St. Mary’s Parish 50th anniversary

On Saturday, Oct. 4th, St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church celebrated the 50th anniversary of the creation of the parish. Hundreds of people attended the special anniversary mass. The evening banquet was a sold-out affair.

The origins of the parish actually go back to the late 1950s. Red Deer was experiencing phenomenal growth. Between 1957 and 1958, the population of the City jumped by an astonishing 21%. Red Deer rightly claimed the distinction of being the fastest growing city in Canada.

The City struggled to meet all of the challenges created by having large numbers of predominantly young families move into the community.

In 1958-1959, a new, much larger, Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church was constructed on 55 St.

However, with the local Roman Catholic congregation growing so rapidly, this new church was soon not big enough. Hence plans were made to create a new parish and then to build a new church on Red Deer’s east hill.

This proposed church was to be part of a Catholic complex, including new schools to handle the burgeoning enrollment of the Red Deer Separate (Catholic) School District.

Maryview Elementary School officially opened on the east end of 39 St. on Mother’s Day, May 11, 1958. In 1962, St. Thomas Aquinas Junior/Senior High School opened a short distant to the east.

Father Thomas Kroetch of Sacred Heart Church was a strong supporter of the proposal to create a new eastside parish.

The work was boosted in 1962 when two priests of the Order of Mary Immaculate (Oblates), Fathers Ronald Zimmer and Anthony Schmidt, joined the teaching staff at St. Thomas Aquinas.

In October 1963, Father Anthony Schmidt began to officiate at regular Sunday masses in the St. Thomas Aquinas gymnasium. In early 1964, meetings began to be held for what was initially called St. Thomas Aquinas Parish.

On Aug. 10th, 1964, Archbishop J.H. MacDonald assigned the Oblates of St. Mary’s Province to pastor the new parish. On Sept. 6th, 1964, the name of the new parish was officially changed to the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. St. Mary’s was formally accepted as a shorter name.

Work quickly began on plans for the new church building. Mr. Jim Morrisroe donated three acres of his farm along 39 St. as the site for the church.

Father Werner Merx, the new pastor, and a large group of dedicated volunteers began to work long and hard on the construction of the building.

Douglas Cardinal, a young local architect, took on the job of designing the structure, with the active involvement of Father Merx.

The official sod turning took place on June 26, 1966.

By the late fall of 1968, the building was complete. On Dec. 8th, 1968, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the Church was officially opened and blessed by Archbishop Anthony Jordon.

The result was a very unique and innovative structure. While the building was initially controversial, it eventually became internationally renowned. However, the highly unusual design made for a very complex and expensive project. The cost of construction was estimated at more than one-third of a million dollars.

Nevertheless, the parish continued to grow.

St. Mary’s became not only a major centre for Church activities, but also for many community events such as concerts and carol festivals. In 1979, the Red Deer Chamber of Commerce issued a special commemorative coin with the image of St. Mary’s Church on it.

In the mid-1990s, a parish centre was built on the east side of the church to accommodate the ever-growing congregation. Today, St. Mary’s continues to be a vital, growing and vibrant Christian community, with some 2,800 families as members.

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