A Journey of Faith, Hope and Love
Although Mass had been said at St. Mary’s School hall since 1917, it wasn’t until January of 1919 that tentative plans for a second parish in Saskatoon were announced. St. Mary’s was officially incorporated on March 12, 1919 under the name of “Our Lady of Victory” by Bishop Albert Pascal, O.M.I., of the Diocese of Prince Albert. The new parish, which served the west side of Saskatoon and beyond, was placed in the care of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, with Fr. Joseph Paille appointed the first pastor.
Construction of the first church, which became known as the “basement church”, was let to the Shannon Brothers and began in July 1920. It was blessed by Abbott Ott of Muenster in December of that year. The basement church, situated at the corner of 21st Street and Avenue O, was a huge basement covered over with a sloped roof. A church was to be built on the structure later, however a fire in early 1927 caused considerable damage, negating those plans.
Under the guidance of Fr. Jean Panhaleux, O.M.I., pastor, plans for the building of a new church, to be located one block south at 20th Street and Avenue O on land originally owned by the Provost family, were under way by February 1929. Architect, Gentile J. K. Verbeke, drew up plans for a church to seat 450 people. The cost of the entire structure would amount to approximately $66,450.00. The plans for the proposed church were approved by the bishop on June 23, 1929. By July 30, 1929 the contracts for the construction of the foundation and the super-structure were let to R. J. Arrand and James Priel respectively. The cornerstone was laid on Sunday, May 25, 1930, by Bishop Joseph H. Prudhomme, with construction proceeding so well that he returned to bless the new church on November 2, 1930.
The Oblate fathers remained in charge of St. Mary’s until 1931. In the interim, a number of diocesan priests cared for the needs of the parish.
However, after Gerald Murray, C.Ss.R., was installed as the first Bishop of Saskatoon on April 18, 1934, he placed the parish under the care of the Redemptorist Province of Toronto, appointing Fr. John Coghlan, C.Ss.R. as pastor on October 16, 1935, the feast of St. Gerard Majella. Fr. Coghlan was to take charge on October 26, 1935, the first of many Redemptorist pastors at St. Mary’s.
The Redemptorists continued the devotions to Mary, already begun, instituting devotions to Mary, Mother of Perpetual Help each Wednesday. They preached missions for parish men and women, various ethnic groups of the city, as well as to rural areas. Men’s Club, Ladies Altar Society, Altar boys, St. Vincent de Paul society, and other parish organizations were continued.
In the following years, the parish population, composed of many ethnic groups, including Italians, Polish, Ukrainians, Portuguese, German, English and French, grew such that four Sunday Masses in the church were needed, with a fifth Mass being said in the hall.
Thus, as early as 1956, the pastors, Fr. Neil Corbett and Fr. Douglas Pankhurst began planning for the enlargement of the church. A firm of Vancouver architects drew up plans for the extension. Shannon Brothers Construction began work on the extension in June 1958, and had completed it the following year. Total cost for the extension was $135,868.19. Parishioners were pleased with newly enlarged church which was blessed by Bishop Klein on September 18, 1959. They were not as enthusiastic about installation of the crucifix, and Madonna and child, by Vancouver artist Lionel Thomas.
In December 1947, Fr. John Lockwood called a meeting of parish men to discuss plans for the construction of a parish hall. Excavation for the hall began in June of 1948, and enough of the structure was completed, so that on November 17 of that year the first annual parish bazaar was held. The roofed over basement was used for several years before the entire structure, built by mostly volunteer labor, was completed. In 1952, a hall director, Roy Ellis, was hired, and more parish activities were organized, including CYO, bingo, a drama club, carpet bowling, square dancing, and sports such as gymnastics, boxing and basketball.
Also in April 1949, under the leadership of Fr. John Lockwood, St. Mary’s Parish Credit Union, now affiliated with Affinity Credit Unions, was incorporated. It was housed in the basement meeting room of the hall, its purpose being to help struggling parish families get established financially. Operations began in May of 1949, with a membership of 30 families.
St. Mary’s played an important role in the Marian Year of 1954 activities, from hosting a pilgrimage to the Our Lady of Perpetual Help shrine, to welcoming Fr. Patrick Peyton and the Rosary Crusade, to participating in the Marian Rally at the exhibition grounds with Fr. Martin Foley, C.Ss.R., well known for his radio apostolate and his missions, preaching to the crowd gathered there.
1963 through 1965, under pastors Fr. Thomas Coyne and Fr. John Spicer, saw the planning and construction of the present rectory, with the old rectory being moved to a new site further north on Avenue O. Again the Vancouver firm of architects drew up plans, with the contract being let to Addie Construction Ltd., at a total cost of $165,927.00
Over the years, the Mens’ club and Altar society evolved into Knights of Columbus and Catholic Women League organizations. And in 1967, when Fr. Joe Murphy was pastor, the first parish council was elected to provide leadership and give direction to the parish.
1977 was a momentous year, as St. Mary’s, who had been in debt since the building of the church in 1930, was finally in a position to pay off the final mortgage and be declared debt free. A mortgage burning ceremony and parish celebration was held to commemorate the occasion.
St. Mary’s has been closely associated with St. Paul’s Hospital and the Grey Nun Community who first appeared in Saskatoon in 1906, establishing the hospital, now only a block from the parish. The Grey Nuns and many nurses who graduated from it took part in parish affairs, and the hospital in return has long been provided chaplains by the Redemptorist priests. The Sisters of Sion, who in the early years, taught at St. Mary’s School, were similarly involved in parish activities.
St. Mary’s continues to be a multicultural parish, as it has been since its inception, and now includes Vietnamese, Iraqi, and Sudanese communities in its numbers. Recent activities include the implementation of the Parish Nurse Program in 2003, as well as the hiring of a Youth Ministry Coordinator in 2006. 2007 saw the replacement of the original oak doors of the church with similar energy efficient doors.
St. Mary’s celebrated two special anniversaries: its 75th anniversary as a Redemptorist parish in 2010, and 2019 saw its 100th anniversary of its inception as a parish.