The History of St. Mary's Parish
We of St. Mary's ("The Holy Name of Mary") are proud of our Roman Catholic heritage here in the foothills of southern Alberta. For more than 100 years St. Mary's has served the faith of natives, traders and trappers, settlers, ranchers and farmers, and growing families from both rural and urban communities. Thanks to our pioneer families and their descendants, many of whom are still active in our parish today, St. Mary's remains a beacon of faith, hope, and charity in Cochrane.
Our history, which can be found in St. Mary's Cochrane, 100 Years: A Centennial Celebration 1885-1995 by Bev Pamenter (1995) and Winds of Change: A History of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Calgary Since 1968 by Norman Knowles (2004), is outlined here as follows:
1872 The great Chief Crowfoot, concerned by the devastation of the whiskey trade on his people, requested help from Bishop Vital Grandin in St. Albert. The bishop agreed to set up a Roman Catholic mission - Our Lady of Peace Mission - in the Bow River Blackfoot country. A tiny log hut was built on the Elbow River 18 K south of what is today the townsite of Cochrane.
1873 Father Constantine Scollen arrived from St. Albert and accepted the log hut as a Catholic church, the first of any denomination south of the Red Deer River. A cross, a chapel and a small dormitory were added. Father Scollen along with several other Oblate missionaries from St. Albert began to minister to Blackfoot Crees, Metis, trappers, and traders in the surrounding district.
1875 While visiting Fort McLeod, Father Scollen learned that the North West Mounted Police were planning a new post at the junction of the Bow and Elbow Rivers (Fort Calgary). Subsequently, he and his assistant, Father Leon Doucet O.M.I., anticipating the new arrivals, arranged for another small church to be built just to the west of the post as part of Our Lady of Peace Mission. In 1939 a cairn was erected to mark the site, which is south of the town of Cochrane. Bishop Francis P. Carroll (see photo below) dedicated it to the memory of the early missionaries who brought Christianity to the native people and the white settlers in our area. Since then the Father Scollen Council, the name chosen by St. Mary's Knights of Columbus, have custodial charge of the cairn near Springbank.
1881 The Cochrane Ranche (140,000 acres) was incorporated. It was the first of 54 ranches that spanned the foothills from the Bow River to Pincher Creek.
1883 With the coming of the Canadian Pacific Railroad, the newly established hamlets of Cochrane and Mitford welcomed more settlers arriving from Europe, the United States, and Eastern Canada. Among the newcomers were Catholic immigrants from Scotland.
1887 The Cochrane Ranche gave up much of its lease allowing settlers to homestead closer to the hamlet of Cochrane where merchants, industry, and churches began to set up business.
1885-1892 During this time periodic visits for service were provided by Father Donat Foisy O.M.I., Father Leon Doucet O.M.I., Father Moise Blais O.M.I., and Father Benjamin Desroches O.M.I.
1892- 1896 Monthly service was made available to St. Mary's parishioners by Father Walter Comire O.M.I.
1893 Catholic mission stations in the Bow River corridor now included Cochrane, Canmore, Anthracite, Banff, and Fish Creek. With 90 Catholics residing in the Canmore area, Sacred Heart Church was built. A log chapel dedicated to Our Lady of the Assumption in Banff soon followed.
1895 A census revealed 80 Catholics living in the Cochrane area thereby warranting the construction of a Catholic church in the hamlet. Land for the church was donated, the Oblate Residence in Calgary contributed $200.00, additional funds were sponsored by residents of the area (including many Protestants), and several fundraising events (bazaars and concerts) raised the rest. By the time of its building the new church was debt-free. The first priest was Father Walter Comire who was assisted by Brother Patrick Bowes. The Oblate superior at St. Mary's in Calgary, Father P. Lestanc, blessed the new church on November 24, dedicating it to "The Holy Name of Mary."
1896 Father Comire was transferred to Saskatchewan and replaced by Father Leon Fouquet who served the Bow Corridor missions till 1899. Monthly masses were celebrated for parishioners at St. Mary's.
1899 Father Louis Culerier O.M.I. continued monthly visits to the parish.
1900 Father Julius Seltman was assigned the care of the missions west of Calgary. In 1901 he built a rectory just west of St. Mary's in Cochrane and resided there. St. Mary's, as part of the Bow mission, could only count on monthly masses.
