Herb Muma stands at the foot of the grave markers for Oblate priests who were key players in the history of southern Saskatchewan. Photo by Alan Hustak

Retired RCMP officer on a mission to honour priests who helped build Catholic faith in Saskatchewan

By  Alan Hustak, Catholic Register Special
  • September 14, 2018

REGINA – Herb Muma is a man with a mission.

The retired RCMP officer has bought what used to be the formal gardens of the old Oblate Seminary on Mission Lake in Saskatchewan’s Qu’Appelle valley and plans to restore the grounds as a non-denominational grotto of peace.

Raised in the Religious Society of Friends (known as the Quakers) in Ontario where he was born, Muma became a Roman Catholic convert after joining the Mounties. In Regina, he conducted the RCMP choir and band and still sings with the Sacred Heart Church choir in Lebret, Sask.

It was only after he and his late wife, Elizabeth Anne, retired to a cottage on Mission Lake in 2011 that he became aware of the grotto and its significance. The formal garden laid out in the French style was on the grounds of the Oblate major seminary which opened in 1926 and burned in 1982.

When Muma first discovered the property the statue of the Virgin Mary was gone from its vandalized pedestal. 

The site was littered with discarded tombstones of Oblate priests whose bodies had been transferred to the cemetery in nearby Lebret after the seminary closed in 1964.

He carted the grave markers away and used them, face down, as stepping stones from his cottage to the beach. He has since returned them to the small park now overgrown with weeds.

“The Anglicans have Stanley Mission church (founded in 1854) up north on the Churchill River as a memorial to its early missionaries, but there is nothing to commemorate the Oblates who opened the southern part of the province to Christianity in the 1860s,” said Muma. “Lebret has its chapel and its way of the cross, but not everyone can climb the steep hill to get to it.”

Muma is a fourth degree master with the Knights of Columbus and hopes to set up a charitable foundation to obtain grants both public and private to help finance the project. He’s also looking for photographs of the garden as it looked when the Oblates had it.

Asked whether the $100,000 budgeted for the project might not be better spent on needed repairs to the landmark fieldstone church across the lake in Lebret, he says restoring the garden is his first priority.

“I have often asked myself, ‘am I doing the right thing.?’ Everything is drawing me this way. I have something inside me that tells me this has to be done.”

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