History of St. Anthony's Parish - Drayton Valley
Our history begins when Fr. Joseph Sullivan, who was the priest at Entwistle, came to Drayton Valley and celebrated the first Mass in the local community hall on June 19, 1955 for those Catholics who did not go home on the weekends. In the early years this was a transient town - so parishioners were transferring in and out regularly. Drayton Valley was not considered "home" to most of people who worked here. "Home" was wherever you came from - and that's where you went on days off.
Nowadays, people from Drayton Valley are proud to call this "home" - which leads to a feeling of stability that wasn't part of life here 40 or 50 years ago.
I'd like to read a quote from (now deceased) - Eva (Hennessey) Donnelly, a parishioner from the beginning:
"The revelation of the need to spread God's Word in this district was so strong in Fr. Sullivan, that he allowed no obstacle to prevent us from building our faith community. Thus, the fruits of his laborer work of our first resident Catholics took root. Great determination and courage were necessary, for there were many trials and errors, many joys and sorrows. Especially at the beginning when there were no roads, no electric power, no running water, only rain, mud and skid shacks. There was little or no money - but thanks be to God there was lots of oil, which made all things possible - and so very quickly too!"
The local council of the Catholic Women's League (CWL) was also started on June 19, 1955 - the same day as the first Mass - when Fr. Sullivan announced from the pulpit that a C.W.L. Council was about to be established and that Eva Hennessey would be its first President. This was all a big surprise to Eva - but it shows that Fr. Sullivan was a man of action who saw that a lot of work needed doing - and the time to start was NOW! Eva was a young mother who had five little children and she lived out in the Violet Grove area - and she didn't drive. Yet she took on this added responsibility, dug in, and was very much involved in all the church activities for the rest of her life. She set a great example for the rest of us. She put together the Church history, some of which is included in this talk.
Before long it became apparent that the Drayton Valley part of the Entwistle mission would soon be the largest part of the parish, and so Fr. Sullivan proceeded to set up a church in Drayton Valley. In December 1955 he moved a skid shack, his residence, on to the lot where the rectory now stands. St. Thomas Church in Tomahawk became a mission of St. Anthony's and was served by the local parish priest.
In 1957, when Fr. Sullivan was transferred elsewhere, the shell of church was up and Archbishop Jordan had officially named the parish "St. Anthony's" on August 9, 1956. The church was built mostly with volunteer labour and donated materials. Fr. Sullivan himself spent many long hours pounding nails.
Over the years, the various priests oversaw the many physical changes that took place in the parish, starting with Fr. Scriven, who arrived in 1957 and saw the completion of the church building. The church furnishings were early Canadian - or whatever you would call wooden benches and kneelers - that weren't nailed down. Our comfortable pews and padded kneelers would come later.
Fr. Basil Butts was with us for a year - and during his stay St. Anthony School, with grades 1 - 9, was built. We very much appreciated having our own school where the Catholic faith could be taught and lived every day.
While Fr. Ed Lynch was here, the rectory was built; Saturday evening Masses began - to accommodate the shift workers; the CWL monthly dinner meetings began; and our youth were very involved - especially in the Saturday evening Youth Masses.
The Sisters of Our Lady of the Cross arrived in 1966 - and they served in our parish and taught in our school for the next 8 years.
While Fr. Matt Kuefler was our pastor, the remaining debt on the church and rectory were paid off, and Father started us on a building fund, which eventually led to the building of the present church. The Knights of Columbus Council was formed in 1979 and they continue to faithfully serve the Church.
Fr. Martin Carroll arrived in 1982. He organized what we now call the RCIA program - and he also nursed us through the pains of building our present church in 1987. Our old church building was donated to the parishioners at Breton. The moving of the building down the river hill and over the bridge was a sight to see.
Our new church cost $850,000.00 and, thanks to the hard work and generosity of our parishioners (and the nest egg started by Fr. Matt) - the church was paid for in 10 years. Our parish was truly blessed yet again in March of 1981 - as the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame (CND's) came to Drayton Valley to assist in the school and parish. The sincerity and Christian example of the sisters had a beautiful and stabilizing effect on the lives of all who knew them. The convent here was closed in 1993.
Fr. Bob Cornell was with us for six years - and under his direction the parish offices became a reality, a secretary was hired, our first youth ministers, Tim & Lori Hoven, were hired, and the RCIA program flourished.
In September 1994, St. Anthony School saw the community's dream of having a complete Catholic school system come true with the addition of Grade 10 and the extension of the building facilities to include a chapel. Grade 11 was added in Sept./95 and grade 12 in Sept./96. History was made in June 1997 when the first class of grade 12 graduated from St. Anthony School.
While Fr. Paul Moret was with us the emphasis on our youth continued with the hiring of Laura Dabbagh - and later Lyle Thorne - as youth leaders. Fr. Paul's involvement with the Flying Fathers hockey team and Our Lady of Victory Camp, plus parish and mission activities, kept him very busy.
Fr. Paul Mensah spent one year with us. He often included beautiful little impromptu songs after his homilies - which were much appreciated. The altar servers' ministry flourished under Fr.'s guidance and encouragement.
Fr. Stan Blaszkowski was our pastor from 2000 - 2002 and was kept very busy with all the parish and mission activities. Our next youth minister, Erin Newbury, a graduate from JPII Bible College, was hired in September 2000 and stayed with us for one year, deciding then to return to college. With the expansion of the priestly duties to include the parishes of Evansburg and Mayerthorpe, Fr. Stan decided that it was time for a younger man to replace him.
Unfortunately, with the inclusion of two extra parishes, the local priest would no longer be able to provide weekly Mass at St. Thomas Church in Tomahawk. The parishioners from there now attend St. Anthony's.
Fr. Andrew arrived in August 2002. That fall, looking again to the Bible College for more youth leaders, Shawn & Lindsay Klein were hired and stayed with us for 2 years.
The activities in the three parishes kept Fr. Andrew very busy. The rectory has been renovated in the year 2005. Because of the many activities in our parish, there was need for another meeting room - so the rectory now has 3 offices, a meeting room and a bathroom on the main floor, and Fr.'s living quarters are on the second floor.
The next big physical project being discussed is an elevator for the church to accommodate our senior parishioners who are growing in numbers. The elevator was installed in the year 2006.
Fr. Christian Nwaigwe was our pastor during the years 2006-2012, Fr. Gary from 2012-2015 and Fr. Jaya Rajan SAC from 2015-2021. Fr. Felix Devasia is our pastor right now from July 2021.
Back in the 60's and 70's there were two groups in our parish - the CWL and a Men's Club. Now, if you look at the back page of our bulletin, you'll see that the average parishioner can join any number of faith-building groups.
God has been very good to our parish. He has provided us with good, prayerful priests who were each blessed with a variety of gifts, which they used to deal with the day-to-day situations in our parish.
Our priests were faithful shepherds who followed and passed on the teachings of Vatican II; the Holy Father; the Magisterium of the Church; and our Archbishop. They also had a great love for Our Lady, and they passed that on, too.
It is such a blessing to see that many of our young people have gone on to the Bible schools at Radway and Hinton; or served on the N.E.T. team. Many went to World Youth Day in Toronto, Germany and Australia.
The "Youth for Life" Program has been very active in our parish for years. Many good things have come out of our youth being involved. Our young people are our future church leaders and they have to be carefully taught.
God has blessed and kept us safe and sound as one family all these years and we believe and pray that he will continue to do the same in the coming days.