A concept image of the future St. Gabriel the Archangel Catholic Church in Chestermere, Alta.. Utilizing a post and beam construction approach, the building will evoke a Quonset hut on the outside, but the interior will look like a traditional house of worship. Photo courtesy St. Gabriel the Archangel Parish

Push on for new Alberta church

  • June 21, 2024

For years the members of St. Gabriel the Archangel Parish in Chestermere, Alta., have held steadfast to a belief that if you build a community, a church will eventually come.

Since 2007, Catholics who reside in this rapidly-growing commuter city 20 km east of Calgary, and in the surrounding Rocky View County, have convened for Saturday and Sunday Eucharistic celebrations inside the gymnasium of St. Gabriel the Archangel School.

Despite the population of Chestermere skyrocketing from 12,000 in 2007 to approximately 30,000 in 2024, the community remains deprived of a traditional Catholic house of worship. But the blossoming congregation is making a concerted push to change that reality over the next three years with a pledge campaign to raise approximately $10 million. The Diocese of Calgary has promised to cover 20 per cent of the costs

Previous efforts have indeed been staged to accumulate funding over the years and that work yielded $2 million for the parish building project. This latest, and poised to be most formidable, fundraising effort is largely inspired by the success of the Sacred Heart Parish community in nearby Strathmore, who, on June 14, celebrated its inaugural Mass inside of the new church retrofitted out of an old IGA store. The Sacred Heart community performed worship services in the Holy Cross Collegiate gymnasium prior to its new church opening.

“Our push that we are doing now is what Strathmore did about three years ago, which is start a pledge drive,” said Fr. James Hagel, St. Gabriel’s pastor. “We are talking to individual parishioners and saying to them, ‘what can do you do help with this. What can you give? What does giving until it hurts mean? Give a little bit less than that.’ This is the push Strathmore did and they have a building project now — that is the goal.”

Mary Miller has been involved in the fundraising cause since 2011. She said “95 per cent of parishioners” who responded to a survey stated they want to one day attend Mass inside of a proper church instead of continuing inside the school gymnasium indefinitely. She added that many participants believe the sacramental life of St. Gabriel will be significantly bolstered as a result.

“We can have funerals and weddings — you can’t have those inside of a school gymnasium,” said Miller.

“No bride wants to,” added Hagel.

Miller said churchgoers also said “they would feel closer to God if they had a presence as opposed to seeing sports memorabilia on the walls while they were in Mass.”

Both Hagel and Miller said continuing to build the congregation of St. Gabriel the Archangel Parish is key in order to accrue the nearly $6 million yet to be raised. Though weekend services garner a combined crowd of over 500 people, the size of this congregation is mathematically small considering Hagel said Catholics make up around 20 per cent of the Chestermere population (more than 5,000). It is easy for local Catholics to believe there is no church in the community if they don’t see a building with an ornate steeple, and there are parishes aplenty in nearby Calgary.

The building project team is actively posting signs with Mass times around the city and in March hosted an open house about this endeavour at the Chestermere Rec Centre. Plans call for a post-and-beam construction strategy to build a structure exteriorly similar to a Quonset but which on the interior will look like any other Catholic church.  Miller said this approach will be cost effective and not saddle future generations with debt. Ten acres of land valued at $1.2 million has been donated to this undertaking.

Nettie Hendricks, chair of the successful Sacred Heart Parish fundraising committee, provided insight in an email to The Catholic Register on what it will take for St. Gabriel the Archangel Parish to realize this ambitious goal.

“When the parishioners at St. Gabriel the Archangel parish put together their committee for fundraising it should include a varied skillset which includes people with vision, optimism, enthusiasm and a brakeman to focus on the needs vs. the wants when putting together the budget,” wrote Hendricks. “St. Gabriel is noted for ‘communication’ and that in my opinion is likely the number one tool that guides to a more successful campaign. It's invaluable to keep open communication between the diocese, update parishioners, include community involvement throughout the process and organize a prayer group for the success of the project.”

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