St. Pius X Parish
1954 – 2017
A Brief History
“On November 11, 1954, Most Reverend Francis Carroll, Bishop of Calgary, blessed St. Pius X School at 18th street and 24th avenue NW, which had been opened the previous September. After the school site had been chosen and the school nearly built, the Bishop, with his Diocesan Consultors, decided on June 7, 1954 to erect a parish named St. Pius X, the name chosen by the Bishop for the school, in honor of the pope who founded the Diocese of Calgary.” 1
The first Mass of the new St. Pius X Parish was held at St. Pius X School on Sunday, July 18, 1954. The first parish priest was Father Bernard Holland. Father Holland came to St. Pius from Bellevue, in the Crowsnest Pass, where he had a multitude of interests, one of these being hockey. He was even the Secretary of the Crowsnest Hockey Association. He was a very humble, gentle but nervous person. He had a big mind about what he wanted to do to please people and what was necessary for the community in general.
One of the first things he did upon his arrival at St. Pius X was to form the Sarto Society. This was an all-men’s group whose expressed purpose was “to organize and attend to the temporal welfare of the parish, leaving him free to look after the spiritual needs of the people”. This wouldn’t happen today, however, in 1954, it was quite extraordinary. To the Sarto Society was entrusted the great challenge of raising funds to build a church. Father Holland decided to build the church on farm property, owned by the diocese, where the present Parish Hall is located. A census was taken of the northwest community to determine how many people would belong to the parish: at that time there were 250 families.
The Catholic Women’s League was also organized by Father Holland in 1954, with Adele Schwinghamer as President. The League filled a need as a spiritual as well as a social organization in the new parish. With over 200 members, the C.W.L. was also “needed to care for the church, the rectory and the pastor’s clothes and meals. The meal book was devised to remind Father where he was expected for dinner, each day.” The membership was divided into nine groups, with the Captains on the Executive. The small groups would gather every two weeks and the whole community would gather once a month.
During 1954, while Sunday mass was still celebrated at St. Pius X School, a building fund drive was launched and designs were sought for a church building for the new parish.
The church was a Quonset style of building with a bell tower on the front, giving the church a Spanish Adobe type appearance. A small apartment on the north end of the church housed Father Holland.
The first Mass in the new St. Pius X Church was celebrated on Christmas Eve 1955. “The building served two main functions. First it was a church with an altar at the north end; rows of stacking chairs completed the church-like appearance. The church could be converted quickly into a hall by dropping a curtain in front of the altar and removing the chairs and kneelers.
Once the parish had its church/hall built, life settled into a comfortable, but active routine. Perhaps one attribute which distinguished St. Pius X was friendliness. Father Holland always preached, “if you see someone you don’t know, go and introduce yourself and learn his/her name, then, on the following Sunday, introduce that person to one other person or couple.”
“The Provincial Gaol, opened in 1958, was given to Father Holland as a chaplaincy. It was his care to say Mass on Sunday afternoons, to visit weekly at the gaol, becoming acquainted with the men, counselling them, keeping in touch with their families and often assisting them when they were released.
In the meantime, the parish grew rapidly. Several schools were built in the parish including St. Francis High School. The temporary church was seriously over-crowded in spite of a schedule of four masses on Sunday. In 1962, Father Holland unveiled plans for his “roundish church”; construction began in 1963 on a tender of $141,000. with a loan of $90,000.” 2
The new St. Pius X Church (the present church) was blessed by Most Reverend Joseph L. Wilhelm, Auxiliary Bishop of Calgary, on December 22, 1963. The old, temporary church was reduced and became the parish hall.
Following the completion of the church, Father Holland began negotiations to buy a house immediately west of the Parish Hall to serve as a rectory. Before these were completed, he suffered a severe heart attack and died on October 2, 1964.
The Basilians at St. Pius X
After the death of our founding father, Bishop Carroll had no diocesan priest to replace Father Holland. “Bishop Carroll turned to the Basilian fathers to accept St. Pius X Parish with the possibility of chaplaincy and other relationships with the University of Calgary but with the proviso that the parish would first be divided. St. Luke’s Parish was divided from St.Pius X on October 8, 1964.
