Churches

“Well done, my good and faithful people.”

Whether they came on foot, cart, wagon, cutter, buggy, boat, sleigh, bicycle, truck, car, van, or motorcycle, the objective was always the same—to render homage to their Lord and God. The struggles and sacrifices were many but the outcome most rewarding.

We’ve Only Just Begun:  History of Notre Dame Parish   Selkirk, Manitoba 1877-1977, p. V

The Early Years

When Manitoba joined Confederation in 1870, the land that would later become Selkirk in 1882 was already home to one of the largest communities outside of Winnipeg and ideally situated between the Red River and a proposed transcontinental rail line. By the mid-1880s Selkirk had unfortunately been left off the main line of the Canadian Pacific Railway, but it had survived – as a wild, frontier town. Selkirk had many of the unkempt characteristics of other fledgling towns in the West, with its unpaved roads, unpainted buildings, no water or sewer infrastructure, and a lack of many other services.  Settlers and adventurers still came for the promise of opportunity, and for some, with the hope of raising their family with values held dear. Those values resulted in the building of churches of various denominations.

St. Michael

At Manitoba’s Confederation in 1870, it was the Archdiocese of St. Boniface that was responsible for overseeing the Catholic Church in the new province. The Oblate Fathers of Mary Immaculate (OMI) established a mission in Selkirk to serve all the northern areas of the province. Missionaries attended to the religious needs of the Catholic families already residing in the area, as well as spread Christianity to Indigenous Peoples residing in both the north and east. The missionaries worked tirelessly throughout the expansive region. In 1876, in response to the growth in population due to immigration from Ontario,  Archbishop A. A. Taché, OMI, decided to establish a parish to serve the area north of St. Boniface and Winnipeg, east to Lac du Bonnet, west to Stonewall, and north to include Peguis Reserve. An abandoned Methodist church in Selkirk on Dufferin Avenue was restored and blessed as St. Michael Catholic Church in the fall of 1877. This parish would be served by missionaries at first, and then, in 1879, was assigned its first parish priest, Father J. B. Baudin, OMI. The church was authorized to keep vital statistics on baptisms, marriages, and burials. Father Baudin performed baptisms, marriages, and final rites, oversaw three schools, one for children of settlers and immigrants, and two for Indigenous children, as well as performed chaplain duties for the asylum, and visited non-Catholics whom he hoped to convert. Many of the parishioners lived in the farming district around Selkirk. Depending on the season, they relied on a ferry or winter road to allow passage into town. Father Baudin traveled in all seasons by rail, steamboat, horse, buggy, or sleigh. In heavily forested areas, there was a danger of wolf attacks, so he always carried a rifle. Growing and maintaining the Catholic church community over such a vast territory was a daunting task. Most parish priests assigned to St. Michael would only remain for a year or two.

St. Michael to Notre Dame

In 1904, the Oblate Fathers considered the parish to be well established and so donated the church and property to the parish to maintain on its own. The first priest assigned to meet the needs of St. Michael and missions at both Beausejour and Lac du Bonnett was a Manitoba-born and ordained priest, Father Louis de Gonzague Belanger.

Now with a resident priest, the parish borrowed $1500 from the Archdiocese of St. Boniface and pledged an additional $720 to construct a rectory next to the church. This construction project would be the beginning of the parish managing its finances and repaying debts. Finances were always a problem that required persistent solutions. Sunday collections, special collections, pew rentals, card parties, teas, and other social gatherings helped to pay off the building debt and cover expenses like the priest’s salary, wood for heating, and general maintenance.

New Catholic parishes were being erected west of the Red River and the Bishop found it difficult to visit them all regularly. The population had outgrown the Archdiocese of St. Boniface. After some negotiations, the Red River would become the new dividing line. On December 4, 1915, the area west of the Red River, known as Lisgar with its 44,776 square miles, became the Archdiocese of Winnipeg. The Most Reverend Alfred A. Sinnott, D.D. was appointed as the first Bishop. Selkirk officially became a parish within this new diocese.

All the priests but one, that served the parish in its first fifty-four years had been French. The masses were said in Latin, with the homily (sermon) said in either French or English. This served the early church well, but with the influx of Polish people settling in the East Selkirk and Poplar Park areas at the turn of the century, language would become a barrier for those families. They traveled to St. Michael to have their children baptized but otherwise felt alienated. In 1931, Father Joseph W. Kreciszewski was assigned to St. Michael and so for the first time, the Polish members of the congregation could hear their language spoken in church.

