December 12, 2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the death of Fr. Albert Lacombe omi. The omi indicates he was a member of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, and it is also the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Oblates by St. Eugene de Mazenod in Marseilles, France in 1816.
In commemoration of these milestones, a series of stories from Fr. Lacombe’s fascinating career, focusing primarily on his relationship with Calgary and southern Alberta, will be published in the upcoming editions of The Carillon.
The Black Robe Voyageur
Albert Lacombe was born on February 28, 1827 in St. Sulpice, Lower Canada, a village east of Montreal, in today’s Quebec. He was ⅛th Native American and raised in a French Canadian Catholic culture within a British colony. Born 40 years before Confederation, Fr. Lacombe’s life was immersed in the interaction of the three great founding “peoples” of Canada… Native, French and English.
As a young man he was inspired by the example of his parish priest and enthralled by the stories of voyageurs returning from the Fur Trade in the far North West. He would either be a priest or a voyageur… all or nothing… as it turned out, he became both!
Author Katherine Hughes titled her book, Father Lacombe: The Black–Robed Voyageur. It is a biography that captures the essence of his life as a missionary.
In 1848, not long before his ordination, Albert Lacombe recorded this in his journal: “Sunday night, when the Cathedral was filled, Fr. Belcourt went up to the pulpit and painted in an eloquent way the life and work of his missions. I was struck to the heart. An interior voice called to me, ‘Whom shall I send?’ and I said in reply, ‘Behold, I am here, send me!’”
Fr. George Belcourt, a visiting priest from the North West, was a missionary to the mixed–blood Metis on the Western Plains who were already Catholic. Lacombe was intrigued with the missionary way of life and he had an urge to travel.
So, after he was ordained in 1849, at the young age of 22, Fr. Lacombe journeyed to North Dakota for a two-year apprenticeship in the missionary life with Fr. Belcourt, ministering to the Métis Buffalo Hunters.
Travelling there was an adventure in itself, though. Fr. Lacombe had anticipated some of the hardships of being a missionary, like the physical challenges of surviving away from the comforts of civilization. But what a shock it was for him to face the intolerance of the wider world when he was harassed while travelling through the United States to the Pembina Mission. His sheltered life came to an end when he faced ridicule from fellow travellers for wearing a full–length black cassock, some suggesting it was a dress!
What was his response? Despite contrary advice from friends and colleagues, he proudly and stubbornly would wear the long “black-robe” in public, indicating his priesthood, for the rest of his life.
Back in Montreal by 1851, Fr. Lacombe later met Oblate Bishop Alexandre Taché from St. Boniface (Winnipeg) and asked to join the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, tasked with bringing the Faith to the wilderness of the far North West.
As we conclude this Jubilee Year of Mercy, I’m reminded of the words of Pope Francis at the beginning of his papacy: “Let us be renewed by God’s mercy and let us become agents of this mercy, channels through which God can make justice and peace flourish.” For the past seventeen years, the people of our diocese, through Mission Mexico, have been agents of God’s transforming mercy in the lives of many of the poorest of the poor in southern Mexico. As they have benefited from our corporal works of mercy, so we have benefited from their spiritual works of mercy on our behalf. The corporal works of mercy have borne fruit this past year in northern Mexico near Tijuana. The Trinitarian Sisters of that outreach have reciprocated in spiritual ways that have profoundly benefited members of our diocese. The Table of Mercy project was made possible by both your financial donations and time and labour of many Alberta volunteers.
As Bishop Henry has so well noted: “What an example of reciprocal mercy with which to conclude the Jubilee Year of Mercy!”
Gratefully yours on behalf of Mexico’s poorest of the poor,
Fr. Fred Monk, Founder, Mission Mexico
Table of Mercy
John Paul, Table of Mercy Project Coordinator
St. Mary’s Parish, Cochrane, Alberta
“In April 2016, a group of us visited a monastery in Tecate, Mexico and met the Trinitarian Sisters of Mary. They had been praying for many years for God to send someone who could help them construct a soup kitchen/community meeting place at their convent/retreat centre. Thus began Mission Mexico’s Table of Mercy project. Many volunteers from our diocese have answered the call to come and build our special kitchen for the sisters. This beautiful, generous and loving group of nuns that minister to thousands of the poor and hungry each year, have demonstrated to all of us what it means to love as Christ loved us.
Each of us has brought home to Alberta a special gift in our hearts that we never expected.
If God calls you to assist in Mission Mexico projects, don’t be afraid to answer that call. His generosity knows no bounds and you will be given back more than you can fathom.”
Mission Mexico Onsite Representative
“Here in the mountains, there are so many needs in so many different places, and Mission Mexico is a trusted partner in the struggle for life. It isn‘t that Mission Mexico can resolve all the problems of the poor, but it has a proven track record of accompanying the poor as they strive to build a world of greater justice for themselves and others. The people are so noble and the hopes are so tangible that it seems like the greatest blessing on earth to be allowed to journey with them.”