It was agreed that the assistant priests should be supplied by the Diocese until the Basilians had sufficient personnel. The parish was relieved of the chaplaincy to the Provincial Gaol.” 3
Father Michael Oliver, C.S.B., arrived on November 4, 1964 as administrator. The first Basilian to become University Chaplain was Rev. Edward Sullivan, C.S.B., in 1966. Since Father Oliver, St.Pius X Parish was fortunate to be served, until August 2001, almost 37 years, by priests who continued to forge an alive and active Christian community.
Father Oliver was only a temporary Administrator until Father Curran, C.S.B., arrived in mid-1965. His first challenge – to remodel the sanctuary, in compliance with the decision of the Second Vatican Council to have the altar turned around as the priest would be facing the congregation.
At the same time, Parish Councils were to be established. A committee was set up to study already functioning Councils. “It was decided, to no one’s surprise that none of the Council Constitutions suited the needs of St. Pius. The Committee settled for a set of guidelines which could be modified as needed, but always subject to the parishioners’ approval at each annual meeting! Those initial parish annual meetings were well attended! And very lively!”
Laity became much more involved in church ministries with over 100 lay persons performing liturgical functions. Church music was given new impetus and folk groups sprang up to implement the music of the “senior choir”. A new pipe organ was installed in the upper left balcony. It proved to be a very difficult organ to play. To solve the problem, Parish Council sent Leslie Smith to Toronto to learn the secret of playing this remarkable Walker from Frankfurt, Germany. He was so well trained that he was hired immediately by St. Mary’s Cathedral upon his return to Calgary.” Eventually the organ was moved downstairs, installed behind the altar, and later sold to a Lutheran Church in Pennsylvania.
The Parish Council’s Social Committee revived parish social events on such occasions as New Year’s Eve, St. Patrick’s Day, and Halloween, and the hall was filled for these socials. “In addition, a Bowling League was formed and operated successfully for six years; a Mixed Bridge Club enjoyed weekly gatherings for many years;” and, even a bi-weekly Ukulele Group “made music” during Father Tom McReavy’s tenure, with his involvement.
Throughout these years of change in the parish, the ladies of the C.W.L. added community projects such as catering to their list of involvements. The parish hall and the kitchen were equipped with dishes, cutlery, tables, and table linen from catering projects. In addition to these “paying” catering jobs, the ladies served dinners for deanery meetings and priests’ reception in the hall. They catered a large receptions in St. Mary’s Cathedral on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Confederation in 1967. The C.W.L. also went out to the city community to provide many Christmas dinners to the homeless of the Inner City Drop-in Center, and the mentally handicapped from Advance Industries and V.R.R.I.
The arrival and presence of the University of Calgary campus within the parish boundaries meant that another Catholic Community existed in our midst with needs that were different from our parish needs. In 1964, St. Pius X priests assumed the University Chaplaincy on a part time basis, which became full time in 1966 when the Basilians, with Father Hugh Foley, then FatherTed Sullivan, took over this role until their departure in 2001, except for a period from 1971-78 when the Resurrectionist Fathers took over the chaplaincy.
In 1973, the Diocese mandated that St. Pius X run Catechism classes for all Catholic students attending public school in North West Calgary. This program continued every Saturday during the school until 2012.
In 1979, the Diocese of Calgary and St. Pius Parish determined that more space was needed at St. Pius to adequately accommodate the parish and the U of C Community, so an addition was built to the church. The University Community remains a vital part of our parish and yet a community in its own right.
In 1997, we began purchasing property adjacent to the church. The first property, now our rectory, came by chance, when Mr. Vincent, a neighbor, passed away and his wish was that the parish would buy his property. Thus began our newest expansion journey. Over the next few years we managed to purchase all the properties west of the parish hall to 24th street on 24th avenue.
