First Roman Catholic Priests in Ile-a-la-Crosse.

Religious History Of St. John Baptiste Parish
Ile-a-la-Crosse - 150 Years.

The Church - The People Of God.

Three Crosses. Three Crosses.
Centennial Celebration of the Catholic Mission of Ile a la Crosse.

On the Feast of the Sacred Heart, splendid festivities took place when the mission celebrated 100 years of existence: 1846-1946. It was the realization of a great dream, a feast of thanksgiving for the faith imparted to the Metis, Cree and Chipewyan people of Ile-a-la-Crosse. From the 29th of June to the 1st of July, about 6,000 people attended, coming from the surrounding communities and from the south. The highlight of the religious celebration was the visit of the Oblate Cardinal Jean-Marie Rodrigue Villeneuve, Archbishop of Quebec, who presided the solemn mass and attended three days of festivities accompanied by six bishops, some fifty priests and as many Brothers. And this was the Cardinal's last and only visit before he died a few months later. He came as a pastor, a pilgrim and a missionary, walking among the tented pilgrims, sharing a smile, a good word and a blessing on the shores of Ile-a-la-Crosse Lake. Three government officials of Saskatchewan were also present; the agent of Indian Affairs, and the Minister of Education. The Honourable Lloyd; Deputy M. Marion. Fr. Guy Remy was the parish priest at the time and Bishop Martin Lajeunesse was the vicar apostolic of Keewatin.

A colourful flotilla with a gentle breeze playing in its banners and flags escorted the dignitaries to the mission who were greeted with a volley of joyful gunshots upon arrival.

Six couples had their marriage blessed on that occasion:

Vital Morin and Therese Desjarlais;
Melchior Bouvier and Pauline Marie Paule Maurice;
George Maurice and Bernadette McCallum;
François Opikokew and Alice Gardiner from Canoe Lake;
Two couples from La Loche:
David Lemaigre and Maria Herman;
Jean Marie Montgrand and Eleonore Montgrand.

The whole surrounding area was covered with some 400 pitched white tents sheltering the many Cree, Chipewyan, and Metis who came from other missions for "The Great Feast" and to pray to "The Great Spirit". It is told that as many as 75 cords of wood were provided for their use as well as 4,000 pounds of meat brought in by generous organizations and distributed to families through the good auspices of the Band Councils.

The festival menu displayed a northern flavour: bear and moose meat, muskrat, duck and fish were a delight to the many visitors!

For the occasion of these celebrations, Brother Cordeau in The Pas, although in very poor health, crafted beautiful pews for the church which had been built in 1897.

The young Father Adrien Darveau had prepared the altars to receive the monstrance containing the Blessed Sacrament during the grand procession with the Cardinal. A community of Sisters in St. Laurent, Montreal had prepared the decorations covering the pontifical throne for the Cardinal; it meant coverings for a structure of 9 x 6 feet and a depth of 27 inches. Souvenir buttons were distributed to one and all; 21 armchairs had been provided by the Army.

Everything had been readied and even the roads between Green Lake and Ile-a-la-Crosse were sufficiently dry to travel with certain ease; the Treaty days were also over to focus on this great celebration.

The Sisters had prepared the children for skits, plays and group singing. The Lebret Oblate scholastics presented a religious and historical pageant. The Grey Nuns also prepared lodging and food for some 80 invited guests. A large stage had been built in front of the convent house and the festivities took place in this natural open-air auditorium.

The solemn pontifical mass was in itself a colourful and an impressive celebration with sermons in four languages, French, English, and interpretation in Cree and Chipewyan. There were about 2,500 participants.

The festivities closed with a bang! A display of fireworks coloured the skies amid the exclamations of exuberant joy and awe. A brass band by the Lebret Indian School students made a joyful noise for the Lord which was very much appreciated by all.

Father Germain Lesage, OMI, who spent some years at St. John the Baptist mission, published for the occasion the history of Ile-a-la-Crosse in a book entitled "La Capitale d'Une Solitude." and Father Carmel Lacasse filmed the celebrations.

June 9 - 11, 1976 The Bi-Centennial of the Village of Ile-a-la-Crosse was celebrated by the local community. It especially highlighted the village history and legacy of their people: the Metis, Aboriginal and the first white inhabitants, Thompson and Frobisher.

Vocational Celebrations

January 5, 1919, Father Joseph Dubeau was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Ovide Charlebois. It was the first ordination celebrated in Ile-a-la-Crosse. The Bishop used an old wooden crozier that had been carved for Bishop Grandin by one of the Oblate Brothers. Sister Cecille Nadeau, Grey Nun, also made perpetual profession of vows on that same day.