1903 Cochrane had grown sufficiently in population to warrant designation as a village.
1905 Father Seltman moved to Banff and served Catholics, including those in Cochrane and along the Bow River corridor, from that location.
1907 1921 Father Hubert Hermes was assigned responsibility for the mission along the Bow River west of Calgary.
1912 The Diocese of Calgary was established. Its first shepherd was Bishop John Thomas McNally who resided at St. Mary's in Calgary.
1921 1939 St. Mary's in Cochrane and the other Bow corridor missions were cared for by a number of diocesan priests from Calgary including: Fathers Green, McAdam, and Dunbar, Father Napoleon Lebel, Fathers McLaughlin and Cunningham, Father Charles Clancy, Fathers Jacob and Fitzpatrick (who respectively took up residence in St. Mary's rectory) and Father Lyons. Monthly and bi-monthly services were conducted during this period.
1933 Around this time a family in the parish, the Gissings, donated a paintinga copy of The Last Supperdone by Ronald Gissing whose work eventually became quite well known. However, in order to be hung over the altar, the painting's corners had to be cut off.
1940 The Oblate Provincial, the Very Reverend Henri Routhier, requested that care of the Cochrane parish be granted to the Oblates. Father Joseph Lessard took up residence so that weekly services could now be held. In addition, Bottrel, north of Cochrane was added as a mission station with monthly masses held in the old Westbrook School.
1941 A dispute arose over the correct name of the parish in Cochrane. It seems that Father Lessard claimed in letters to Bishop Carroll that he had found a record in the Oblate archives declaring that Father Leduc, the superior prior to Father Lestanc, had dedicated the Catholic Church to "St. Andrew" not "St. Mary." The issue was raised again in 1945 when Father Lessard informed the bishop that parishioners in Cochrane refused to accept the name of St. Andrew for their church and continued to call it "St. Mary" instead. Apparently, part of the name refusal arose from a sensitivity for friends at St. Andrew's Presbyterian who felt they had prior claim to "St. Andrew" the patron saint of Scotland. It was also suggested that Fathers Seltman and Hermes had preferred the name "St. Mary" and had arbitrarily changed it from "St. Andrew." Finally in 1950 the debate was resolved when Bishop Carroll notified Cochrane's pastor, Father Thomas Denis, that the diocesan investigation into Cochrane's parish name had already been clarified back in 1912 by his predecessor, Bishop McNally. Bishop McNally had received notes regarding the matter from Bishop Legal affirming that the church had definitely been dedicated under the title, "The Holy Name of Mary" in 1885. And that settled the name as "St. Mary's."
1945 St. Mary's marked her 50th year and a Jubilee celebration provided the opportunity for parishioners to reunite with several of the original members of the parish who had returned for the event.
1946 Father Lessard was transferred to a mission among the Blackfoot Crees.
1947 Since there was no Oblate priest available to assume Father Lessard's position, the Cochrane parish was returned to the Calgary Diocese. Subsequently, Father Joseph LeFort traveled weekly from the bishop's residence in Calgary to St. Mary's till 1949.
1948 St. Mary's ladies received a charter for a parish Catholic Women's League (CWL); however, no records of activity were kept. Bishop Carroll requested that the Franciscans set up closed retreats for men in the area and assume the administration of the Cochrane parish. Subsequently, the Franciscans purchased 171 acres of Harry McConachie's ranch including a mansion built in 1908 by his predecessor, Charles Wellington Fisher. The house sat on Manachaban, the name the Blackfoot gave to the Big Hill north of the Cochrane townsite. A Calgary realtor, Clair Cote, bought the remaining 165 acres of the ranch to donate to the Friars for their retreat site.
1949 Bishop Carroll solemnly blessed the Mount St. Francis Retreat while the Franciscans, under the direction of Father Claude-Laboissier, Father Gilker, and Father Alban Hague, gave their first retreat to clergy from the Calgary Diocese. The first lay retreat of local businessmen followed a week later.
