Our Lady of the Assumption Parish
Sylvan Lake, Alberta 1912 – 2012
As we celebrated the 100th Anniversary of the dedication of Our Lady of the Assumption Church, there unfolds a colorful history which begins with a modest, humble church building and carries through many years of happy and sometimes sad memories of the parishioners and of the many Priests that have served faithfully as Pastors.
In 1912, a year before Sylvan Lake Town was incorporated, with the urging of Father Henri Voisin, a Priest of the French Order of St. Marie de Tinchebray, a tiny Mission Church was constructed on the site of the present church. It was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and named Our Lady of the Assumption. The first 50 foot lot was donated by Mr. Alexander Loiselle. The next year, he sold the congregation the 2 lots east of the church for $250.00 each, to be paid in cash. Father P.J. Chauvin replaced Father Voisin in Red Deer and was the first priest to serve our church. In 1915 Father Voisin returned to Red Deer and was our Pastor. The Great War and the Spanish Flu triggered a severe downturn of the economy, resulting in a continual exodus of the Catholic Population. The rectory planned for the vacant lots was delayed and the priest had a small room for lodging at the back of the church, for the monthly service.
In 1927 Our Lady of the Assumption Church ceased to be a Mission of Red Deer and became a Parish. Father Harnett was appointed Parish Priest. The parish received financial support from the Catholic Church Extension Society in Toronto. The $106 was for auto expenses to travel to the Nordegg mission. In less than 20 years our clergy had progressed from horses to cars.
From 1929-1941 Sylvan Lake had no resident priest and was served from Red Deer. Father Stewart came in 1941 and resided until 1948 when he moved to Rocky Mountain House. Under him, the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) put its generosity to work by collecting over $30 to help build a choir loft to ease the crowded situation in the church. With the help of volunteer labor and supervision by an experienced carpenter, the choir-loft, a new ceiling, storm windows, painting, an oil stove and repairs to the foundation were undertaken.
Sylvan Lake was again served from Red Deer with several Priests and Assistants serving the Parish until the arrival of Father Basil Butts as resident Priest in 1951. He oversaw the construction of the long delayed rectory, west of the Church.
In 1955 Father Finlay MacDonald replaced Father Butts. In 1960, Father Duncan MacDonell became the parish priest.
On August 1, 1963 Father J.O. Sullivan, a previous Red Deer Parish Assistant, returned to Sylvan Lake for the third time, to become our Pastor. Father MacDonell joined a Mission Team in Peru, under the auspices of the Archdiocese of Edmonton. Father Sullivan immediately recognized the need for a larger church and proceeded to plan the new church and rectory, allowing for the annual influx of summer tourists. The old buildings were demolished in 1963 and replaced on the same site by the present church. The dedication and blessing by Archbishop Jordan took place on May 23rd, 1965. Father Sullivan, who had been so instrumental in the planning of the new church, quietly passed to his rest in the rectory on March 17, 1967 at the age of 68. He had struggled to keep small parishes alive during the bleak depression, and Sylvan Lake was one of these to acknowledge with gratitude his great devotion and hard work.
In September 1967 Father Michael Heffernan arrived in Sylvan Lake to become resident Pastor. In 1968 he invited Father J.J. O’Halloran, who had retired from service in Castor, to spend his remaining time with him in Sylvan Lake. Father O’Halloran passed away at age 93 after 60 years as Priest.
Father Heffernan faced a huge and seemingly insurmountable debt on the church buildings. However with his financial skill and many extraordinary talents, he saw the mortgage retired two years before it was due. On August 15, 1975, the Feast Day of the patroness of the church, a Mass of Thanksgiving was offered and the mortgage was symbolically burned on the Altar. Prior to his leaving Sylvan Lake, the Parish and Community gathered to show their appreciation of all the good works and sacrifices of this holy and humble Priest.
Father Rozmahel arrived as Pastor in September 1976 and remained until 1982. On leaving he was honored for his years of dedication to Our Lady of Victory Camp. Priests from Red Deer served our parish over the following two years. In 1982, Father Paul Kingston and Father H. McGillivray from St. Mary’s in Red Deer served. Father Patrick O’Neill of Sacred Heart served from 1983 to 1984. He was replaced by Father Jan Sienko who remained until 1987. He was instrumental in the replacing of the church and rectory roof. Father Agnoli arrived in 1987 and was replaced in 1988 by Father Joseph Ayling who introduced the singing of the Lord’s Prayer.
Father Peter Sharpe became Parish Priest in 1992 and served till 1994. He was a humble Priest who had a great sense of humor, was outgoing and involved with the people. He was Pastor in Rimbey and with the “Transformation of Parishes” we saw the Parishes of Our Lady of the Assumption Sylvan Lake, St. Margaret’s Rimbey, and the Missions of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Bentley and John Bosco Winfield, become amalgamated and served by Father Sharpe. Sister Camille Campbell served as Pastoral Assistant at this time and remained for two years. Her active involvement in CWL, choir and catechetical roles was much appreciated.
From 1994 to 1999 Father Sylvain Casavant served as Parish Priest. Along with his many duties as Parish Priest to the two Parishes and two Missions as well as his work at Our Lady of Victory Camp, Father worked tirelessly toward the establishment of a Catholic School in Sylvan Lake. Mother Teresa School opened in September 2000 with dedication services led by Archbishop Collins in March 2001. In 1999 Father Sylvain accepted the position of Vocations Director for the Archdiocese of Edmonton.
Father Paul Moret arrived in 1999 and he guided humbly and faithfully the spiritual needs of the Parishes as well as those of Mother Teresa School. In 2003 Father Moret accepted the post of Vocations Director for the Archdiocese of Edmonton.
Father Mark McGee served the Parish from 2003 to 2004 and had a strong connection with the youth of the parish. Father Victor Eze arrived in 2004 and served as Parish Priest until 2008. His wise homilies helped parishioners find real-life connections to the Sunday readings from Scripture. Father Gabriel Udeh served the Parish from 2008 to 2015, and his devotion to the Eucharist has been a great example to all. While we have had a number of pastors who had beautiful singing voices, Father Gabriel was well-known for including many songs in his homilies. Our current Pastor Father Les Drewicki started serving the parish August 12, 2015.
A second Catholic School, Our Lady of the Rosary was opened in 2007. CWL members have taken on a special mission of helping the students in both Catholic schools to learn and pray the Rosary.
Our Lady of the Assumption Parish continues to be a vibrant, ever-growing Catholic Community offering the services of the Knights of Columbus, the Catholic Women’s League, R.C.I.A. and C.I.C. and Youth Programs. As we give thanks in this Centennial Year, with the Grace of God and participation of Parish members we will grow in faith and spirituality to meet the challenges of the future.