By Fr. Mike Mendl, SDB
Many of us may remember a common exercise assigned at the beginning of a new school year when we were elementary students: a short essay on how we’d just spent the summer.
The four weeks I spent in Edmonton, Alberta, in June and July at the request of Fr. Tim Zak weren’t exactly a vacation, although the workload was lighter than what I do day by day at home. For the first time in my Salesian life there was even an assigned day off (Monday) every week.
Before Fr. Mario Villaraza left for a month-long vacation in the Philippines, he asked the provincial for a confrere to take his place at St. Edmund’s Church, where he’d been pastor since the fall of 2022. Fr. Tim turned to me.
I found a vibrant, devout congregation that worshiped at three weekend Masses, each attended by 200-300 people and each with its distinctive musical style. The people sang and voiced their responses clearly and loudly. They made generous offerings.
On the first Sunday I was there (June 18), just before Fr. Mario left he confirmed seven youths and gave first Communion to 27 children. The previous day he, I, and two local priests heard first confessions and other confessions. On later Sundays I baptized, confirmed, and gave first Communion to a 16-year-old girl whom Fr. Mario had prepared, and I baptized an infant—both of these within a parish celebration of the Eucharist.
At weekday morning Masses (Tuesday- Friday) 25-30 parishioners took part, with a bit of music, homily, and general intercessions and congregants doing the first readings and assisting at the altar. I had two opportunities to celebrate daily Masses at two of our other Salesian parishes, St. John Bosco and St. Matthew. One of the features of St. John Bosco is its furnishings: altar, ambo, and presidential chair that were used by St. John Paul II when he celebrated Mass in Edmonton in 1983.
Each week I offered Mass at two assisted living homes within the parish: one on Tuesday celebrating the previous Sunday’s Mass, and one on Thursday anticipating the next Sunday’s Mass. I was taken by surprise at each the first time, not knowing I was to celebrate a Sunday Mass, and which one. But the residents—about 30 on Tuesdays and 15 on Thursdays—were most appreciative. In both cases, volunteers from St. Edmund handled all the arrangements.
In addition, on Wednesday evenings St. Edmund’s Parish held a Marian novena service followed by Mass; and on Friday mornings Eucharistic adoration followed Mass.
People came to confession before many of the weekday Masses and sometimes after Mass, and before the Saturday vigil Mass. I was asked twice to anoint a sick person, and to bless a couple of vehicles and numerous rosaries and other sacramentals.
I used Mondays to explore two national parks, Elk Island and Jasper. The former is about 35 miles east of Edmonton on the Trans-Canada Highway, the latter 225 miles west on the TCH. Both have exceptional beauty, the first flat and wet, the second mountainous (it’s in the Rockies, after all) with rushing streams and large lakes. Both have ample wildlife and lots of hiking trails.
I was also able to visit the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village, which celebrates the tens of thousands of Ukrainian immigrants who settled on Canada’s prairies in the late 19th and early 20th centuries—the largest Ukrainian diaspora in the world; and Fort Edmonton Park, which preserves different phases of the city’s human settlement, from the First Nations through the Hudson’s Bay Company outpost to the early 20th century.
Edmonton has an extensive system of walking and biking trails, some of which are along the North Saskatchewan River close to the Salesian residence. The sun doesn’t set until after 10:00 p.m. so far north, and I took a lot of evening walks on those trails.