During this Jubilee of Mercy many things have been happening in the city of Lethbridge! The Martha Sisters opened their retreat doors to many pilgrims who made time to visit the Holy Doors. Monthly masses, except during summer, were celebrated to accommodate the people visiting the city. Many volunteers gave of their time to greet and welcome the pilgrims to the Holy Doors of Mercy and make them feel at home.
As the Holy Father requested, reflections on the teachings of Vatican II were offered. Fr. Salvador, Fr. Lukas, and Fr. Roque provided presentations on the various documents of Vatican II. Attendance depended on the business of life, but between 45 and 70 people came out and the feedback was very good. The presentations on the Mission of the Laity and the Mission of the Ordained were very well received, and in some ways provided a real shock for some of the attendees. Many people have the perception that the ordained are called to evangelize the world, where in fact the lay faithful have also been entrusted with the responsibility of being evangelists in the world. Fifty years after Vatican II, we are still striving to implement its teachings. The challenge is that we also don’t know the teachings, so education presentations like this are encouraged, and appreciated. This Jubilee Year of Mercy has given all of us an opportunity to reflect on God’s mercy and how Vatican II calls us to live that mercy in the world today. All the presentations in Lethbridge can be seen and heard at www.allsaintslethbridge.org.
Pope Francis did not likely imagine big noisy motorcycles getting into the act when he called for a Jubilee Year of Mercy, but he did declare his hope that people would go out into the community and evangelize.
During a tour of Israel with international author and speaker, Jeff Cavins (from Minneapolis, MN) the idea of a Men’s Ride For Mercy started to form. It turns out that Jeff and I like motorcycles and we certainly love the Lord. One thing led to another when we decided to see if we could get a group of men to travel by motorcycle to fellowship with Catholics in other communities, and to spread the Good News.
The ride took place August 7 to 15 and covered about 5,000 kilometres, with stops in about eight locations throughout Saskatchewan, Alberta, Montana and South Dakota. Along with our bikes, we brought our God Squad branded barbecue trailer. We spoke at churches along the journey and were joined by several men for different legs of the journey, with 10 or more riding on some days.
I prayed a novena in honour of St. Joseph at all the stops; and Jeff Cavins gave talks. The main theme of Jeff’s talks was to call men to a true discipleship, to what it means to be a follower of Christ. Jeff said, “I think a lot of men, when [thinking] about their faith… say they believe that stuff, but it doesn’t get translated into how they live their life, or the development of their relationship with Christ in the daily activity.” Jeff said that this attitude of many Catholics is what St. Pope John Paul II called “practical atheism.”
The first Men’s Ride of Mercy was so successful that organizers are already planning a bigger event for 2017. They are hoping that this unique idea will attract 30 to 40 men. Combining barbecues and motorcycles, after all, is a natural way to get men’s attention for Christ!
When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.
This may seem like an odd question to ask, but how many of you have ever asked yourself about Nativity scenes – in particular, when the first one (beside the obvious one in the Bethlehem stable) actually took place? Well it never occurred to me to ask. My eyes were opened on this matter when I read an article about Pope Francis making a surprise visit to a Franciscan shrine in Greccio, Italy. There he knelt in front of a shrine created by his namesake. On Christmas Eve 1223, this was where St. Francis of Assisi purportedly erected the world’s first Nativity scene.
Pope Francis would later tell a group of young people, on yet another impromptu visit, that this birth was an example of how “God lowered himself, obliterated himself to be like us, to walk before us, but with smallness, that is, you can say, humility, which goes against pride, self-importance, arrogance.” And it was a star that led the Three Wise Men to this site, which prompted the Pope to insist that we look out for a &lquo;special star that calls us to do something greater, to strike out on a journey, to make a decision.”
At St. Mary’s University, here in Calgary, we organize under the banner of what we call the St. Mary’s Star. Four qualities of Mary (simplicity, clarity, purity and confidence) are each represented by one of the four letter M’s that form the star. It is our commitment to students, and to the community, that we will honour all learners who come to our door, and because of our small class sizes that allow us to focus on the whole person, we truly believe that everyone has an opportunity to discover who they are. That is the remarkable gift of an education: that people can discover their own special star.
The truth about education is that while it is intensely personal, focused on self-improvement and intellectual development, it is also communal in many ways, preparing students for their roles in the wider world. At St. Mary’s we know that our students will take their special talents out into the community, but with a clear foundation that has taught them to focus on social justice and the greater good. We invite them to search for their special star, knowing that together, in community, they will form a dynamic constellation. And perhaps at Christmas this is one of the greatest gifts we can imagine.