|St. Joachim, December 9, 1910, Memories:|
|Contact:Michel Lopez |
For the occasion of the fiftieth year of our Episcopal consecration, our Holy Father Pope Pious IX accorded unto us a universal jubilee in 1877. As there was a large encampment of Metis at Bull Lake that winter (1876-1877), Monsignor Gradin wished to give to these faithful hunters the opportunity to practice their Christian duties, this allowing them also to participate in the Jubilee. He sent them Father Fafard, a young priest newly ordained at St.Albert and coming from Ottawa.
This Father Fafard had all the right intentions, but unfortunately he could not speak the Cree language and our hunters could not speak anything else. Monsignor thought it was best to send me to the aid of Father Fafard. For me it was a cause of celebration to be able to once again spend time amongst these gentle Metis partook of the Sacraments and did their part in celebrating the Jubilee.
I returned to St. Albert at the beginning of March just in time to prepare myself for another mission of a very different sort.
On the 30th of July our harvest was completely destroyed by hail. Apart from MM Majeau and Brosseau, all of the inhabitants suffered the same fate. What could we do to provide for our missions among the Indians? How could we provide for St. Albert where we had two quite large communities and an orphanage which was quite respectable? Without doubt we counted on our rations of pemmican and the fish from Lake St. Anne, but we needed flour and the flour at Edmonton which was imported from Winnipeg was selling for 20 piastre ($20.00) for one-hundred livres. There was only one resource left and was to travel to Fort Benton in Montana which was 400 hundred miles from Edmonton. Monsignor agreed to this plan and put in charge of this mission.
I left near the second half of the month of April with twenty wagons. I had four or five men with me, we had a good tent, everything I needed for mass, provisions and cooking utensils, our beds and a good rifle.. We had oxen and horses for our wagons with a few extra head for freshening the team.
We had a happy trip. We had nice weather and no accidents. At Fort Benton, however, someone stole one of our oxen. For two or three days we thought he was most definitely gone for good. But one fine morning the ox returned to our camp and was singing, much to our surprise and the great joy.
The dear animal had left the thief or thieves, or filled with remorse, had given him his freedom.
Another incident, however, interrupted our joy: another ox was bitten by a rattlesnake! The poor animal was half dead with a swollen nose, legs stiff and he could not eat anymore. We thought he was gone. Fortunately this was the case . The second day he began to eat again and he was saved! Thanks the God!.
During this trip we had to ford all the rivers on rafts, except for the Saskatchewan and the St.Marie rivers where there were lakes. We encountered people at Calgary and Macleod. We ran into five buffalo on the Elk (?) River and my Brother Boone killed one of them to provide us with a treat.
At Fort Benton we paid two and a half piastres for the flour, as far as I can recollect. Good morale, humor, and joy reigned supreme in our little carvan for the whole voyage.
During our crossing over Calgary while going to Fort Benton we found Father Doucet and a Brother with almost nothing to and quite our of sorts. The superior ( Father Scollen ) had gone off to Helena, probably without permission and there no missionaries on the prairie, neither with the Cree, nor with the Blackfeet. This abandonment of the Indian People of the Prairie caused me much concern. It was not
the fault of Father Doucet. This dear Father was just obeying his superiors. I blamed, Father Scollem who was spending the summer gallivanting, around Montana instead of accompanying the Blackfeet to the plains and who was forcing Father Doucet into boredom and inertia in Calgary instead of sending him to the prairie with the large Cree village.
Father Scollen had still not returned to Calgary from his joy ride after we had left Fort Benton. I was preoccupied with this state of affairs at the vicarage during the entire journey.
The mission of St.Paul below Edmonton had been built for the Prairie Cree by Father Lacombe.
This mission was abandoned both by the Indians and the priest. Monsignor was counting on Father Scollen and Father Doucet to spread the gospel on the prairie among the Cree and Blackfeet and nothing had been done for the benefit of these poor savages. Oh how I regretted the absence of Father Lacombe!
