Parish History

St. Margaret Parish

Rimbey, Alberta

The dream of owning land attracted people from all over the world to the Rimbey area with the first homestead being filed in 1901. A missionary priest from Belgium, Father Von Wetten, served the area from Red Deer to Edmonton until 1921. He traveled by horse and buggy carrying a portable altar, bringing the sacraments to the Roman Catholic population. On roads that were more like rough trails, he was only able to reach the faithful two or three times per year, saying Mass in homes and lumber camps while staying with the families along the way.

On March 23, 1909, residents Patrick Donnelly, J. W. and Michael Donovan, Andrea Genetti, Henry Noben, Edward Tomsheck, James and Lucio Tona, and John van Dyke, pooled their finances to purchase land located on NE 1/a-13-43-3-W5 from the Canadian Pacific Railway for a cemetery. They established the Roman Catholic Cemetery Company under the provisions of the Cemetery Ordinance. On October 2, 1909, the shareholders turned over the land title to the Archdiocese of Edmonton, under the name St. Mary’s Cemetery. The men cleared the land and prepared and maintained the cemetery.

 

As the population grew, more priests were sent to serve. In 1921, Father Graydon Harrison became the priest for the newly established parish of Lacombe and ministered to the Bluffton mission and seven other stations. A mission was a chapel or a church whereas a station was more typically a home or lumber camp, wherever six or more persons would gather. Rimbey was a mission of the Lacombe parish at this time. In 1925, the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption was built in Bluffton, the first Roman Catholic church in the area. Services were held once a month.

With the building of St. Paul’s Hospital in Rimbey by the Sisters of St. Joseph (London), Rimbey now had a chapel complete with Chaplain, Father Leamy. The hospital received its first patient on January 25, 1930. In 1932, Rimbey became a parish with the appointment of Father Joseph A. Murphy as resident priest. He resided in the hospital and used the chapel for Mass. He served the missions of Bluffton, Lockhart, Hoadley, Leedale, Gilby, Iola, Yeoford, Chesterwold, Winfield, and Breton.

As the area grew, church building expanded. In 1935, St. John Bosco was built in Winfield. By 1938, Winfield was a parish with Father James Dillon as parish priest. His area included missions of Breton, Yeoford, Minnehik, and Pendryl. In 1940, the “basement church” was built in Rimbey, blessed by Archbishop T. H. MacDonald on October 6th of that year. In 1941, Father Vincent Curtis came to serve in Winfield. In 1942, the chapel at Westerose, St. Theresa, became a mission of Winfield. In 1944, Father Joseph Schreiber begins to serve in Winfield, followed in 1945 by Father Morgan Johnson, and in 1946 by Father Augustine Hickey and Father Edward McCarty in 1948. 1949 marked the sale of St. Paul’s Hospital from the Sisters of St. Joseph to the municipal districts of Ponoka, Lacombe, and Last West, seeing it renamed the Three-Way Chronic Convalescent Hospital. The rectory at Rimbey was built, Our Lady of Victory Church at Leedale formally opened, and St. Anne’s at Buck Lake, a mission of Winfield, was ready in time for the celebration of Mass on Christmas Eve.

In 1950, Father Edward McCarty was authorized to move the Westerose chapel to Ma-Me-0 Beach. By 1951, he was transferred and replaced by Father Alois Schoen. During 1952, Father Schoen was authorized to build a 20 by 16 foot addition at St. John Bosco for a sacristy and winter chapel. Also in 1952, Breton became a parish. Father Francis Stempfle arrived in 1952 at Winfield, followed by Father Ignatius Bruinsma in 1953. With the December passing of Father Joseph Aherne, who had served Rimbey since 1956, Father Donald G. MacDonald arrived to serve the area of Rimbey, Bluffton, and Leedale. For some parish children, it was a great joy to attend the Leedale church being passengers in Father MacDonald’s car as they said he drove so fast, unlike their father. Father MacDonald loved to golf and was involved in the building of the community golf course. The very active Ladies Aid Group received their Catholic Women’s Charter in 1960; their mandate being to promote the spiritual growth of their members and to support the life of the parish. In 1960, Father Bernard Bryden became the new parish priest at Winfield. He was replaced in 1964 by Father Leo Floyd.

Construction of St. Margaret’s new church building began with a design by architect Eugene Olekshy with construction by Norman Nilsen Construction Ltd. of Edmonton at an approximate cost of $53,000. The size of the church is 77 by 40 feet with the special feature of a copper steeple, above the main altar, rising 40 feet above the roof. The church financed by parishioners, took approximately 15 years to pay the mortgage. Evidence of the early families’ commitment can be seen throughout the church, with plaques at pew ends, and on the south wall. The “basement church” became the parish hall. A very special day, November 18, 1964 marked the blessing of St. Margaret’s and the Pontifical Mass, celebrated by Archbishop Anthony Jordan OMI. Father Donald MacDonald, and Fathers J. Murphy of Ponoka, Dean T. Kroetch of Sacred Heart Parish, Red Deer, and A. B. Bryden of Galahad, assisted him. A reception followed in the Rimbey Legion Hall.