1949 St. Mary's parish of Cochrane was under the jurisdiction of the Franciscan Friars. Father Thomas Denis (Father Tom) took up residence in the rectory beside St. Mary's, with Brother John Francis Tobin as housekeeper. The 1A highway created difficulty at this point because the St. Mary's rectory was located adjacent to the dangerous curve at the bottom of the long hill leading into the village of Cochrane. Numerous vehicles drove down the hill out of control or missed the sharp curve. At any rate, the rectory was hit many times and it became increasingly dangerous for Father Tom, the parishioners attending meetings, or the children attending catechism classes to be present on the site. In 1951 a truck carrying a load of heavy pipe hit the rectory, narrowly missing Father Tom.
1951 Father Tom Denis was transferred and Father Wilfred Brazeau took charge.
1952 Father Brazeau was transferred and Father Edwin Kuefler became the new pastor of St. Mary's in Cochrane.
1954 The rectory was sold and moved. However, the church itself continued to take a battering from runaway vehicles, hail damage, and age deterioration. A new building was contemplated.
1956 Finally after the sacristy of the church was badly damaged by yet another runaway vehicle, it was decided that a new, bigger building was required in a safer location.
1958 Construction began on the second St. Mary's church. It was situated immediately north of the original church building on the same property and would seat 200 people. The overall building cost was $24,000.00. The church bell from the first church was retained and six stained glass windows from the former St. Mary's Cathedral in Calgary were donated. The Gissing painting of The Last Supper was stored.
1959 The dedication of the second St. Mary's took place on March 8. Bishop Carroll blessed and dedicated the church. Later the Franciscan Order salvaged lumber from the first church and built a small replica of it on the grounds of their retreat at Mount St. Francis. It can still be seen there today.
1960 1964 Father Kuefler was transferred and Father Gandolph Wagner O.F.M. served as pastor.
1961 1969 The Franciscan Friars continued to offer weekly service.
1969 Franciscan Father Paul Stack ministered to St. Mary's.
1970 Bishop Paul O'Byrne was by this time responsible for the Diocese of Calgary. St. Mary's Cochrane was again returned to the care of diocesan priests. It was determined that the pastor at Cochrane would also administer to the Catholics of Water Valley at Christ the King Church. Consequently, from 1970-1972 service was provided for both parishes by Father Georges Bourque, D.P. and then by Father Louis Connelly, D.P.
1972 1979 Basilan Father Robert Whyte, C.S.B., who also taught at St. Mary's Boys' School in Calgary, assumed responsibility for the parish. Weekly service was provided for parishioners. It was also the time when changes arising from Vatican II began to be implemented. The mass, no longer in Latin was now celebrated in English and the altar was turned so that the priest faced the congregation.
1973 From 1958 until 1970 priests from Cochrane, including the Francisican Friars , had celebrated weekly masses at St. John Bosco Chapel in Bragg Creek (Camp Cadicasu). In 1973 it was rented by St. Mary's Cochrane for Saturday evening masses each week. By the late 1990's as many as 75 families were attending St. John Bosco on a regular basis. However, in 2000 the parish mission, St. John Bosco, was closed by the Calgary Diocese.
1978 The town of Cochrane celebrated 75 years and St. Mary's along with other churches in the town were recognized for their contributions to the growth and development of a growing and prosperous town community.
1979 The parish had outgrown its second building. So land was procured by the Diocese from the Franciscans at Mount St. Francis. The sod was turned on the site of a third St. Mary's church building in April of 1979. The new facility, built for about $550,000.00, would overlook the town from the north and would seat about 400. It retained the original bell, the six stained glass windows from the second church, and the old Gissing painting of the Last Supper that had been donated to the first church. Another diocesan priest, Father James Hagel, replaced Father Whyte in time to dedicate the completed new church along with Bishop Paul O'Bryne on December 8. The old church was sold to the town of Cochrane and renovated to become the Nan Boothby Memorial Library.
