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History Of The Catholic Church
In The Cardston District

Chief Mountain Country
pages 169 - 173

In 1881 the Oblate Fathers came to Fort MacLeod to bring the Catholic Faith to the Indians and settlers of Southern Alberta. Father Legal, the first residential priest in this area, lived at Fort MacLeod and from there visited the Bloods and Piegans until 1889. He then established a permanent residence and mission at Stand Off where he lived until 1897 when he was appointed Bishop of St. Albert.

A hospital was built by the Government in 1893, near the residence of the Oblate Fathers, with 4 nuns, members of the Order of Grey Nuns, becoming the staff. In the same year, Father Legal, Brother Morkin and the Nuns started classes for the Indians in the neighborhood. Later, in 1898, a residential school was built with the Grey Nuns placed in charge. For 28 years this mission was the centre of religion, education and health for the Indians living in the Stand Off area.

However, these buildings became old and inadequate for the ever increasing population, and in 1926 the Government built a new residential school and hospital for the Indians. The school, St. Mary's School, was located 7 miles north of Cardston and placed under the direction of the Oblate Fathers. The hospital, the Blood Indian Hospital, was built near the town of Cardston and the Grey Nuns took charge of it. A witness said the sick were moved from the old hospital at Stand Off to the new hospital in a wagon. Also a new church was erected near St. Mary's School to replace the old church at Stand Off.

By 1938 many Native families had moved to Stand Off and a church, St. Catherine's, was built there for them.

During the '40s enough people settled in the Glenwood district to justify a church of their own. In 1950 an army building was moved in and renovated for use as a church. This was named St. Francis Xavier. At the same time many Indians were settling at Moses Lake, near the town of Cardston, and also required a place of worship. In 1960, a church in the shape of a teepee was built and named the Church of the Immaculate Heart.

Today the Indian population have the Mass celebrated in each of these 4 churches every Sunday with a good attendance in all.

During these years, the Oblate Fathers offered their ministry to new settlers living off the reservation. As ear- ly as 1896, Father Riou visited the district of Lee's Creek to meet with various Catholic families such as Mr. Shaw, the Customs officer and Mr. Dandson. In 1900 he said Mass in the homes of Mr. Richard Vadnais, Mr. Bianchi, Mr. Blasko, Mr. Tom White and even in the Wallace Hotel. Father Riou visited the Lee's Creek area 4 times a year travelling from Stand Off by horse and buggy.

The people of Harrisville decided to build their own church and in December, 1900 the men of the area went to Fort MacLeod with six teams and wagons to purchase the materials. In August of the following year, Father LaVerne said the first Mass in the new church which had already been damaged by a severe storm; the walls were separated from the floor, the roof was torn open and the doors and windows were broken. The church was repaired but another storm in January of 1904 again bad- ly damaged the church. As a result, in June 1907 the parishioners tore down the church and reconstructed it in the coulee near the Police Lake Road at Harrisville. The church, St. Stephen's of Hungry, is still there and is kept as an historical land mark. The residents of Harrisville take great pride in keeping the inside just as it was 75 years ago.

In 1904 Father Salaun started to visit the Harrisville district travelling from Stand Off as did Father Riou before him. Father Salaun sold his black mare to Mr. Blasko for $130.00 in cash and $5.00 in merchandise. He then purchased a grey horse and a mare for $225.00 from John Furman living near the Lee's Creek Church.

The year 1909 brought the first teacher to the settlement of Harrisville. In 1925 Father Lepine wrote to Bishop Kidd: "Coming to this little church (St. Stephen of Hungry) are fourteen families who live within a radius of eight miles. The attendance is very good and there are no indifferent ones with numerous confessions and communions. There is Mass every fourth Sunday of the month. The majority of the children in the Harrisville Public School are Catholics, our three trustees are Catholic and we always try to have a Catholic teacher."

In the years succeeding 1914, the Oblate Fathers of Stand Off visited the Catholic families in Kootenay Hazelmore, Cardston, Harrisville, Taylorville, Kimball Whiskey Gap, Del Bonita and Woolford.

