September 26, 2019
COCHRANE, Alberta – A couple of weeks ago a young moose moseyed into the front yard and helped himself to the fallen fruit from an apple tree.
Onlookers were delighted – but not surprised. At Mount St. Francis, near the foothills of the Canadian Rockies, humans are treated to more than sweeping vistas of the Big Hill Creek Valley. They come to this Christian retreat center in southern Alberta expecting to get away from it all. Here they find serenity, 500 acres where the prairie ends, plenty of space for soul-searching. But they also find a spirit of harmony, the peaceful co-existence of people with the land and with God’s creatures, occasional guests like moose, foxes and cougars. It doesn’t get more Franciscan than that.
For 70 years this has been one of Alberta’s treasures – and one of its best-kept secrets.
“It’s not just the view,” says Susan Campbell, Director of the retreat center since 2015 and formerly with the Pastoral Centre for the Diocese of Prince George in British Columbia. “People say there’s a spirit here of hospitality and simplicity.” But there’s also a conundrum. “Our calendar is booked” with retreats for men’s and women’s groups, Secular Franciscans and school groups. “There are things we advertise that are well-known in the community,” like the October blessing of animals and a popular Christmas pageant. “But we would like for people to know our ministry and attend our workshops.”
The mantra of Mount St. Francis is, “peace, healing and prayer”. They host a half-dozen programs a year for people recovering from addiction to alcohol. Because the wide open spaces invite introspection, “The big thing here is silence,” says Kevin Lynch, one of the eight Franciscans of Holy Spirit Province who live in the adjacent friary. “People come here to pray.”
It’s hard to imagine that anyone could leave here feeling stressed. Right off the lobby is a long wall of windows facing west, toward the mountains, with a row of recliners lined up alongside, like deck chairs on an ocean liner.
Trails mowed through prairie grass lead past panoramic scenery and through woods to a log cabin hermitage. Docile draft horses grazing in the neighboring field poke their noses through a fenced enclosure for treats. To the south of the center, perched on a hill that is considered sacred, is one of two sets of Stations of the Cross on the property.
It has always been holy ground, Susan says, from the time the First Nations people known as the Stoney Indians came here to hunt. They called the elevation that overlooks the retreat house “Manachaban”, or the Big Hill. The core of the complex is a sandstone house built by a Canadian politician, Charles Wellington Fisher, in 1908.
In 1949 Franciscan friars bought some of the property, received the rest through a donation and added a wing for retreatants. They opened on Aug. 15, 1949, with a program for clergy from the Diocese of Calgary. That fall when they mounted their first retreat for lay people, one of the teen-age guests was Louis Geelan, who became a friar and is now part of the retreat team.
They envisioned an ecumenical oasis off the beaten path. A signpost on the gravel road that leads here says, “Shalom”.
“All are welcome in the name of Christ,” says Kevin, the peripatetic guardian of the friary and the face of Franciscan hospitality for many who visit. “People on the edge of the Church come here,” as well as Buddhists and meditation groups. “We are the liminal church. People come here and dump their stuff and it stays here.”
In some respects, business is booming. Weekends are booked solid. The way they run lay retreats, using a system of “Captains” to register guests, gives staff members like Susan the leeway to organize and guide some of the other programs. Although Mount St. Francis has welcomed the world – Provincial Ministers of the English Speaking Conference have met here, and last week they hosted ESC communicators – a lot of folks still don’t know it exists.
These are challenging times for retreat houses. The crazy busy-ness of modern life and the distractions of technology make getaways more difficult. Loyal supporters help maintain the Mount, but the wish list extends far beyond basics. “We need a new building” to replace the complex built around the original sandstone structure, Kevin says – not an easy wish to fulfill.
The friars and the staff know this place is special. Guests get something rare: a chance to hit “pause” – time to breathe and the space to reflect in surroundings that celebrate the glory of God. Where else can you get such a view?
And if you’re lucky, you might see a moose munching an apple.
Mount St. Francis is at 41160 Retreat Road on the outskirts of Cochrane, Alberta, Canada (the closest airport is Calgary International). For information call 403-932-2012 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Download a brochure with a retreat schedule and accommodations at:mountstfrancis.ca/downloads or visit the website at: mountstfrancis.ca
The Feast Day approaches.
Before and after the Oct. 4 Feast Day, here’s how friars around the province will be celebrating the life and legacy of St. Francis of Assisi.
SOLEMN NOVENA in HONOR of FRANCIS
We invite you to join in praying an online novena with us, Sept. 25-Oct. 3, culminating on the feast day, Oct. 4. Each day you will receive the prayers for that day in both written and follow-along video formats. Murray Bodo reads the prayers for each day.
Sign up here: stanthony.org
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land
1400 Quincy Street N.E., Washington, D.C. 20017
Thursday, Oct. 3: Transitus at 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 4: Feast Day Masses at 6, 7 and 10:30 a.m.
Saturday, Oct. 5: Pet blessings from 10 a.m. to noon, weather permitting
Holy Family Parish
3027 Pearl St., Oldenburg, Ind. 47036
Sunday, Oct. 6: Annual parish festival with pet blessings throughout the day, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 4: Feast Day Mass at 8 a.m.
Church of the Transfiguration
25231 Code Road, Southfield, Mich. 48033
Monday, Sept. 30: St. Francis and his Worldview presentation by Jeff Scheeler, OFM, at 7 p.m.
Thursday, Oct. 3: Transitus at 7 p.m. at the Felician Sisters Motherhouse in Livonia,
36800 Schoolcraft Road
Friday, Oct. 4: Feast Day Mass at noon
Saturday, Oct. 5: Pet Blessing at 11 a.m.
