St. Joseph Church, on the corner of 5 St. and 52nd Avenue, has enjoyed a long history of serving in the community of Coalhurst. But, before the building itself was erected, the needs of the people were served by Rev. Julius Bidault 0. M. I., who from 19 10 to 1924 worked tirelessly for the faithful of Southern Alberta. He said Mass on a monthly basis in various homes and sometimes in the low school. It was when the school burned down in Feb. 1920, that a building was purchased from Mr. John Percival and set on the present site. A vestibule and bell tower were added. It was a joyous day when all the people of Coalhurst turned out for the raising and ringing of the mission bell. On the bell the following is inscribed-
In the year of our Lord Jesus Christ 1926, His Holiness Pius XI being Pope, His Holiness J. T. Kidd being Bishop of Calgary, an Oblate of Mary Immaculate being missionary - for the greater glory of Almighty God - I Maria Josephina, have been donated to St. Joseph's Parish Church of Coalhurst, Alberta, Canada, by parishioners and friends, my sponsors being Mr. and Mrs. Augustus Ryan and Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Morrissey, Mr. and Mrs. Dominico Sorbora, Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Philippe, Mr. and Mrs. Sylvanis Purvis, Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Cash, Mr. and Mrs. James 1. McDermott, Mr. and Mrs. Tony Pavan, Mr. and Mrs. Alex Stetz, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Brooks, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Dickie, Dr. Warren W. Inkrote, Mr. and Mrs. John Kehough, Mr. and Mrs. Joseph McIntyre, Mr. and Mrs. William E. McDermott, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Walker, Mr. John T. Percival, and Miss Dorothy Doran.
Finally, Coalhurst was prospering; in August of 1927 the Oblate Fathers gave up their work with St. Josephs and the Coalhurst Church became a full fledged parish with a new live-in pastor - Rev. James McKinnon.
Father McKinnon was a very "visible" person to the people of Coalhurst. He drove a big sporty Buick and ate all his meals at either people's homes or local restaurants. But for him the good times were short lived. He left a few years later just as the fortunes of the Parish were beginning to go downhill.
During the 1930s, the efforts of two particular parish priests are remembered. Rev. Patrick Violet, known for his gift making and keeping friends of all religious denominations, is also remembered for his violent temper. He was a busy man as well, baptizing no less than forty-one babies and children during his two year stay.
Rev. Frederick Foote arrived in August of 1934. His letters have left us a poignant insight into the hardships of the depression. Frugal as he was he could not pay for light, coal or water. In May, 1936, he wrote Bishop Carroll in Calgary:
"In the past I have received considerable assistance from my family and relatives in the East. Due to unemployment I can no longer look for help there. I managed to struggle through a terrible winter having to buy all the coal and church supplies myself. I only take two meals a day because I can't afford three - I am begging for the stark necessity with which to carry on. It's only hunger and the importance of this work of salvaging a faith that is lost among these people that induces me to beg."
The mine disaster had resulted in many families leaving Coalhurst. Father Foote wrote the Bishop that a resident priest would face almost impossible hardships; he left Coalhurst in July 1936. The priests following him lived sometimes in the rectory and sometimes in Lethbridge. It was decided to rent the house and in 1937 the Parish of Coalhurst became a mission once again, served by the Chaplains at St. Michael's Hospital, Lethbridge.
The times were still difficult; the priests found that the success of the mission depended upon the help of the parishioners who still attended the Church. Father Thomas Kiley, the first of the hospital Chaplain spent time getting the parish out of financial troubles. Father James Smith, next to arrive was well liked and able to instill a sense of participation in all, from the Choir and altar servers to the children taking catecism lessons.
Father Edward DeBusschers, affectionately known as Father Butch, organized a local theatre group and worked with the youth of the area. Father J. N. Lebel, holds the distinction of being the priest to spend the longest time at Coalhurst - eight years. He organized work parties, encouraged rummage sales, raffles and performed many, many marriages.
Father M. Campbell was responsible for getting the sacristy built onto the church and Father Rupert MacLillan remembers the parishioners as being a close knit group willing to try to raise money for a new church which was never to be. Father James Healy was the last of these Chaplains to serve St. Josephs during this thirty year period.
Now, 1966, began a time of confusion and anxiety for the future of the little parish. Finally, the parish came under the supervision of St. Basils Parish in Lethbridge.
Rev. G. Murien, pastor of St. Basils and the many assistant pastors served the parish as best they could as sometimes there would be only a handful of people at church Sunday mornings. The lack of interest in parish affairs, caused by a falling off of youth attendance and people going to Lethbridge for Mass, made it difficult for the priests to organize parish activities. The church yard and building suffered; the bell was no longer rung as birds had built nests in the tower. A few faithful members kept the church and yard tidy but this once active little parish was almost at a standstill.
Happily, in July of 1977, Father Clifford Crowley came to St. Michael's Hospital as the new Chaplain and to undertake another new duty - pastor of St. Joseph's Parish in Coalhurst. A parish Council was set up and with the new growth taking place in Coalhurst the parish began to flourish once again under Father Crowley's guidance. Rev. Anthony Kelly is now the pastor; the parish continues to grow in all aspects of parish life and has become an integral part of the total community of the Village of Coalhurst.
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