1979 1987 During his tenure Father Jim (Hagel) guided St. Mary's toward maturity in the spirit of Vatican II. A number of new initiatives were undertaken: 1) the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (R.C.I.A.); 2) The Catholic Women's League (CWL); 3) the Marriage Encounter course; 4) the annual parish Renewal Weekend; 5) establishment and definition of a Parish Council and its standing committees; 6) a Youth Group; 7) the annual ecumenical Christian Unity services in Cochrane; 8) the Knights of Columbus whose council is the custodian of Our Lady of Peace Mission cairn on the Elbow River site; 9) a Charismatic Prayer Group; 10) Old and New Testament study groups for adults; 11) teams of lay Ministers of Communion; 12) inclusion of girls to the ranks of altar servers; 13) the addition of a full-time parish secretary and pastoral assistant; 14) an annual spring Lenten Mission; 15) the distribution of Communion for special occasions, under both species of bread and wine; 16) production of a booklet of family photographs and a parish roster; 17) an ecumenical Walk-a-Christmas-Mile; 18) an Interfaith Choir; 19) a Cross and Rose ceremony on Good Friday; 20) sponsorship of a refugee family from Vietnam in 1980 and another family from Guatemala in 1984; and 21) meaningful Catholic/Anglican dialogue.
1991 St. Mary's now served 337 families while Cochrane expanded in population as a "bedroom community" for the city of Calgary. By 1999 a census showed that 75 per cent of the adult parishioners attending St. Mary's worked in Calgary!
1993 - 1996 Expansion of the church facility was necessary in order to accommodate the growing parish. Renovations offered more space for offices and meeting rooms. As well, the parish Building Committee supervised the construction of a separate rectory. Everyone expected the third St. Mary's would be able to handle Cochrane's growth pangs for a good long time. However, God had other ideas.
1995 Responsibility for Christ the King Church in Water Valley was transferred from Father Hoschka in Cochrane to the pastor of St. Agnes parish in Carstairs.
1995 St. Mary's, Cochrane commemorated her 100 Year Anniversary on September 10, 1995. The committee of parishioners who planned the celebration worked diligently to highlight the year leading up to the actual event. Some of the special activities included: 1) production in April of a souvenir book, A Centennial Celebration 1895-1995 by Bev Pamenter; 2) planting of the Centennial Grove in May which was a family event followed by a luncheon and anniversary cake cutting; 3) a nostalgic Mass of Gratitude celebrated in June that included some Latin from the old-rite and several old-time hymns; 4) a gala celebration on September 9th for current and returning parishioners who enjoyed a banquet with speeches and dedications, a dance with many old-time favorites, and a fun-filled period costume contest; 5) the Centennial Mass on September 10th was officiated by Bishop Paul J. O'Byrne of the Diocese of Calgary and concelebrated with Father Burke Hoschka D.P. and Franciscan Father David Crosbie O.F.M.; 6) the Bishop blessed and dedicated Our Lady's Garden Grotto just beside the church; and 7) a Centennial Luncheon topped off the day.
1998 Father Fred Monk was appointed pastor of St. Mary's, Cochrane.
1999 Mission Mexico was established as an outreach project for St. Mary's under the leadership of Father Fred (Monk). Its goal was to build a new orphanage for 48 children in one of the most poverty-striken regions of southern Mexico in the village of Tlapa in the state of Guerrero.
1999 With the rapid growth of the town of Cochrane came a corresponding increase in the number of Catholic families. It was clear that the church built in 1979 for 400 families could no longer provide for the influx of parishioners. Bishop Fredrick Henry saw the need for a new St. Mary's in Cochrane twice the size of the current building. A committee of parishioners set to work to accomplish the bishop's mandate.
2000 The orphanage in Tlapa, Mexico was built and paid for through the generous donations and fund-raising of St. Mary's parishioners. Meanwhile, land was purchased as the site of the new St. Mary's church south of the town just east of Highway 22, overlooking the Bow River.
2001 St. Mary's faith community endeavored to meet the needs of parishioners and their families by implementing a number of new lay ministries: 1) a funeral reception committee; 2) a ministry of care to deliver meals to the home-bound; 3) a monthly 50+ luncheon for socializing and enjoying guest speakers; 4) a Children's Sunday Circle for preschoolers aged three to five to learn about the gospel; 5) a Playgroup for parents with preschoolers; 6) a Children's Liturgy for kindergarten to grade two to celebrate the Liturgy of the Word using age-adapted materials; 7) a Pastoral Care Coordinator to organize a team of parishioners who could visit the sick and bring Communion to those homebound or in nursing homes or hospital; and 8) an Alpha Course to look at the Christian faith and the meaning of life.
