The new Our Lady of the Rockies Church in Canmore, Alta., is the first Marian shrine in the Diocese of Calgary. Photo by Lincoln Ho

Our Lady hits new heights

By  Andrew Ehrkamp, Canadian Catholic News
  • June 12, 2020

CANMORE, Alta. -- The Virgin Mary is sitting with her son Jesus in a lush Alberta forest, surrounded by deer drinking from a gurgling stream, with the majestic Three Sisters peaks in the background.

“The window cries out to you ‘Rocky Mountains,’ and there is Our Lady in the midst of that,” said Fr. Nathan Siray, pastor of Our Lady of the Rockies Parish. “That’s kind of our number one devotional image to Our Lady of the Rockies that is completely unique to this building.”

The powerful image is set in custom-made stained glass, one of the focal points of the new $20-million church in the mountain community of Canmore, about 25 kilometres southeast of Banff. It’s a new church for the parish, which dates back to the 1800s, and the first shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary in the Diocese of Calgary. Pilgrimages, conferences and other events are planned once pandemic restrictions are eased.

Bishop William McGrattan dedicated the new 17,000-square-foot church on May 30 during a Mass that was live-streamed on the Diocese of Calgary’s Facebook page because of the restrictions.

McGrattan noted that dedication came as Pope Francis led the major shrines worldwide in praying the rosary to implore Mary’s intercession and protection amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In his homily, McGrattan recognized the spiritual foundation of Our Lady of the Rockies parishioners and the greater reach the church will have as a Marian shrine.

“In many ways our diocese, under the patronage of Mary, we should have a shrine church,” McGrattan said. “We should have a place in which people, not only in our own diocese but throughout the world and in Canada can come as they come to the Rockies to see nature’s cathedral. They can stop and they can pray and they can experience the great presence of God who comes to dwell in our midst in these humble abodes that we build.”

Siray said the roughly 300 families of Our Lady of the Rockies Parish are “ecstatic” that the church building has been completed and dedicated in the month of May which the Church devotes to the Virgin Mary.

“It’s going us take time to understand our new identity as a shrine. But the overwhelming sense I get from my people is, ‘This is incredible. Thank you,’ ” Siray said.

The new church is the third for Our Lady of the Rockies. The last building, built in the early 1960s in downtown Canmore, was demolished in 2018. Since then, Mass had been celebrated in the Our Lady of the Snows Catholic Academy school gym while the new building was being built.

The new church is at the edge of town, off the Trans-Canada Highway, and figures prominently when motorists arrive.

The exterior design reflects a European-style alpine church. That was the vision of Fr. Bryan Frank, a former pastor of Our Lady of the Rockies, and Guy Turcotte, a parishioner and the developer of Silvertip Resort in Canmore, who donated the roughly three-acre property for the church.

“You couldn’t ask for a better location,” said Siray. “We hope that it becomes a bit of a beacon of hope for people here that there’s something good and beautiful and it wants to welcome as many people as it can into it.”

Siray’s predecessor, Fr. Wilbert Chin Jon, focused on the interior with traditional architecture, liturgical art and a large supply of marble for the new altar and ambo to blend both old and new.

Our Lady of the Rockies has a capacity for 425 people, double the number of the old church, and it includes a new hall, kitchen and conference room. 

Siray said a new church was planned as far back as 15 years, but it wasn’t until 2017 that the site was cleared.

The land donation is worth $3 million, and the structure cost $16 million to build. The parish raised about 60 per cent of the building cost, with the remainder held as a mortgage with the Diocese of Calgary.

The final stages of construction of the new church were delayed a couple of weeks because COVID-19 restrictions meant a smaller crew to finish the project. Among the challenges was the terrain itself.

“Building in the mountains is an adventure,” Siray said. “One of the things we wanted to make sure we got right was just all the foundation work. Sometimes Canmore is pretty notorious for a lot of underground rivers and instabilities.

“This church is actually sitting on top of 144 massive screw piles that have been pushed 20, 30 metres into the Earth. If the mountain comes tumbling down, we’re going to be about the only thing standing. That was a huge project.”

(Grandin Media)

Comments (0)

There are no comments posted here yet

Leave your comments

  1. Posting comment as a guest. Sign up or login to your account.
Attachments (0 / 3)
Share Your Location

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible, which has become acutely important amid the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.