In August 2001,
the Basilian fathers were moved to
St. Thomas More, Calgary. Thirty-seven (37) years of Basilian parish leadership saw 26 priests serve as Pastor, Associate Pastor, or, U of C Chaplain. The Basilian Fathers are a teaching order so most of the priests who served the parish were teachers, and education was very important in their ministry at St. Pius. Their influence is still apparent in our parish and our parish programs.
The Multicultural Years
(2001 – 2017)
After the departure of the Basilian Fathers in 2001, St. Pius X embarked on what might be described as its multicultural period, blessed with pastors, in succession, from Poland, the Philippines, and, Mexico. In August 2001 Fr. Bogdan Sianozecki was appointed Administrator, then Pastor in 2001. During this time, our Facilities Expansion Committee set out to survey parishioners, parish groups and staff to determine the wishes and needs for the facility expansion.
A plan was put in motion which included a renovated church, more meeting rooms, new offices, more storage space, new hall facilities and a new parking lot. A new Rectory was built on the Vincent property across the street. In May 2009, during Father Silvano Vargas’ tenure, renovations began to the church sanctuary. The renovations to the church required that the sanctuary be vacated over the summer of 2009, so, we moved back to our roots. All masses at St. Pius X were held in the original church, now the Parish Hall. The space was small and intimate. A general sense of closeness developed within the community. Parishioners look upon this period with great fondness.
The first Mass was held in the newly renovated church on September 9, 2009. Bishop Henry presided at this Mass and the dedication of the new Altar and Tabernacle. The new fire alarm was also unexpectedly initiated during the dedication Mass. Since then a new crucifix, stained glass windows, A/V equipment, altar furnishings, and, piano have been added to our beautiful Church; the buildings west of the Parish Hall have been demolished and a temporary parking lot has been set up.
same period, Bishop Henry instituted the Permanent
Diaconate shortly after he became Bishop of Calgary. Deacon Dave Bentham was assigned as Deacon to St. Pius X in September 2004. Deacon Stephen Robinson, a long-time parishioner, joined him at St. Pius after his ordination to the diaconate in June 2008. Deacon Stephen transferred to St. Luke’s parish in 2015, and was ably replaced by Deacon Dan Deck.
In 2012 the houses on the properties acquired by the parish west of the Church Hall were removed and construction of a gravelled parking lot for the Parish on that site was completed. Fr. Luis Moreno Nava presided over the Parish until Fr. Bill Corcoran’s arrival in 2014.
In 2016 the Parish commenced an assessment of its current facilities with a view to determining what facilities will be required moving forward. The Parish has also been in continuing discussions with the City of Calgary on a proposed interchange at Crowchild Trail and 24th Avenue, N.W. and its impact on Parish Church, Hall, and, Parking Lot.
In late 2018 a New Parish Hall Committee was struck to commence a feasibility study with the intention of planning to build a new Parish Hall within five (5) years.
The Parish’s long commitment to the University of Calgary Catholic Community was moved on March 17, 2019 to the St. Francis Xavier Chaplaincy, along with SAIT and MRU students to St. Bernard’s Parish in Parkdale.
This brief synopsis makes it appear that the history of St. Pius X Parish has been buildings, renovations and priests, but that is far from the truth. It reflects the change and growth of the parish but not the “heart”, the remembrance of the “little things” that demonstrate the spirit and faith St. Pius X Parish flourished over the past 62 years. The life of the parish has been the people who made up, and still make up our parish family; those families and individuals who have been, and are, generous with their time and talents, ever friendly, committed, and enthusiastic. “We strive to be a Parish thriving in spirituality, gratitude, service and hospitality”. This continues to be our challenge and battle cry as we move on in our history
1 From the Buffalo to the Cross, M.B. Venini Byrne, pg. 181
2 idem, pg. 182
3 idem, pg. 183
Submitted by: Al Roach May 2017
Updated: June 2019
Acknowledgements: Tedd Jennings, Dawn Gartner, Dave Rowbotham