These were difficult economic times with the Great Depression imposing hardships on individuals and businesses. In 1932, the diocese renamed St. Michael to Our Lady of Perpetual Help but used the French translation, Notre Dame. With the name change came $1000 from the diocese to make significant renovations to the existing church. Due to the high unemployment rate during the Great Depression, there were a lot of men to help complete the renovation.

In 1935, Father Maryan Orlinski would become the parish priest. The Polish parishioners were elated. He was strict, ensuring that all matters of faith and practices of the Catholic Church were followed. Regular activities at the parish included: two masses each Sunday and one mass every morning during the week, Catechism each Saturday morning, Benediction every Sunday evening, as well as on Wednesdays, and special occasions like Lent, and in May and June. Prayers for peace and the safe return of the young men who volunteered their services for their country were said during WWII. He also led prayers at many funerals for those who died of tuberculosis in the sanitorium at Dynevor Hospital.

In 1942, the church bought a new altar, and in 1949, purchased land for a new cemetery. In the early 1960’s Selkirk experienced significant growth. The existing church was overcrowded, forcing some parishioners to stand throughout mass or miss it altogether. Now with 225 registered families, the Notre Dame faith community had outgrown the old church. Father Orlinski worked with the diocese, and locally, with a highly dedicated advisory board, finance and building committees, and congregation to build a new church and rectory.

Notre Dame Catholic Church, Date unknown- Source Unknown

The old church had been used for seventy-seven consecutive years and the rectory for fifty-eight years. On August 28, 1964, his Grace George B. Flahiff, Archbishop of Winnipeg blessed a new and much larger Notre Dame Roman Catholic Church at 269 Jemima Street. The new building was achieved through hard work, determination, and a dedicated group of volunteers and parishioners who regularly attended mass and other special events in support of the church.

Father Orlinski retired in the summer of 1971 after serving thirty-six consecutive years. It was said of him that sometimes he was hard to work with but was always determined to get the job done. The achievements during his tenure demonstrated his dedication to Christianity and the congregation of the Notre Dame Roman Catholic Church

A Time of Change

“The following Sunday, many waited in eagerness to get a glimpse of the new pastor. It was quite a change to see a young man, dressed in informal attire, walking around the church and talking freely to everyone. For many, the change was quite emotional, as several members of the parish had never experienced a change in pastor. For some, it was a day of rejoicing and to others, a day of sadness.” (We’ve Only Just Begun, p. 140)

The new pastor, Father Art Seaman was neither French nor Polish but of Scottish descent from Prince Edward Island. In addition to being the local pastor, he was the R.C. Padre at HMCS Chippawa in Winnipeg and the Chaplain at Stoney Mountain Penitentiary. He explained that he would be busy and away on certain Sundays. His warm and welcoming personality was embraced by Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

Pope John XXIII called a pastoral Council in 1962 and 1965 which resulted in Vatican II; sixteen documents aimed to guide the Church into the future. When Father Seaman arrived in 1971, he was committed to making the goals of Vatican ll a reality at Notre Dame Parish. He engaged the congregation in the process which included rejuvenating the Catholic Women’s League, and the Knights of Columbus and electing a new Parish Council to assist him in running the parish.

A few of the liturgical changes he included were; the vernacular was used to say the Mass and in scripture readings, there was a greater role for lay persons, women and girls in the church, married men could be ordained Deacons, the communion rail was removed so clergy faced the congregation, and reconciliation became more open and included a communal mass at Christmas. Father Art even joined the local Ministerial Association to spread ecumenism and good-will among the other churches in Selkirk.

There would be many events to encourage socializing within the church and word of the friendly pastor spread so that attendance to Sunday masses filled the pews, at times to overflowing. In 1973, the Liturgy Committee proposed renovations to the sanctuary that were met with displeasure by many. Through Father Seaman’s persistence and convincing manner, the congregation would eventually vote for a very modern change by moving the sanctuary to the center of the church. This allowed the congregation to be closer to all aspects of the Mass and face the celebrant. Father Art Seaman and his commitment to Vatican II had a significant impact on the church as it grew to exceed 400 families. However, after seven years of dedicated service, he left Notre Dame and the town of Selkirk. His presence as a spiritual leader and engaged citizen was duly missed and always remembered.

