you are meant to have a “favourite” among the Last Words, in the light of these reflections mine is the third word. The scene at the foot of the cross that depicts the “small seed group” of the communion of the saints. In some ways, it is “the first real communion of holy people gathered around holy things,” in Christian understanding at least, and a foreshadowing of a Messianic people too numerous to count.

How can we look on such horror, let alone meditate on it? Don’t we see enough – on the news, in our own experience? The anguish of abandonment heard in the Fourth Word is but the beginning of Psalm 22 that in the end resounds with praise reverberating through time and encompassing the world. Suffering is not the end; because of Jesus’ death we experience resurrection with him.

Fr. Rosica makes the connection between Gospel revelation of Jesus’ passion and our lives today it a way that makes the traditional meditations of the Tre Ore service fruitful for all Christians young and old. Using anecdotes about Mother Teresa, and even a quotation from author Toni Morrison, these reflections explore the idea that our example can be, echoing Jesus, a point of embarkation or a foundation for others in their own journey to God. If we wish to be able to pray like our master Jesus at our own deaths then as Fr. Rosica says, we had better start praying these words now and “liv[ing] our way into that loving surrender of our lives to God.”

1 Forgiveness Father forgive them, they do not know what they are doing Luke 23:33-34
2 Salvation Today, you will be with me in Paradise Luke 23:39-43
3 Relationship Woman, here is your son… Here is your mother John 19:25-27
4 Abandonment My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Matthew 27:45-46
5 Distress I am thirsty John 19:28
6 Triumph It is finished John 19: 29-30
7 Reunion Father, into your hands I commend my spirit Luke 23:44-46
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