2001 2002 Mission Mexico had excess funds available to apply toward a new project, a much-needed residence and chapel for the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, in Texcoco, near Mexico City. Other parishes in the Diocese began to team up with St. Mary's to help with the Texcoco venture and to subsidize fifteen small work projects designed to help the poor in southern Mexico support their families. The slogan for Mission Mexico became: "A loonie a week is all it takes to change lives." St. Mary's hosted Bishop Alejo and Father Cesar from Mexico when they came to visit the Calgary Diocese bringing thanks and prayers from the people of Tlapa, Mexico.
2001 Bonnie and Deacon Al Hinger were welcomed to St. Mary's as a permanent deacon couple within the Diocese of Calgary. Previously assigned to Crossfield after his ordination to the diaconate in 1999, Deacon Al already knew Father Burke Hoschka and a little about St. Mary's in Cochrane. So when Crossfield's St. Francis church closed and went up for sale, he and Bonnie moved to Cochrane. In cooperation with Father Fred, Deacon Al served at Mass, gave homilies, presided at weddings, baptisms, and funerals and led prayer services. By this time, St. Mary's jurisdiction had expanded substantially as parishioners of Christ the King in Water Valley learned firsthand the reality of church closure and joined the faith family at St. Mary's in Cochrane.
2001 All Saints Anglican Church purchased the current St. Mary's building and land for $1.6 million and generously agreed to wait to take possession until the St. Mary's community had a new building to move into.
2001 A new parish mission statement was created: "We are a community of faith, trusting in God's love, open to the gifts of the Holy Spirit working within each member, attempting to model ourselves on Christ, and called to serve Him in others."
2002 Ongoing dialogue and regular communication continued between parishioners and the Building Committee with its subcommittees (Program, Fundraising, Education and Communication) as planning for the new St. Mary's church moved forward. A major obstacle was waiting for the annexation by the Town of Cochrane of the land to the south of the Bow River in order that water and sewer services be provided at the new church facility.
2003 The estimated cost of the new church was about $8 million for the first of two building phases. The main worship area of the church (Phase 2) would eventually seat 1000 people.
2003 Mission Mexico was adopted by the Diocese of Calgary as an outreach project of all Catholics in Southern Alberta to assist one of the poorest regions in the State of Guerrero, Mexico. Its goal was to bring hope to the needy through funding micro-economic and education projects. As Mission Mexico's vision expanded, 38 parishioners from St. Mary's Cochrane responded to the call to build houses in the Tijuana area of northern Mexico. The house-building project took ten days including the traveling and construction time. St. Mary's parish generously contributed towards the expenses of this outreach charity through donations and fund-raising in the form of auctions and bake sales.
2004 The Town annexation was complete. An ambitious fund-raising campaign in St. Mary's Parish began. The new church project was designed around the idea of a pilgrim journey, a journey from the secular to the spiritual. In addition, a new church motto was adopted stating, "The Spirit flows through it" to reinforce metaphorically the notion of the pilgrim journey. Artwork was collected and commissioned to create the story of the parish's transition.
2004 Another Mission Mexico house-building team of teens and their parents traveled to northern Mexico where they constructed two more homes for needy families.
2005 Work on the new church began in April. By September all of the Phase 1 construction was under way. This included: the Gathering Area, a 120-seat Day Chapel, the Administration Wing, the Meeting Rooms, and the 600-seat Hall to serve as the worship space for the next several years. Phase 2 would need to wait as funds became available and would eventually involve the construction of a 1000-seat circular Assembly or main worship area.
2005 2006 Each of these years the Mission Mexico team completed house-building in northern Mexico. The Diocese declared the feast day of Our Lady of Guadeloupe in December as"Mission Mexico Day." School children and their teachers throughout southern Alberta embraced the opportunity to make a difference. Donations of loonies continued to help the orphanages, schools, hospitals, and families in southern Mexico's poorest areas.
2006 Parishioners continued to volunteer in a spirit of Stewardship. They helped in countless ways as the Building Committee, and its sub-committees of Communication/Education, Art/Liturgy, and Fundraising all worked tirelessly toward the completion of the new church, the fourth St. Mary's in Cochrane. Golden Construction Management, Inc. assured everyone that the project was on schedule and the anticipated move would occur sometime in the Fall. However, the municipality was still wrestling with the issue of getting the water/sewage systems to the south side of the Bow River. Patiently, the members of All Saints Anglican waited through another Christmas in their temporary accommodation in Holy Spirit School's gymnasium while St. Mary's parishioners celebrated their last Christmas in the old church on the Big Hill. It would be the last year that Midnight Mass would require seating tickets to handle the huge crowds.