When our Reverend Father Fabre had given me the responsibility of the St.Albert vicarage, he thought it best to leave Father Lacombe so Monsignor Tache. He thought the exchange was beneficial to Monsignor at St.Boniface and scarcely detrimental to Monsignor Grandin. As soon as I knew of my position as vicar at St. Albert I wrote to St. Boniface and to the central administration to demand the return of Father Lacombr whose presence was necessary for our Prairie Cree and Blackfeet. I wrote many letters about this subject and finally succeeded in convincing Monsignor Tache. As soon as I had gotten Monsignor Tache attention I was assured of the validity of my point. The end result was that our Father Superior sent Father Lacombe as vicar of St. Albert, after five or six years of absence. His return caused much joy for all, for Monsignor Grandin, to the Fathers and Brothers, Sisters to the Metis and all our savages. And who can recount the benefit he has done for these souls by his ministry, the services he has rendered for the good of the country, by his influence on the Indians, by his appeals and quests for money in Quebec and the United States, with his finesse in dealing with the civil authorities and the magnates of the C.P.R> and millionaires Hill of St. Paul, Minnesota and Thomas Ryan of New York! Did he not go even to Austria to plead for the cause of the Ruthenians and the Gallicians at the feet if the emperor? Was this not the apostolic walk which meant so much to the Basilican Brothers?
But how could I speak of dear Father Lacombe without mentioning his pilgrimage to Jerusalem in the holy presence of Father Langevin?
Did not these two exemplary oblates not make the pilgrimage in the name of all their ecclesiastic Brothers in the Province at St. Boniface as well as in their proper names? Who can imagine the grace that their piety acquired for this young country? And if I do not mention the man of Lacombe who would exculpate me? Is this not the worthy crowing of his life in charity? What a magnificent instructor is this man!
The large heart of our Father Lacombe who has spread so much goodwill wherever he has passed. Never satisfied during his long life, he aspired to do good works, even after his death, to all the unfortunate of the land, to the orphans, to the abandoned and rescued children, to the elderly of both sexes and every religion, even to the non-believers. Who can count the voyages he took, the mission he did in Calgary, Edmonton, and Montreal and even to England to accomplish his magnificent plans?
The Lord be praised! The man is most righteous! The palace of charity was solemnly dedicated the 9th of November, 1910 by Monsignor Legal, in the midst of three or four hundred people, among whom were many dignified guests. Our new Simeon can now chart his Nunc dimittis.
The diocese of St. Albert has a glorious reputation which will serve as an example to future generations. Father Albert Lacombe was a gift from the divine providence to this diocese.
Let us leave his place in the greater society as propagator of the faith in creation and the development of the diocese, in tandem with the canon that was Grandin and the venerable Father Lacombe. This his our history! Who has given the Most alms to Monsignor Grandin? I could not say.
On my return to St. Albert from Fort Benton I was happy to find there Father Leduc. This dear Father was returning from his mission at Elk Lake. This mission belonged to the diocese of St. Albert and also served as a meeting place for the mission to the Athabascans and was necessary for Monsignors Faraud and Grandin to each have a missionary there. For this reason the mission had two master. But it is not easy to serve two masters. Father Fabre ordered Monsignor Tache to deal with this duality and it was decided that the mission at Lacy Labiche would stay under the jurisdiction of the St. Albert diocese, but provisionally and for certain time it would be part of the vicarage under Monsignor Faraud.
As soon as the decision was made by the Father General, the reverend Father Leduc, who had been the regular superintendent there, had no other choice but to pack his bags and return to St. Albert.
And this exactly what he did and explained his presence at St. Albert when I returned from Fort Benton.
At my request we all convened for a vicarial council.
I communicated my impressions to Monsignor and Father Leduc and I expressed my great sadness to see our Indians of the prairies so completely neglected. As Father Fafard had also just returned from the plains where he had accompanied the wintering Indians from Bull Lake, I made the claim that we would all like to see this young priest among the Cree, with the commission to chose a post which was frequented by the Indians and to found there a mission. Monsignor the vicar and the reverend Father Leduc approved of the plan and gave me the responsibility to communicate with Father Fafard.
I would soon enough also bring the message to the dear Father himself. What would respond? This is what he said: "Such a mission would be difficult for me. I am young, I do not know much of the Cree language, I have neither experience of the country nor of the Indians. If you were to come with me yourself, it would seem that it would be much easier."
I found the answer truly wise. I returned to Monsignor and Father Fafard, and after having given them his response I added "Ecce ego, entitle me." There was not too much deliberating before my offer was accepted. It happened to soon that Father Leduc had difficulty replacing me at St. Albert.
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