Tragedy hit Our Lady of the Assumption in Bluffton in 1965 when fire destroyed the church during renovation. The church was not rebuilt and the parishioners joined St. Margaret’s in Rimbey. In 1966, Bentley was also included in Father MacDonald’s area and Father W. Groten began to serve in Winfield. In 1968, Father Guy Carriere arrived and served Winfield (which had returned to mission status), and Leedale (until its closing in 1969) and also St. Anne’s in Buck Lake. Father Carriere was authorized to sell land owned by St. Margaret’s consisting of six vacant lots in Block E measuring 260 by 166′ feet. The land was the site for a future senior citizen’s home.

In 1978, Father Francis Villeneuve came to serve St. Margaret’s along with the missions of Winfield and Buck Lake. In May of 1980, a request to build a new rectory was granted and the old rectory was sold and moved. The new rectory was built onto the east side of the church and it included a meeting room. 1984 brought Father Thomas Morley to the Rimbey parish and 1986 was the year the local Knights of Columbus received its charter. The Knights of Columbus is open to all practicing Catholic men over 18 years of age. Their mandate is to adhere to the teachings of the church and to support our priest, bishop, and community. The four principles of the Knights of Columbus are fraternity, charity, patriotism, and unity. Father Peter Sharpe arrived in 1987. By 1992, St. Anne’s at Buck Lake was closed. The parish of St. Margaret’s along with the mission of St. John Bosco in Winfield was then twinned with the parish of Our Lady of the Assumption at Sylvan Lake including their mission. (These four communities comprised parish family.)

Expansion was now needed at St. Margaret’s, so in 1993, the rectory was moved to its present location to permit the construction of a new parish hall, catechism rooms, and offices. Again through the determination and generosity of the parishioners, this expansion was possible. Father Sylvain Casavantarrived in 1994 becoming closely involved with the Our Lady of Victory camp at Gull Lake which then led to his appointment as vocations director for the Archdiocese. Father Paul Moret followed in 1999 and was absent the odd time as he was a member of the famous Flying Fathers’ Hockey Team participating in charitable events across Canada. Father Moret followed Father Casavant’s footsteps in his commitment to O.L.V.C and was for a time also the Archdiocesan vocations director.

Father Mark McGee arrived in 2003 followed Father Victor 0. Eze in 2004. Father Eze had recently moved to Canada from Nigeria and now finds himself facing some of the same hardships as Father Van Wetten with the requirement to travel icy, snow-packed roads and to endure extremely cold temperatures to serve the parishioners of Winfield, Rimbey, Bentley and Sylvan Lake. Father Gabriel C. Udeh replaced Father Victor in 2008. Father Gabriel is another Nigerian priest, and he also continues brave the weather and our winter driving conditions. For many years, the Archdiocese has been challenged with a lack of priests, not only by the drop of in seminarians but also the retirement or deaths of aging priests. So we have been blessed by the presence of many priests from other countries in our parish and the surrounding communities as well. They bring with them rich traditions and customs from their own nations that we can learn and benefit from. Father Gabriel had the sad duty of having to officiate at the closing of St. John Bosco in Winfield and Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Bentley. This has been a tremendous loss for our region and we truly miss our brothers and sisters in faith from these parish missions.

Any spare time Father Gabriel had was well used as he regularly visits the 2 Catholic schools in Sylvan Lake. He also continues to minister to OLVC and its team in the summer.

St. Margaret’s has been a very busy parish with many fundraising and community building events. The parishioners’ generosity has been felt in countries such as Mexico, Peru, and Africa. There has been overwhelming support towards the youth who have attended international World Youth Day events, many Canadian Church and Archdiocesan initiatives as well as Our Lady of Victory Camp and the community Food Bank. We still continue to host our annual Turkey Supper for the parish and community , this remains as a major fundraiser for us. We have had to continue to upgrade our Church, hall and rectory, with many renovations over the years, a new sound system, roof, and flooring being some of the larger expenses. Our parish roll is declining but our parishioners continue to give unselfishly to maintain our parish home.

In 2007, St. Margaret’s Celebrated a 75th anniversary, and 2009 marked the 100th anniversary of the purchase of the cemetery land and the start of what is now the Roman Catholic community of Rimbey. We continue to celebrate with the Archdiocese of Edmonton as they mark their 100th Anniversary in 2013.