Fr. Albert Lacombe

chapelThe mission at St. Albert was founded by Fr. Albert Lacombe, Oblate priest and missionary. Father Lacombe was born on February 28, 1827, at Saint-Sulpice, Quebec. He studied at Assumption College and was ordained at St. Hyacinth in 1849. His early service sent him to St. Paul, Minnesota; St. Boniface, Manitoba; and eventually to Edmonton, Alberta.

Biographies of Father Lacombe testify to his devotion and service to man and God. He died on December 12, 1916, and was buried in St. Albert. 
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St. Albert Parish

Fr. Albert Lacombe founded the St. Albert Mission in 1861, atop what is now St. Albert's Mission Hill on the current location of St. Albert Parish. 
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Fr. Lacombe Chapel

The Father Lacombe Chapel is generally considered to be the oldest surviving building in Alberta. The chapel was built in 1861 by Father Albert Lacombe, an Oblate of Mary Immaculate missionary. 
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Chapel of the Immaculate Conception

The history of the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception actually begins with the big church.

Prior to about 1955, when new gas-fired, forced-air furnaces were installed in the church, the building was heated by a hot water system consisting of coal-fired boilers and radiators along the windows. The basement was similarly heated but with fewer radiators. This system was a common one in large buildings and worked well, as long as the system was fired up. After the system was cold, it would take several hours to warm it up and get heat flowing in the radiators. And then several more hours to warm up the church.

Of course, to save costs the system was off from spring until the onset of winter. Also to save costs the system was shut down after the last mass on Sunday and would not be restarted until the next Sunday, unless there was a wedding or a funeral. Generally, it was not fired up for daily mass in the evening. I recall hearing that the Brother in charge would start the boiler about 6:00 a.m. Sunday morning. What I do remember vividly is that, by start of the 9 o'clock mass, the church was certainly not warm (especially for an altar boy who had to remove his coat!). It was, however, warm by the beginning of the 10:30 mass.

As you can imagine, the temperature inside the unheated church was about the same as an unheated garage today -- cold -- just a few degrees warmer than outside! That was the situation at daily mass in the winter. Quite uncomfortable -- for the priest and the organist as well as the few people who attended daily mass -- generally senior women. In addition to the cold church, the parishioners had to endure the uncomfortable and arduous walk up the hill. (Few of those attending daily mass had cars, even in the 1940's)

That was the scenario that prompted Father Bidault to have a chapel build at the foot of the hill, in the downtown area where most of the people attending daily mass lived.

As you already know, the chapel was built in 1944 and blessed as the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception. I suspect that Archbishop MacDonald would have officiated at the blessing. The contractor was Frank Hesse, a local jack-of-all-trades carpenter living at St. Leon (a community along the St. Albert Trail at 137th Avenue). Frank the Carpenter, as he was called, had a good reputation in the area as a conscientious builder. I'm sure that that, as well as his being a practicing Catholic, factored in the decision to hire Frank. I recall hearing that a lot of volunteer hours from men in the community contributed to the building. The siding material on the original structure was a roofing-like material which came in rolls and had a brick pattern embedded on the surface. That can be seen in some of the early photographs. Heating was by a coal fired furnace in the basement with the heat flowing upstairs through a large grate in the aisle in the centre of the chapel. Incidentally, the chapel had a choir loft with a small pump organ. It also had stairs leading to the basement, under the loft stairs. It had a beautiful hand-carved altar which, unfortunately, was disposed of during renovations. I have no idea where the altar came from. Given the history of the Oblates reusing items, I would assume that it came to St. Albert from some other location and had its own interesting history. The only remaining remnant from that altar is the plaster relief of the Last Supper hanging on the wall.

Historically, one of the most interesting features of the new chapel has to be the bell. How it came to be in the possession of the Oblates and how it got to St. Albert is still a mystery -- one that I hope to solve in the future. The bell is inscribed "Prince Arthur HBC 1854." This indicates that it is the ship's bell of the HBC vessel, the Prince Arthur. Historians are quite certain of this because there is no record of any HBC post by that name.

The Prince Arthur was commissioned by the HBC in 1854 to be used in the transport of goods and furs from York Factory through Hudson's Bay. The Prince Arthur was wrecked on Mansel Island in Hudson's Bay in 1864 and the men rescued by a sister ship and brought to York Factory. Beyond that there is no record -- not even of the salvage of the bell. When York Factory was closed in 1875 and its possessions distributed to other posts, disposition records make no mention of the bell.

In absence of further research, it is conjectured that the bell was salvaged in 1864 or sometime thereafter and somehow made its way to Fort Edmonton either via the HBC or even, perhaps, the Oblates.

Father Lacombe built a chapel within Fort Edmonton in 1857, which was used for some 20 years before being moved outside the Fort to become St. Joachim's.

Did the bell come to Fort Edmonton to be used on the Fort chapel? Did the bell follow the movement of the chapel to become St. Joachim's first bell? When St. Joachim's built a new church, did the Prince Arthur bell become surplus and put in storage, or used by another mission before coming to St. Albert? How is it that it became the bell on the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception? All of this adds a little intrigue and even a little excitement to a simple chapel built to accommodate a few parishioners attending daily mass.

Parish Priests

The following is a list of the current and Past Parish Priests that made and lead St. Albert Parish through it's history.

Please note, where a blank is shown under Biography indicates there are none available at this time.

PictureBiography
Fr. Ignacy Warias 2014 - Current    
Fr. Andrzej Stendzina 2002 - 2014    
Fr. George LaGrange 1993 - 2002    
Fr. Garry LaBoucane 1988 - 1990    
Fr. Al Roy 1983 - 1988 and    
  1990 - 1993    
Fr. Jacques Joly 1974 - 1983    
Fr. Colin Levangie 1967 - 1974 and    
  1977 - 1978    
Fr. Maurice Jean Lafrance 1964 - 1967 English French
Fr. George Chevrier 1961 - 1964    
Fr. Émile Tardif 1952 - 1961 English French
Fr. Gérard Joseph Labonté 1947 - 1952 English French
Fr. Jules Bidault 1937 - 1947 English French
Fr. Louis-Émile Gagnon 1935 - 1937 English French
Fr. Joseph-Édouard Tessier 1934 - 1935 English French
Fr. Léon Binet 1933 - 1934 English French
Fr. Pierre-Marie Cozanet 1930 - 1933 English French
Fr. Alphonse Jan 1926 - 1930 English French
Fr. Ludovic Larose 1921 - 1926 English French
Fr. Alphonse Lemarchand 1917 - 1921 English French
Fr. Michel Mérer 1895 - 1917 English French
Fr. Hippolyte Leduc 1868 - 1895 English French
Fr. Alexis André 1868 English French
Fr. Jean Tissot 1865 - 1868    
Fr. Albert Lacombe 1861 - 1864 English French