Fr. Jack Herklotz is moving to B.C. as the Oblates leave St. Charles Parish in Edmonton. Photo by Kyle Greenham

Oblates leaving another parish

By  Kyle Greenham, Canadian Catholic News
  • July 25, 2019

EDMONTON -- With vocations to the priesthood declining — and a call to renew their mission in Canada — the Oblates of Mary Immaculate are leaving St. Charles Parish in north Edmonton.

Fr. Jack Herklotz celebrated his final Mass on July 14, ending 40 years of Oblate ministry at St. Charles

“In the last six years, we’ve lost over 80 of our Oblates through death, and had only one join,” said Herklotz, who has been pastor to St. Charles for the past three years.

“It’s a similar situation in other religious congregations — the vocations are diminishing. We’ve lost a lot of our priests, but part of our mission is to establish parishes and then move on and start missions elsewhere — that’s our nature.”

Herklotz feels regretful at leaving behind the many friends he’s made, but just as sad is to see another parish in Alberta lose its Oblates as they have been part of the province since the 1800s.

“In the West, you’ll see it’s really touched by the history of the missionaries: Leduc, Lacombe, Vegreville, Legal, Grandin. The names of the Oblates are found everywhere. Just about all of Alberta’s parishes were run by the Oblates at one point,” he said.

“There is a great sadness right now. I know there are people who come to St. Charles precisely because the Oblates are here. Many of us feel tied to that history. It seems just as I was settled in and have gotten to know everybody, I’m asked to leave, but that’s the state of it. ”

When changes to the Oblates’ leadership were announced in January, the decision to leave St. Charles came about abruptly. In April, the Oblates asked the Archdiocese of Edmonton to take over the parish. 

“We were caught having to make some quick decisions,” said Fr. Ken Thorson, Provincial of the OMI Lacombe Province. “Typically we would have taken a bit longer in making that decision and gotten more feedback from the parish, but with the leadership changes, that time just wasn’t there.”

Through an initiative called “Renewing our life and mission” the Oblates are returning to their historical roots in Western Canada by focusing their ministry on Indigenous communities, particularly in urban areas and in the northern regions of Canada.

The Oblates continue their presence at four Indigenous parishes in the Edmonton archdiocese.

St. Charles is one of many parishes the Oblates have turned over to dioceses in recent years. Since 2013, the Oblates have left 17 parishes across the country, but have also taken on six additional parishes. The decisions are based both on the continued decline of their priests, as well as their renewed focus on ministering to Indigenous communities, said Thorson.

Because of the role the Oblates played in bringing Catholicism to Western Canada, they are holding onto some of their most historically significant parishes, such as the St. Albert Catholic Parish.

For Hilda Daubner, a parishioner at St. Charles, the Oblates’ departure will be like losing a part of their heritage. “We used to take the school kids to the St. Albert church and tell them all about Bishop Vital Grandin and Fr. Albert Lacombe, but they won’t do that anymore. I don’t think many Edmontonians are aware now of the Oblates role in our history.”

Eighty Oblates in Canada have died since 2013, but there are currently four men in Canada discerning a call to ministry, Thorson said. In total, there are 282 Oblate priests working in Canada today.

With an increasingly urgent need for new priests, the Oblates are putting a greater focus on their vocation efforts.

“We can’t just wait for people to contact a vocations director,” Thorson said. “Our priests have to make that call of invitation and encourage young men to consider religious life.”

Along with their efforts in Indigenous communities of Canada, the Oblates have also brought their missionary efforts to Kenya and Peru in recent years. 

(Grandin Media)

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