St. Anthony Shrine
5000 Colerain Ave., Cincinnati, Ohio 45223
Friday, Oct. 4: Feast Day Mass at 7:30 a.m.
St. Clement Church
4536 Vine St., St. Bernard, Ohio 45217
Friday, Oct. 4: Feast Day Mass at 7 a.m.
Pet blessings at St. Clement Elementary school, 9:30 a.m.
St. Francis Feast Celebration at Church, 4-7 p.m.: Pet blessings, Spaghetti dinner, music, make a bird feeder
St. Francis Seraph Church
1615 Vine St., Cincinnati, Ohio 45202
Friday, Oct. 4: Feast Day Mass in the Chapel, 8 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 6: Pet blessing and free Pet Health clinic for the poor after the 10 a.m. Mass Friday.
St. Monica-St. George Church
328 W. McMillan St., Cincinnati, Ohio 45219
Thursday, Oct. 3: Transitus at 7 p.m.; reception in parish center
St. Francis Retreat House
3918 Chipman Road, Easton, Pa. 18045
Friday, Oct. 4: Feast Day Mass at 8 a.m.
Sunday, Oct. 6: Pet Blessing, 2 p.m.
BY LOREN CONNELL, OFM
Although Sacred Heart Church is in town, Sacred Heart Cemetery is in the country. As in Maydale, a large crucifix over an altar dominates the scene. A hundred years ago Berthold Staubach died as pastor and was the first friar to be buried in the parish cemetery. His large granite stone, with the dates of his birth, ordination, and death prominently carved beneath his name, is quite impressive. Sometime after the stone was commissioned, the date of his profession was added in smaller and different lettering. The four friars buried after Berthold have much smaller stones, all identical, with only their names and the years of their birth and death listed.
Fourteen years ago I was privileged to be in Emporia for the memorial service for John Schreck, a son of Sacred Heart Parish. Although John is not buried here, he is very much in my thoughts.
Mt. Calvary is a large, well-maintained urban cemetery with gently rolling hills. It is the first place in the Kansas-Missouri area where we began to bury our friars. For the friars, it truly was an area cemetery, as three of the first four friars buried here did not live and minister in Kansas City, Kansas. In fact, Matthew Schmidt, the first friar buried here, briefly ministered in Hamilton, Kansas, now a wide spot on the road through which I passed earlier today on my way to Maydale.
When I contacted the cemetery in May, I did not take good enough notes as to the precise location of the friars’ plot. I searched the area where I thought it should be, but I did not find it. Someone mowing the grass suggested that I go to the cemetery office. As expected, on a Saturday afternoon the office was closed. However, a telephone number was posted, and I dialed it. An automated answering service led me through multiple choices in the archdiocesan cemetery system before I finally reached a live voice. The gentleman who answered was very understanding. Driving somewhere in his car, he pulled into a parking area, got out his laptop, and located our friars in the cemetery files. Phone in hand, I followed his directions and arrived at our plot… to my chagrin, clearly visible from the area which I first explored. Someone I had never met took 15 minutes of his free time to help me. The kindness of strangers is more than a cliché.
Top, Mt. Calvary is large and well-maintained; above, eleven friars are buried at Mt. St. Mary Cemetery.Gilbert Schulte
Mt. Calvary may have been the first cemetery in the area in which we chose to bury our friars; but as we began to bury them elsewhere, our use of Mt. Calvary declined. Benedict Justice, the seventh and last friar to be buried here, died in 1966.
Mt. St. Mary is an old urban cemetery not far from downtown Kansas City, Mo. Like Mt. Calvary across the river, it covers several acres of rolling hills. Unlike Mt. Calvary, Mt. St. Mary does not seem to be well-maintained. More than a few stones have fallen down, either by accident or by vandalism.
Nothing significant marks the friars’ plot. Along with dozens of other religious men and women, our brothers are buried in a wide, slightly sloping expanse of grass. The stones of all the religious here lie flat with the ground. Nothing but grass rises above them. The very anonymity is awesome. No collective monument announces the presence of these men’s and women’s graves. I am reminded of a story that my father told me about one of his great-grandmothers dying while crossing the Atlantic Ocean and being buried at sea.
Eleven friars are buried here. What were their stories? Among them were Cyprian Sauer and Constantine Schaaf, pioneers in our province’s ministry among African Americans. John Vianney Brinkman was a Philippine missionary. Fidelis Albrecht helped popularize the Cursillo. Sixtus Kopp’s, Paschal Kerner’s, and Maxim Lannert’s stones are partly covered with grass. I get out my trowel and brush to clear away the growth. It is my response to the sacredness of this site.
Of the six cemeteries that I visited Aug. 3, Mt. St. Mary is the most special. Nothing of human making stands out here. No stones are visible to the casual observer. As tomorrow’s readings tell us, it is all about God’s deeds and not our accomplishments, no matter how significant they may have been. “Vanity of vanities,” says the teacher, “and all is vanity.” These 11 men, sinners like me, surrendered to God. The simpleness of their graves proclaims God’s holiness.
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Top, Mt. Calvary is large and well-maintained; above, eleven friars are buried at Mt. St. Mary Cemetery.The friars’ plot is mixed in with those of other families. A statue of Mary stands prominently above our friars’ graves, with the friars buried on either side or in front of her. Other people are buried immediately behind the friars. Indeed, one stone practically abuts that of Gilbert Schulte. The friars’ stones are gray granite and flat with the ground. Individuals are identified as either “Rev Fr” or “Ven Br”.