Father Jean Louis Levern was an outstanding missionary in Southern Alberta. He spent 60 years of his life among the Blackfeet and the settlers. In 1955 he was given an honorary degree, Doctor of Laws "Honoris Causa" by the University of Alberta. The Chancellor ad- dressed him: "You are in the great tradition forged by the adventurers and missionaries of the ancient realm; missionary, scholar and citizen of two realms. In honoring you we also pay tribute to the great achievements of the Oblate Order which played such a notable part in the ear ly years of this territory...... "

Father Levern learned the Blackfoot language and compiled a grammer dictionary, catechism, hymnal and prayer book in Blackfoot. When he celebrated his sixtieth anniversary as a missionary among the Indians, he was presented with the Insignia of the Sacred Cross from Pope Pius XII in recognition of distinguished and exceptional service to the Church.

In 1927, Father Doriste Moreau became Chaplain of the new Indian Hospital and thus became the first resident Catholic Priest in the town of Cardston. He was placed in charge of all the missions south of Cardston. In that same year St. Teresa's Catholic Church was built in Cardston.

Father Moreau was replaced by Father Neil McCormick. However, Father McCormick, who was completely unfamiliar with the Indian language and customs and since the church was built in close proximity to the reserve found life in Cardston very difficult and frustrating. At the same time Father Salaun who was fluent in Blackfoot and very familiar with the Native customs was Pastor of St. Henry's Parish at Twin Butte. These two priests took it upon themselves to exchange positions without informing the Bishop! When the Bishop did discover this arrangement, several months later, he quickly put an end to it. However, Father Salaun was officially appointed to St. Teresa's in Cardston in 1933 and remained here until his death in 1942.

The following is a list of the Clergy who served St. Teresa's:
1889-1929Frs. Doucet, Riou, Lepine, Levern, Ruoux. Salaun all serving from Stand Off.
Resident Priests:
1929-1930 Fr. Doriste Moreau
1930-1933 Fr. Neil McCormick
1933-1942 Fr. Salaun
1942- Fr. Jacob-served only a few weeks and then passed away.
1942-1955 Fr. Ignatius Leaver
1955- Fr. Gregory McLellan
1955-1958 Fr. Armand Lemire
1958-1959 Fr. Lafrance
1959-1964 Fr. John Weisgerber (served from Raymond)
1964- 1958 Fr. Paul Greuther
1968- 1970 Fr. Denis Chatain
1970-1971 Fr. A. Duhaime (served from St. Maryh
1971- present Fr. Philippe Poulin

Some of the first statistics recorded in Church records among the first white Catholic settlers in the Cardston area are as follows: The first Baptism-Thomas White, baptized the 8th day of April, 1900. Parents were Thomas White and Bridget Sexton. The baptism was performed by Fr. Riou. The first Marriage-Peter Zuback and Mary Blasko on the 18th day of June 1901. The first Funeral-Ella Clark, age 19 years, on the 26th day on January, 1914-interment at Fort MacLeod

Some of the original Catholic pioneers would include Mr. Dandson, Mr. Shaw, Richard Vadnais, Mr. Bianchi John Blasko, Tom White, John Zubach, Peter Zubach Annie Zubach, Mary Blasko, Bridget Sexton, Catherine Stako, Maria Malina, Mike Olshaski, Albert Gales, and Jack Martina.

From 1927 until 1965 the resident priest of Cardston lived in a small room at the back of St. Teresa's Church Through the generosity and hard work of the Parishioners funds were raised to build a rectory in 1965 Fr. Greuther was the first to enjoy this beautiful home

As soon as the rectory was completed, extensive renovations were completed to the church, thus enlarging and modernizing it.

Since that time a parish hall has been completed in the basement of the rectory.

The many families of the Parish, the Men's Club, the Catholic Women's League and the teachers of religion have made a great improvement in the Sunday service, the celebration of the Mass, in parish gatherings and in the training of their children in their faith.

Also some have dedicated much of their time to the up keep of the church and cemetery at Harrisville.

To summarize, the Catholic population of the Cardston district ought to be proud of the place they have taken among the other faiths here present. They are good members of the community; many having worked years towards the building of it. They are faithful in the belief of God and the Savior Jesus and have a respect for the beliefs of others.

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Copyright 2000
Mary Tollestrup