Thanks for 100 years

  • May 1, 2008

{mosimage}A century ago, on Sept. 23, Msgr. E. Alfred Burke, a priest of the diocese of Charlottetown, started a small organization that would go on to do very big things indeed. It was the Catholic Church Extension Society of Canada, now known as Catholic Missions In Canada (see article here).

It must be remembered that back in 1908, much of Canada was still frontier territory. Settlers in the Prairies and the far North were staking homesteads, building log cabins, planting crops for the first time in Canada’s fertile soil, prospecting for minerals or trapping furs. The many Catholics among them were thousands of miles away from the settled parishes of their homelands back in Europe. They needed spiritual care — as well as much else.

The Catholic Church followed them as they slowly made their way westward. Actually, in many cases, the Catholic Church was ahead of them. Missionary priests, especially members of the Oblate Missionaries of Mary Immaculate, established small missions among them. Religious sisters such as the Grey Nuns came along to start hospitals, tiny schools, orphanages.

The people they served were often dirt poor and could not financially support the church. This is where the Church Extension Society came in. Its efforts to raise funds among Canada’s better off Catholics to help their poorer cousins were fundamental to the success of the church in Canada’s far-flung reaches.

The money was often used to start and operate small mission chapels. Church Extension also expended considerable energy encouraging clergy from Eastern Canada to move west to serve the settlers. And, when the need arose, Church Extension helped fund the education of seminarians. It still does all these vital tasks today.

One little known chapter in the history of Catholic Missions In Canada is its longstanding partnership with The Catholic Register. Though The Register was started in 1893 by two Toronto businessmen, it wasn’t too long before it became the prime communications arm of Church Extension. In 1909, it was officially taken over by Church Extension and Msgr. Burke became its editor.

Editors would come and go over the subsequent decades, but each week’s issue of the broadsheet paper always contained at least two pages of news about Church Extension. In this way, Catholics across Canada were kept up to date on the development and needs of the missions. And they would read the wide range of other news — local, national and international — from a thoroughly Catholic perspective through one of the most tumultuous centuries in human history.

The two organizations officially parted ways in 1986, when The Register was adopted by the archdiocese of Toronto. But The Register continues to salute Catholic Missions and pray for its ongoing success, along with all those — priests, religious brothers and sisters, permanent deacons and lay missionaries — who proclaim the Good News and bring spiritual comfort to all those in need. Happy anniversary!

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