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!
Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017 - On the eve of Bishop McGrattan's installation, Fr. Tom Rosica of Salt and Light Media sat down with Bishop Emeritus Frederick Henry for a farewell interview. The interview airs on Sunday, March 19, 2017 during Salt and Light Media's Witness program. That same afternoon, some of the Catholic Pastoral Centre staff shared their fond memories of working with the Bishop.
A native of London, Ontario, Bishop Henry was born on April 11, 2943, the eldest of five sons in the family of Leo and Noreen Henry. After finishing high school, he entered St. Peter`s Seminary in London. He became a priest on May 25, 1968. In 1971, he earned a Master`s Degree in Philosophy from the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, and in 1973 a Licentiate in Theology with a Specialization in Fundamental Theology from the Gregorian University in Rome. He was an Associate Professor of Theology and Philosophy at St. Peter`s Seminary from 1973-1986, and Dean of Theology and Rector from 1981-1986.
He was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of London and Titular Bishop of Carinola and ordained to the Episcopate on June 24, 1986. He was installed as the fourth Bishop of Thunder Bay on May 11, 1995, and installed as the seventh Bishop of Calgary on March 19, 1998.
On January 4, 2017, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Bishop Henry, and has appointed the Most Rev. William T. McGrattan, formerly Bishop of the Diocese of Peterborough, as his successor. Pope Francis has appointed Bishop Henry as Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Calgary until Bishop McGrattan`s installation on February 27, 2017.
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.
Most Rev. John T McNally: First Bishop of Calgary, 1913 – 1924.
Later Bishop of Hamilton and Archbishop of Halifax.
Most Rev. John T Kidd: Second Bishop of Calgary, 1925 – 1931.
The former rector of St. Augustine's Seminary. Later Bishop of London.
Most Rev. Peter J Monahan: Third Bishop of Calgary. 1932 – 1935.
Later Bishop of Regina.
Most Rev. Francis P. Carroll: Fourth Bishop of Calgary. 1935 – 1967.
Former rector of St. Augustine's Seminary.
Most Rev. Francis J. Klein: Fifth Bishop of Calgary. 1967 – Early 1968.
Most Rev. Paul J. O'Byrne: Sixth Bishop of Calgary. 1968 - 1998.
Most Rev. Frederick B. Henry: Seventh Bishop of Calgary. 1998-2017.