A Future of Promise

Since 1977, ten members of the Catholic clergy have served the congregation of Notre Dame in Selkirk.  Each of them brought their faith, commitment, education, experience, and unique personality to the position. They would guide a congregation whose modern history encouraged service.

Each pastor was always busy saying Sunday and weekday masses and giving blessings bestowed at birthdays, baptisms, anniversaries, funerals, in hospitals and care homes, at socials, teas, and other special events.  They have relied on the volunteer work of parishioners of all ages. Notre Dame’s large seating capacity was suited to community-based occasions such as graduations, and choral and ecumenical services that aimed to gather people together in peaceful harmony. Each Pastor worked to build a community of faith and a future of promise for coming generations. The good work continues at Notre Dame!

Notre Dame Parish Selkirk, date unknown, Archdiocese of Winnipeg

Pastors of Notre Dame Parish

In the early years of the church, unknown Oblate missionaries served the diocese. The following pastors and/or administrators are recorded as having served Selkirk’s Catholic community:

Pastors

(1) Rev. Jean Baptiste Baudin, OMI (1879-1881)
(2) Rev. Joachim Albert Allard, OMI (1881-1898)
(3) Rev. Joseph Alexis Prosper Magnan, OMI (1898-1903)
(4) Rev. Joseph Thibaudeau, OMI (1904)
(5) Rev. Louis de Gonzague Belanger (1904-1907), (1911-1914)
(6) Rev. Charles Deshales (1907-1909)
(7) Rev. Joseph Eugene Derome (1909-1910)
(8) Rev. N. A. Ruelle (1910)
(9) Rev. J. H. Prud’homme (1911)
(10) Rev. J. Eugene Tetrault (1914-1915)
(11) Rev. Rudolph Alexander Dumoulin (1915-1917)
(12) Rev. John J. Blair (1918)
(13) Rev. J. C. Caisse (1919)
(14) Rev. Jacques Bertrand (1919-1929)
(15) Msgr. Maurice Alonzo Cournoyer (1929-1931)
(16) Rev. Ladislaus Joseph Kreciszewski (1931-1933), (1934-1935)
(17) Rev. Maryan Francis Orlinski (1933-34), (1935-1971)
(18) Rev. Charles Lukasik (1934)
(19) Rev. Arthur Seaman (1971-1978)
(20) Msgr. Zygmunt Anthony Julian Baczkowski (1978-1980)
(21) Rev. Gerald Craig OFM Cap (1980-1982)
(22) Rev. Louis McCloskey (1982-1987)
(23) Rev. Henryk Laciak (1987-1992)
(24) Rev. Terence McGrath (1992-1995)
(25) Rev. Henryk Uczniak (1995-1999)
(26) Rev. Boguslaw Wardzinski (1999-2006)
(27) Rev. Diosdadao Parrenas (2006-2012)
(28) Rev. Stan Gaycek (2012-2020)
(29) Rev. Gerald Langevin (2020-present)

Acknowledgments

A special thanks to the late parishioner, Alice Belanger. During her time at Notre Dame, she assumed many leadership roles. Her greatest contribution to the Selkirk Museum is two history books that she coordinated, prepared, and wrote about Notre Dame. Thanks to her hard work and dedication Notre Dame Parish has a detailed chronicle of its history. This attempt to encapsulate the history of the Museum regrettably omits many details of interest, but we are certain that she would approve of the efforts made on behalf of the church.

Sources

Selkirk “The First Hundred Years”, Prepared by: Barry Potyondi, ((Josten’s/National School Services, Winnipeg), 1981.

The Journey Continues:  History of Notre Dame Parish Selkirk, Manitoba 1977-2002 Prepared by:  Alice Belanger Published by: Notre Dame Parish

We’ve Only Just Begun:  History of Notre Dame Parish Selkirk, Manitoba 1877-1977 Prepared by: Alice Belanger, The Parish of Notre Dame: Derksen Printers, Steinbach, Manitoba

www.ndparish.ca

An Overview of the Second Vatican Council, vaticannews. va