2007 Finally, in the Spring, it was time to move. Farewell celebrations were planned at the old church to say goodbye to the home that St. Mary's had so loved for twenty-seven years. The memories were recorded and warmly shared. A gentle and sensitive transition was planned from the old and familiar to the new and somewhat unknown surroundings of a much larger structure. The pilgrim journey had progressed to the south hill overlooking the Bow River. The parish motto rang true and parishioners realized something about the new facility: "The Spirit flows through not only it but especially through US." The soul of the parish, its people, remained constant despite a change in the worship space. Easter was a joyous celebration of faith. Planting and landscaping were accomplished with the help of a multitude of volunteers. The huge Gathering Area now held a book store (Connections) and coffee service (The Divine Grounds) which facilitated visiting after weekend masses. The Gathering Area and the Meeting Rooms were spacious enough to allow for groups preparing for the reception of the sacraments, for Bible Studies, social gatherings like the 50+ luncheons and funeral receptions, the Play Group, the Children's Liturgy, and meetings of the Knights of Columbus, the Ladies of St. Mary's, the Rosary Makers, and Prayer Chain members. There was space for silent auctions and even a Stewardship Fair. The Spirit truly flowed through this new space. Bishop Henry officially blessed the fourth St. Mary's on June 3, 2007.
2007 In the summer Father Fred Monk received a transfer to Bow Island/Foremost in southeastern Alberta. Just as prayers, good wishes, and a farewell celebration were being showered upon Father Fred to wish him well, Father Bill Corcoran arrived in August from St. Peter's Parish, Calgary. The first Advent season and first Christmas masses were celebrated by Father Bill with his new parishioners. It was a time to thank God for His many blessings.
2008 St. Mary's website was redesigned and went online early in the new year. A Book of Donors was created to recognize all those who had donated their time, talent or treasure in the building of the new church. A new Pastoral Council was inaugurated in January. In February a Lenten Mission was held to highlight the Eucharist and its importance on our pilgrim journey. On June 9, 2008 Bishop Henry ordained and appointed Deacon Thomas O'Toole to serve at St. Mary's, Cochrane. By the summer Deacon Tom and his wife Dianne were warmly welcomed by the parish community as a second permanent deacon couple. In his diaconate vocation Deacon Tom supports Father Bill and the parish through minitry of the Word, Altar, and Charity. Work continued on landscaping the area around our new church facility with a focus on the Sacred Garden. The new rectory constructed in the Villas around the Church, was completed and Fr. Bill was able to move in by the fall. The Ladies of St. Mary's and the Knights of Columbus organized a very successful fundraiser Oktoberfest raising $47,000 for the Parish. The Stewardship Treasure Council was formed to provide transparency to the Parish on all fundraising activities. Other changes included the re-activation of the Youth Group with a "kick-off" pizza lunch in December. Total Sacraments for 2008 included: 31 Baptisms, 43 First Communions, 40 Confirmations, 18 Weddings, and 4 Funerals.
2009 Parishioners again displayed their commitment of giving a portion of time and using their specific talents to enrich our Parish faith community. The Stewardship of Treasure allowed work to continue on the Sacred Garden and through their support to fundraising activities like a Spring Fling and Oktoberfest; the kitchen facility was able to be completed. 2009 was an active year for the Youth Group having many organized events. The Ladies of St. Marys and the Knights of Columbus had a busy year with fundraising activities and pancake breakfasts for community spirit development. In July 2009 the Parish said good-bye to Deacon Tom OToole and his wife Dianne as they were assigned to a Parish in Calgary. The year also saw a change in the role of Music Director with Nathene Arthur taking on this ministry and a Youth choir was also formed. A Meet and Greet social was held for new members of the Parish to welcome them into our faith community. During this year the Stewardship Treasure Council was amalgamated with, and became a newly formed Finance Council. Total sacraments for 2009 included: 34 Baptisms, 40 First Communions, 39 Confirmations, 9 Marriages, and 5 Funerals.
Stay tuned for more history-building as we of St. Mary's continue to serve and support the Catholic faith community here in the Cochrane area.