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?
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.
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!
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|
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.