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The Catholic Encyclopedia

Diocese of Saint Albert

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The immense territories, known to-day as the Provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta, formed till 1871 only one diocese under the name of St. Boniface. On 22 Sept., 1871, St. Boniface having been elevated to the rank of archdiocese, the new Diocese of St. Albert was canonically erected and Right Rev. Vital J. Grandin, O.M.I. (consecrated 30 Nov., 1859, Bishop of Satala and appointed co-adjutor of the Bishop of St. Boniface) was transferred to the new see. The first Bishop of St. Albert died on 3 June, 1902, after a long episcopate of nearly forty-five years, and half a century of missionary life. He was succeeded by Right Rev. Emile J. Legal, O.M.I. (consecrated Bishop of Pogla, 17 June, 1897, and coadjutor of St. Albert, 3 June, 1902). This diocese, even after having been subdivided in 1891 to form the Vicariate Apostolic of Saskatchewan, comprises the southern half of Province of Alberta and the western part of Saskatchewan, an area of some 150,000 square miles. It is bounded on the east by the 110th degree of longitude; on the west by the Rocky Mountains; on the south by the United States, and on the north by the 55th degree of latitude. At the time of its erection, the total population of the diocese was from 4000 to 5000 half-breeds, 10,000 to 12,000 Indians belonging to half a dozen tribes, and a few hundred white people, employees of the Hudson Bay Company. The evangelization of this new diocese was then entrusted to twelve Oblates of Mary Immaculate.

Five missions had been established, hundreds of miles apart. The first cathedral was a log-house and the bishop's palace a small frame building. Three schools and two orphan asylums were in charge of Sisters of Charity. The whole Catholic population numbered scarcely 10,000.

Though cut off from all means of communication with the civilized world, receiving but a yearly mail, deprived not only of all comfort, but even of the necessaries of life, obliged to travel long distances, camping outside for weeks and even months consecutively, in cold of 30 to 40 degrees, to spread the knowledge of divine Faith and establish here and there new centres of missions, the first two bishops of St. Albert and their missionaries never despaired or lost faith in the future of their work. After several years of hard struggle a great change became apparent. In 1874-75, the Canadian Government having established a few posts of mounted police in the diocese, new settlements were founded. Reservations for the Indians were established; churches, schools, and missions built. At the same time a considerable number of half-breeds from Manitoba settled in the eastern part of the diocese, where they soon formed new parishes or missions. In 1883-84 the opening of the Canadian Pacific Railway brought colonies of immigrants, and soon the work of the missions was much increased. In 1890 the Diocese of St. Albert was divided, and the Vicariate Apostolic of Saskatchewan created, which in 1911 was erected as a diocese.

Since 1890 the development of the missionary work has been wonderful. An appeal was made in 1891 to the secular clergy to come and help the Oblates of Mary Immaculate who could no longer attend alone to so many stations, missions, and parishes, already erected or urgently needed. Several secular priests, and later several religious orders came to help in the work of education and evangelization. The Catholic population of the diocese is now 55,000, of which about 15,000 are Greek Catholics. They are attended by 1 bishop; 98 regular priests; 20 secular priests; and 33 seminarists. There are: churches with resident priests, 56; missions, 55; stations, 98; communities of men, 9, of women, 15; boarding schools, 14; 1 industrial school for Indians; boarding schools for Indians, 8; primary schools, 60; hospitals, 11; hospices, 2; orphan asylums, 20. The great majority of the Cree Indians have been converted to the Catholic Faith, and the Blackfeet have of late manifested better dispositions. French, English, German, and Polish-speaking Catholics have parishes or missions of their own. Thousands of Galicians of the Greek Catholic Rite have started three flourishing missions attended by Basilian Fathers of the same rite. A community of nuns, belonging also to the Greek Catholic Church has been founded to take charge of their schools and charitable institutions.

The Diocese of St. Albert, after many years of almost insurmountable obstacles and difficulties, has become one of the most promising of Western Canada. It is crossed by the transcontinental lines of the Canadian Pacific, the Grand Trunk Pacific and Canadian Northern Railways, and towns and villages spring up almost every ten miles. Immigrants come daily from all parts of the civilized world. Among them a fair proportion of Catholics take possession of the soil, settle on their homesteads, and new fields of missionary labour are incessantly open to the zeal of the secular and regular clergy of St. Albert.

Annuaire Pontif. Cath. (1911); MORICE, History of the Catholic Church in Western Canada, I, II (Toronto, 1910).


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Bibliography Information
Obstat, Nihil. Lafort, Remy, Censor. Entry for 'Diocese of Saint Albert'. The Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company. New York. 1914.

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