Sunday, October 13, 2013


The Roman Catholic Church has been an important part of early Canadian history. A French priest traditionally accompanied the great explorer Jacques Cartier who said the first ever recorded Holy Mass on Canadian soil on July 7, 1534, on the shores of the Gaspé Peninsula. It was followed by conversion of the First Nations into the fold of Catholicism. Soon after, more and more religious congregations set foot in Canada specially among French-speaking present-day Quebec.
Venerable Marie Elisabeth

At present on the roster of saints and saints to be  there are12 Saints, 13 Blesseds, 9 Venerables, and 26 Servants of God, with eight others having open causes awaiting approval. We will deal with some of these interesting Canadians in the future.

Today, October 13, another Canadian religious woman is on her way to sainthood as Pope Francis recognized the heroic virtues of SISTER MARIE ELISABETH TURGEON. The Quebec-born religious founded the Sisters of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary of St. Germain in Rimouski Quebec. She was born in 1840 and died in 1881 in Rimouski, Quebec.

The order dedicated itself to teaching and training other women to become teachers. The Congregation of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary is still active today in Quebec, Labrador, the United States, Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua.

Another one to be added to the list of potential saints, and the first one to be named in Western Canada is  VENERABLE ANTHONY KOWALCZYK. He  was born June 4, 1866 in Dzierzanow, Poland of devout Catholic parents. After apprenticing in Poland, he traveled to Germany to pursue work as a blacksmith. It was here that he became acquainted with the work of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and joined them as a religious brother. Anxious to work in the missions he came to CANADA in 1896.

He was posted to Lac-la-Biche where he had a terrible accident at the mission saw mill. His hand was caught in a pulley so he had to withstand a 120 mile journey by horse and buggy to Edmonton, over terrible roads, to receive treatment. He endured the journey without complaint, but by the time he reached Edmonton, six days after the accident, gangrene had set in and the arm had to be amputated. The surgery took place without anesthetics. Brother Anthony meditated on his Oblate cross and gave no indication of being in pain.

After his convalescence at St. Albert, Brother Anthony moved to Saint Paul-of-the-Metis. Here he worked with the Indian and Metis, praying with them and helping them with their worldly needs.

Brother Anthony's longest posting was at St. John's College in Edmonton where he served from 1911 to 1947. To the students and staff, he was "Brother Ave", known for his devotion to the Blessed Mother. When students requested his prayers during examinations, he would remind them to say an "Ave". When the washing machine refused to work, he would drop to his knees, say an "Ave" and the machine would begin working. He spent long hours, after his many jobs as gardener and handy man at the College, in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. Brother Anthony was beloved by all. He was a humble, devout and obedient brother, truly living his religious vows.

At one point he even became the pig-keeper. One year there was a  storm which destroyed part of the seed crop which was to supplement the food of the pigs.  Nearby was a turnip field, excellent food for animals, which was ready to be eaten. But to reach it, one had to pass through a field of oats that was not yet ripe enough to be cut. The superior told Brother Anthony to lead his pigs through the oats to the turnips.

“Be careful, he added, I don’t want to see your animals stop on the way to touch the oats.” “But, Father, it is impossible.” “Impossible? The word does not exist in French. Go!”   “Very well, my Father, you want, I take pigs.”

Before entering the pigsty, Brother Anthony knelt and recited his Ave. He got up, opened the gate: “Kiou, Kiou, Kiou! follow me, come to eat.” The pigs rushed out of the enclosure. There were approximately  150 of them moving towards the almost ripe oats field. “Kiou, Kiou! I forbid you to touch these oats. Let us go, we must go further; follow me.”

Then the superior, the Sisters and the Métis who watched this procession of famished pigs from a distance, witnessed a miracle. Brother Anthony turned into a narrow path between two rows of oats. For a moment, the pigs hesitated, as if consulting each other. Then one after the other they followed submissively behind their master. Not touching one stalk of oats, they all followed into the turnip field.

As an immigrant, Brother Anthony experienced loneliness, difficulty with language, alienation in a new culture. Brother Anthony died July 10, 1947 and is buried in St. Albert, not far from downtown Edmonton.

It is hoped that one day, Brother Anthony Kowalczyk will be named patron saint of immigrants throughout the world.

No comments:

Post a Comment