La Salette Missionaries, Province of Mary, Mother of the Americas

La Salette in Western Canada

Western Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan: 1899-1990


First La Salettes in Saskatuan

The La Salette Missionaries settled in Hartford, CT, in 1892 and quickly extended their ministry to other areas of the United States and Canada. In 1899, the Archbishop of St. Boniface, in Manitoba, petitioned the Superior General to send some Missionaries to a comparatively newly established area of Canada. At the time, the Diocese of St. Boniface consisted of thousands of square miles which extended from the borders of the United States to the Arctic. The American Province in Hartford responded to that call. 


Father J. Morard, was the first to bring the message of La Salette to Western Canada. In a shack, twelve by eighteen feet, in a place called Alma, he set up a one-room rectory. This room, built in Indian fashion of boards and sod, became his study, kitchen, sleeping quarters, reception room and chapel. Soon Father was joined by Fathers Sorrel, Dupraz, Trapeau, Michel, Kuonen, Gerboud, Gerard, and Stephen X. Cruveiller, who later was Superior General from 1932-1945. La Salette was soon established in the town of Forget, in the Province of Saskatchewan. There were about 500 people there with nearly 400 Catholics.



La Salette Mission in
Ladywood, Manitoba.
Here the Fathers built their first permanent Religious House, which became the motherhouse of the La Salette Missionaries in Western Canada. Eventually their ministry was extended to include Estavan, Weyburn, Pangman and all the surrounding districts. These parishes and missions are frequently mentioned in the "The Bulletin of the Missionaries of La Salette."


In 1924 the Provincial Superior of the American Province in Hartford, CT, responded to the needs of a bi-lingual congregation in Beausejour and sent Father John Zimmermann, who was serving in Saskatchewan at the time, as pastor. Other La Salette Missionaries followed, serving in Beausejour and the surrounding areas of Eastdale, Cloverleaf, Brightstone, Stead, Molson, Gull Lake and Elma. 


Sanctuary in Church in Beausejour, Manitoba
Ministering here gave rise to cooperative efforts. The Mission Church of Eastdale, built in 1926, was a joint effort, shared by Polish Catholics and Ukrainian Catholics of the area. This Northwest Territory was a source of vocations for the congregation: Fr. Wienczyslaw Weselak was born in Beausejour and Fr. Francis Kola spent his childhood in Eastdale. The men who served in this area loved the people and were loved in turn. Some of these men died and were buried in St. Mary's cemetery and so remain with their parishioners. 


In 1954, the first La Salette Missionary arrived in the District of Red Lake, Ontario. The primary industry of this area was gold mining and its inhabitants were from varied cultures and backgrounds. There were Germans, Italians, Poles, Ukrainians, Irish, Hungarians, Portuguese and native Indians. Within the next 25 years, history was once again to repeat itself. Many new parishes and mission churches and mission stations sprang up through the zealous ministry of dedicated La Salette Fathers and Brothers. In the latter part of the 1970's, these were returned to the diocese. Here again, witness to gospel values, the La Salette message and religious life bore fruit. Father Jeremy Morais, a missionary in Antsalova, Madagascar, is from Red Lake.


Picture taken in 1905 in Forget, Saskatchuan, with
Fr. Gerboud on left and Fr. Morard on right
In 1955 the district of Olivet sent Fr. Peter Jaworski to minister to the Polish-speaking people in the area of Port Arthur (now Thunder Bay). For many years, Mass for the parishioners was held in the Polish Hall in the city of Port Arthur. The first Mass was celebrated in the new church on Oct. 4, 1964. Many of the parishioners are of Polish origin or are Polish immigrants settling in the area.


Missionaries from the Province of Our Lady of Seven Dolors labored in the parishes of the great Northwest to build and reconcile in the name of the Lord. Within forty years – 1899 to 1939 – six parishes and over twenty-five missions in Saskatchewan were established through the efforts of the La Salette Missionaries and then transferred to the secular clergy.


In the fifty years between 1940 to 1990, more than twenty-seven priests and brothers of the Province of Mary, Queen of Peace served in Manitoba and Western Ontario. They served in eight different parishes and numerous missions, some of which have eventually been transferred to secular clergy. They served where they were sent with the words “make this known to all (her) people.” 

La Salettes in a Provincial gathering in
Thunder Bay, Ontario in late 1980’s

What has not been written are the hardships endured by the Priests and Brothers who went to Western Canada. The cold and snow, the lack of roads and transportation, the prejudice encountered from people who were committed to Communism and Fascism, from others who were anticlerical, the time spent in jail by some of our men for reasons mentioned above and the distance from their communities of origin are but a few of the difficulties that we have personally heard from some of the older members of our Provinces. Yet what spoke loudest to us was their enthusiasm and zest for life, their absolute dedication to the people, their own humility, prayer life, deep love of and sincere belief in the stirring message of Mary at La Salette. We are to make this known to ALL HER PEOPLE!

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