Carol Mitchell prays for the safe return of Nathan O'Brien and his grandparents. Photo by Sara Francis

Calgary Catholic parish prays for missing child, grandparents, as man charged with murder

By  Sara Francis, Catholic Register Special
  • July 14, 2014

Updated 07/14/14

CALGARY - Calgary Catholics still maintain hope that five-year-old Nathan O’Brien and his grandparents Alvin and Kathryn Liknes, missing since June 29, will be brought home to safety, but it is looking unlikely as Calgary police have laid three murder charges against a man who was a person of interest in the trio's disappearance.

Police laid the murder charges today (July 14) but did not identify the suspect, though media reports say the accused is Douglas Garland, a 54-year-old man who was held by police earlier in connection with the case.   

Members of the St. Michael's Catholic Community held out hope and are supporting the O’Brien family through prayer and service. On July 5 Studden and his pastoral team led a half-hour prayer service for the family and their friends in the O'Brien home. Meanwhile, the St. Vincent de Paul Society is planning to support them with food and any other material needs they may have.

St. Michael’s parishioners gathered daily from July 4 to 12 to pray a nine-day novena for Nathan and his grandparents' safe return. The family joined the congregation to pray on one of the days.

“We are very hopeful that Nathan and his grandparents will be alive,” said Fr. Julian Studden, pastor of St. Michael’s Catholic Community. “I mean that's our Christian hope that we hope for the very best. That we don't straight away conclude that they are dead — no, that's wrong.”

O’Brien’s parents Rod and Jennifer left him with his grandparents for a sleepover at 10 p.m. June 29 and came back to pick him up at 10 a.m. the following day. Police report a violent incident took place in the home and the trio disappeared. 

Police searched the Liknes home one last time over the weekend before handing it back to the family.  The search was then concentrated on the Spyhill Landfill in northwest Calgary and the 16-hectare rural property in Airdrie, Alta., owned by Garland's parents.

While the search continues the parish prays.

“Maybe they are suffering somewhere, maybe they are locked up somewhere, we don't know. So we are praying for their safety and to have a real joyful reunion with mother and father,” said Studden. 

Nathan was baptized at St. Michael’s Catholic Community in 2013 and is enrolled at John Costello Catholic School, which is affiliated with the parish. While the family normally attends another church, since one parent is not Catholic, St. Michael’s has embraced the family.

“Once you are baptized in a faith community you have that sense of belonging,” said Studden, who estimates hundreds of his parishioners are praying for their rescue. 

Sacramental preparation co-ordinator Maureen Ross wrote the novena highlighting a different prayer intention each day — for the police, Nathan, the Liknes couple, the kidnapper(s). 

Parishioner Carol Mitchell prayed the novena before daily Mass. A mother of two grown children, Mitchell doesn’t have a direct connection to the family but she was moved to support them through prayer. 

“We come here in faith and one day at a time. You can’t get into what-if, or how, we just have to be in the moment and that’s not always easy,” Mitchell said.  “Sometimes God can seem very distant and so by coming into community where we have the common faith and common bond that helps to draw us all near.” 

While the novena has concluded, the family continues to be mentioned in daily Mass intentions. 

“They are very much lifted up. I would hope, and pray, and trust that they feel that support, and love, and caring, and God’s gentleness,” said Mitchell. 

The novena was consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary because she too experienced anxiety when Jesus was lost in the temple for three days. 

“We’re calling upon (Mary) who knows, who’s been through this,” said Studden. “Of course, the wonderful thing is she found her Son three days later, and now (for the O’Briens) it’s over two weeks.

“If the boy was dead, then here, there’s a closure, but because he is missing, there cannot be a closure. And that is the tense spot, that is the terribly devastating part — the unknown,” said Studden.  

An evening vigil is scheduled for July 22 at the parish if the search continues.

“That’s our purpose in reaching out to them, to give them hope in Christ who’s risen from the dead, who’s our resurrection and our everything,” said Studden. “We’re not preparing them for the eventual thing that they are going to be dead, no, we are preparing them to receive them alive.” 

(Francis is a freelance writer in Calgary.)

Comments (1)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Our condolences to the O'Brian family on their grievous loss to the family.

Tim, Carolyn, and Matthew Harland
Edmonton AB

Tim Harland and Family
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