Sunday, July 23, 2017

St. Henry's RC Church celebrates 110th anniversary

Chris Davis -
Twin Butte's St. Henry's Roman Catholic Church was standing room only during a special mass on Saturday July 15, 2017. The mass was part of a day-long event that marked Canada's 150th birthday, the 110 year anniversary of St. Henry's, and the Feast Day of St. Henry. Father Roque from Lethbridge conducted the mass and a Blessing of the Cemetery, and also help officiate the outdoor Stations of the Cross, a 14-step devotion that commemorates Jesus Christ's last day on Earth as a man.  A potluck supper followed.  Approximately 200 people attended the event.  St. Henry's was dedicated in 1907 and served the surrounding community until 2001.

Don Hayden welcomed the mass participants, saying "Good afternoon everyone. Welcome to this celebratory Mass marking the occasion of St, Henry's 110th Anniversary and 150 years of Canadian Confederation."  Readers included Noreen Fischbuch, Gump Bonertz, Jane Bruder.  The Eucharistic Ministers were Joyce Bonertz, Louise Wittkopf, Esther Koop and Judy Tilloch.  Mia, Sofia, and Luca Citrigno were the altar servers.

Organist Mary Stuckey told me the pump organ she played was 1-5 years old.  She last played it about 30 years ago for a wedding.

Dignitaries included M.D. of Pincher Creek No. 9 Reeve Brian Hammond and councillor Quentin Stevick, Cardston County councillor Jim Bester, and Historical Society of St. Henry's Church President Ron Schmidt.

Members of the Killcommons family were also in attendance.  The family lived at the St. Henry's site for almost 30 years.

Bob Bonertz
Bob Bonertz built the Stations of the Cross, the new grotto, and the barbed wire sculptures of Jesus on the cross and an eagle that have brought new life to the grounds west of the church.  He said his mom dad, and grandparents were congregants, and his brother lived over the hill.  "When we were kids, we always came to church here."  Bonertz and his granddaughter Jacey played "Amazing Grace" on two aged saxophones at the conclusion of the Blessing of the Cemetery.   The C melody sax Bob played was his grandfathers, and over 100 years old.  Stacey's B alto sax was her father's.

Bob was living in Saskatchewan when he saw a church, and as he got closer he could see a grotto out front. "So that morning I wheeled in and just had a quick look." He came back and noticed the way it was laid out, including the stations of the cross, which had ruts where cars had driven up to each station. "I thought, Gee whiz, this is what St. Henry's needs." He felt having the Stations outdoors on the grounds would allow those who still wanted to express their devotion at the site to do so, even though the church itself was no longer open to the public.  The Pieta sculpture in the grotto was a favourite of his now deceased wife Nonee.

History of St. Henry's Church by Pat Moskaluk

The first Catholic settler in the parish of St. Henry was Jim Gilruth of the Yarrow District who built a cabin there in 1883-1885. As the community grew it was visited by the Oblates from Fort Macleod or from the Indian Missions, and they were always welcome at the Gilruth homestead where they would hold mass. Beginning in about 1904 a number of meetings were held regarding the building of a church. At a meeting held after mass at one of the homes at which Father Lacombe was present, it was decided that there would be a church and it would be built on a high hill — its present location in 2009. In 1905 Father Lacombe obtained official approval for the church from Bishop Legal and a committee was set up to plan, finance and supervise the building of the church. As well as donations, revenue from large picnics down by the river was used to fund the building. Logs were cut and trimmed and hauled 25 miles to the St. Henry’s Church building site. The foundation, built with rocks, was later covered over with cement. A cornerstone with 1906 scratched on it was set in the southeast corner. 

Father Lacombe (Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village archives)

It was Father Lacombe who insisted that the church be called St. Henry after “a good big German Saint,” who had gained fame for building and caring for churches. St. Henry had earned the title of “Protector of Churches.” He is represented with the sword of a protector and a church in his hand. The blessing took place on May 28, 1907 by Bishop Legal, who was brought out from Pincher Creek in a fancy buggy towed along by a spirited team of horses. He was escorted by a guard of honour made up of men from the area on saddle horses and carrying a flag. The church still was not finished; there was a temporary altar and the pews were planks placed on nail kegs. In 1908 the first real pews were bought and the church was painted and mostly completed. Yearly pew rental was also used by St. Henry’s for raising funds.

The first choir was all male. As well as hymns they also learned the “German sing-Mass.” It was not until 1913 that the church acquired an organ. It was donated by Father Demers and was played for the first time by Tim Lebel from Pincher Creek. A second organ was purchased in 1925; and girls now began singing in the choir.

St. Henry’s Catholic Women’s League was organized in 1941 with Blanche Bonertz elected as its first president. The women of the parish raised funds for the church through fall chicken suppers, bazaars, cattle sale lunches, and raffles.

Related story: 
St. Henry's RC Church to celebrate 110th anniversary on July 15

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