March 23, 1929, Therese Arcand left teaching in Ile-a-la-Crosse to enter the Novitiate at St. Albert, the Provincial House of the Grey Nuns. She then returned in the 1970s to minister as a catechist until she retired. Sister died in 1991 and is resting in the cemetery of her birthplace, Ile-a-la-Crosse.

It is not until 1994, that another vocation emerged from Ile-a-la-Crosse. Josephine Bouvier made perpetual profession of vowed life as a Grey Nun. Sister Bouvier, a native of Ile-a-la-Crosse, was employed at St. Joseph's Hospital for 19 years. In 1988, she entered the formation centre of the Grey Nuns and pronounced her temporary vows. Her missionary experience took her to the Blood Indian Reserve at Standoff, Alberta and then to the physiotherapy department of St. Paul's Hospital in Saskatoon.

The profession ceremony of Sister Bouvier was held in the church at Ile-a-la-Crosse with Sister Faye Wylie, provincial superior for St. Albert Province, receiving the perpetual vows of Sister Bouvier on behalf of the superior general, Sister Marguerite Létourneau. Archbishop Peter A. Sutton, OMI, of Keewatin-The Pas, presided over the eucharistic celebration following the profession of vows. The mission church, which seats 600, was filled to capacity.

In imitation of their foundress, Mother d'Youville, the Grey Nuns are dedicated women called to be the hands and heart to the needy. Their role is one of welcoming and witnessing to the people they serve, kindness and tenderness of God the Father, for the poor. Marguerite who is still among us through the care and dedication of her Sisters was declared a saint December 9, 1990.

We must admit that Vocations have been few and far apart!

Other Religious Communities who served in Ile-a-la-Crosse.

1970- 1973, There were as many as five Ursaline Sisters teaching at Rossignol School;

1986 - 1987, one in parish work.

1972 - 1973 and 1975 - 1976, Also teaching were two members of the Community of the Daughters of Providence from Prince Albert.

1970, - Two Sisters of St. Elizabeth were working at the hospital; today one works in the Health Department.

1992 - 1994, Two Sisters Of Charity Of The Immaculate Conception from New Brunswick were serving in pastoral ministry.

1972 - 1977, Two Sisters of The Mission Services from Saskatoon were teaching, doing parish work and nursing;

1994 -1996 another in pastoral ministry.

1977, Two Sisters of Providence from Kingston, Ontario, came to work at the hospital; one was the administrator, and the other was the cook.

The travelling Madona.

July 8, 1950, The travelling statue of Our Lady of the Cape arrived at Ile-a-la-Crosse after a long ten-hour pilgrimage travelling partway by plane, motorboat, on and off from place to place, over gravel roads, muddy roads, flooded roads and by truck to the mission. Inconveniences were soon forgotten when the number of people who attended the celebration expressed their Marian devotion by singing and repeating the great and familiar salutation, the "Ave Maria". In 1952, the devotion to praying the family rosary became a regular custom.

In 1954, during the Marian Year, the grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, built in 1944, had been designated as a place of pilgrimage for the whole vicariate of Keewatin. During the Marian Year, Father Gerard Beaudet, OMI, accompanied ten Metis/Aboriginal on a pilgrimage to Cap-de-la-Madeleine (Three-Rivers, Quebec). This was also a reminder of the former Father Laflèche of Ile-a-la-Crosse who became Bishop of Three Rivers after 1849.

May 13 - 15, 1967, The statue of Our Lady of Fatima visited Ile-a-la-Crosse directly from Fatima, Portugal, blessed by Pope Paul VI on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the apparitions.

The Metis and Aboriginal of Ile-a-la-Crosse have been faithful pilgrims by attending the annual pilgrimage at Lac Ste-Anne, Alberta for some 107 years.

Ile-a-la-Crosse and Bishop Eugene De Mazenod.

October 19, 1975, On the occasion of the Beatification of the founder of the Oblate Missionaries of Mary Immaculate, the faithful of Ile-a-la-Crosse offered the Holy Father a beautiful handmade stole. A special letter of thanks was addressed in return with special mention of Alice Aubichon and Marie Bouvier who were the skilful seamstresses. Sister Renée Buliard, who was then working in Ile-a-la-Crosse, attended the celebration in Rome.

December 3, 1996, Blessed Eugene De Mazenod was declared a saint. On this occasion, the dedication of the many Oblates in Ile-a-la-Crosse in the course of 150 years were remembered: 45 + Brothers, 85 priests and 7 Bishops. Three parishioners attended the canonization ceremonies in Rome: Yvette Morin, Monique Bouvier, Marie Adele Desjarlais.

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