By Fr. Mark Miller, C.Ss.R.
As most of you might be aware, I have never been a pastor or even an associate pastor in any of our parishes. I have done lots of parish work usually while in residence in one of our rectories. Hence, when I agreed to accept responsibility for St. Mary’s Parish (the Bishop named me ‘parochial administrator” – so perhaps I still haven’t been a pastor!) for the final five months of our Redemptorist presence, I honestly thought not only that it would be manageable but that I would enjoy the different ministry.
Well, it was most enjoyable but I’m not sure I managed! Fr. Mick Fleming gave me a wonderful introduction to the parish, the responsibilities, the potential surprises (well, most of them), and the ‘traditions.’ I was familiar with many things because I have often bunked at St. Mary’s while doing my medical ethics work. However, being at that spot to which everybody turns (“The buck stops here”) meant that I not only had to ensure regular services – weekday and weekend Mass and confession assignments, preparations for feasts or seasons (Thanksgiving, Advent), meetings for parish functions (CWL, parish council, sacramental prep, etc.) – but every time something popped up like the washing machine dying or a snowfall on the weekend (when there is no caretaker) or somebody showing up at the door for confession or a handout or some other surprise, it landed on my desk. In fact, I found that preparing for the Sunday homilies meant that I often had to go for a long walk in order to find the time to think and pray about the readings!
Now, I have to pause here and give full credit to the four ladies (volunteers as the parish cannot afford a secretary) who look after the phone and the door, as well as provide other services liking recording the collection or preparing Mass intentions or the newsletter, because they were like a protective fence around me and fended off frivolous or useless requests. They literally, I think, saved my sanity (their sense of humour built upon years of service in the parish was also a life-saver) or at least kept me from burn out. Indeed, sharing the parish ministry with Frs. Graham and Alfredo surely saved me as they were so ready to take on whatever arose either on the regular schedule or spontaneously.
Still, I shouldn’t blame the parish alone for the busy schedule that I had. Yes, there were the funerals, grave-side services, baptisms and two weddings that landed on my plate, all postponed during the pandemic restrictions. There were the safety protocols that had to be implemented in the church. October proved a very difficult month because we had so many Redemptorist meetings (EPC, Conference Assembly, General Chapter preparation, Finance Secretariats) and then I still slipped in some of my ethics’ work, all to the point that I was really, really tired of Zoom! In addition, the weekly hampers (looked after by volunteers), the Christmas hampers (around 300 this year!) and the cleaning around the church (the needle exchange program is next door to the hall) kept all of us hopping.
I could go on about this wonderful learning experience. I suspect that all of you who are or have been pastors or associate pastors are shaking your heads about now, wondering where I have been all my Redemptorist life. Well, I have much greater admiration for you now and, I hope, better understanding of what happens on the front lines of a parish. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed the experience immensely. And it was an eye-opener. And I am purposely omitting what I did not get done or actively postponed for the new pastor.
In conclusion, I have only one regret. I went to Saskatoon hoping to be able to visit many of our, particularly, senior parishioners so that we could talk and ease some of the pain of the Redemptorist departure. However, added to the daily busy-ness was lots of snow in November and bitter cold in December, plus the increasing covid threat, all of which conspired to keep me mostly in the rectory or church. Seeing people at Mass and a few phone calls did not quite make up for this limitation, but I can assure you that many, many parishioners expressed their thanks for all that the Redemptorists had done over the years along with their sadness at our departure. It was a sadness that also infected me toward the end amid the realization that this was no longer our Redemptorist home or ministry. We left it, I believe, in the very good hands of Frs. Kevin McGee (who has had many connections with the Redemptorists throughout his life) and Fr. Daniel Louh (from, if I recall correctly, the Ivory Coast). Still, saying goodbye to so many friends is just plain sad. Fr. Kevin made it clear when I was leaving that any Redemptorists passing through Saskatoon would be more than welcome to stay at St. Mary’s and he hoped that a number of us would take advantage of that invitation over the coming years.
We had a simple parish farewell, respecting the covid limitations, with Bishop Mark Hagemoen presiding and preaching at the 11 am Mass on Dec. 5th. He was more than gracious and many parishioners attended in order to say farewell. During the first week of January, Fr. Kevin had a more intimate farewell supper for us, with the Bishop and several of the local priests (including an ‘freezing’ African priest who had arrived two days earlier – in the middle of our -35 weather!) We will be missed. Fr. Graham will continue to serve through the Guadalupe community; and the Hispanic community made a plea from the heart to keep Fr. Alfredo. But it was time.
Ultimately, I want to thank God for the 86 years of service that the Redemptorists were able to provide at St. Mary’s, but even moreso I want to thank God for the love and kindness and generosity that so many parishioners gave us in return. Not quite a ‘marriage made in heaven,’ but a darn good experience of the Incarnate in our midst!
You can watch the Dec 5th 11AM Mass on youtube here