Mary Agnes Herman is helped out of Lac Ste. Anne after walking 429 kilometres to the pilgrimage site. Photo by Lincoln Ho

An epic pilgrimage trek at Lac Ste. Anne

By  Chris Berthelot, Canadian Catholic News
  • August 23, 2018

LAC STE ANNE COUNTY, Alta. – She finally made it. 

Arm-in-arm with her son and granddaughter, Mary Agnes Herman slowly stepped into the cool waters of Lac Ste. Anne. Dipping her fingers into the water and making the sign of the cross, she began to pray. 

With that, the 82-year-old completed her own pilgrimage to Lac Ste. Anne — named after Jesus’ grandmother — for the first time. Herman walked all 429 kilometres from her home in northern Alberta to be there.

“I did what I set out to do, I did it,” said Herman, who was inspired to make the three-week journey from her home in Chard, Alta. — 126 kilometres south of Fort McMurray — after she said God called her to Lac Ste. Anne in a dream. 

Herman was one of hundreds who made the annual pilgrimage to Lac Ste. Anne, west of Edmonton, this year. The lake is renowned for its healing waters and for its spiritual significance to Catholics and Indigenous people. Herman is Dene.

Each year, an estimated 30,000 people attend the July pilgrimage. 

“It’s important that people come here for the right reason; to find healing in many different ways,” said Francis Whiskeyjack, a Cree elder from the Edmonton area. “This, to me, is a great movement. We’re here as a community, as a congregation, as a fellowship to form that relationship, to meet new friends and renew old friendships, and to acknowledge life.” 

For people like Herman, a Catholic, the pilgrimage is a chance for spiritual renewal. 

On June 28, she started walking an average of 17.8 kms a day until she arrived at Lac Ste. Anne on July 21 — the first day of the pilgrimage — surrounded by family and friends. 

For some, the pilgrimage is an opportunity for healing from physical injuries. There is also emotional healing from personal loss, mental anguish or addictions. 

Whiskeyjack said his own healing happens when he can express his Catholic faith through his Cree language and culture. 

“When I speak and pray in my own language, being a residential school survivor, it means more to me because I can focus and concentrate and really know the meaning of the prayer,” said Whiskeyjack.

For many in the Indigenous community, the pilgrimage is like a homecoming, says Fr. Les Kwiatkowski, pastor of Our Lady of Mercy Parish in nearby Enoch. 

“This is the place where people gather to pray and look for healing, but also very often this is only one time a year where they can meet cousins, relatives, friends, and spend time with them,” said Kwiatkowski. 

“I come here to meet people. Sometimes I see people that I haven’t seen for 30, 40 years. They come from all over the country,” said Alfred Chalifoux, who has been coming from Mearns, Alta., to Lac Ste. Anne for more than 45 years to honour his mother and her Catholic faith. 

(Grandin Media)

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