The St. Joseph's Parish is celebrating it's 100th anniversary this year

The St. Joseph's Parish is celebrating it's 100th anniversary this year

St. Joesph’s Parish turns 100

Church will honour centennial with year long jubilee

The St. Joseph’s Parish is turning 100 this year.

Throughout its tenure, the church has endured, contributing a long and storied history to the town of Smithers.

Parishioner, Eileen Bouvier, who moved to Smithers in 1960 and has been a member of the church ever since, is chairing the 100th anniversary celebrations.

“Time flew by,” Bouvier said. “I’ve seen a lot of changes, from mud streets to paved ones.

The town has grown so much over the past 100 years, so it’s nice to know that the church has always been here.”

More than 50 priests have spent time as head of the church in Smithers, serving thousands of Catholics.

“It was the centre of our social life growing up,” fellow parishioner Meta Bolster said. “It was the big thing in our family, to dress up and go to mass.”

Bolster fondly remembers Father Gordon, who organized community sports, dances, parties and choirs, and not just for the church, but for the whole community.

The current parish Father, Rectorino Tolentino Jr., was scheduled to leave the parish a year ago, but asked to stay on be a part of the centennial celebrations.

The origin of the Catholic church in Smithers traces back to the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, who came from France, through Oregon and Vancouver Island.

The Oblates travelled from trading post to trading post, up the Fraser River, establishing missions in towns along the way.

Father Nabili was the first missionary to reach the Babine Lake area.

In the mid 19th century, he came, travelling by foot, dog sled, canoe and horseback, carrying with him an altar stone that weight upwards of 100 lbs.

After Nabili left, the Bulkley Valley was without a regular priest for 21 years, until Father Godfrey Eichelsbacher, travelled to the area after serving in the Yukon during the gold rush.

The first Catholic church in Smithers was built on four lots purchased by Godfrey in 1913, on the corner of Queen Street and First Ave., where the current  Bulkley Valley Credit Union building stands.

After 50 years of service, the church was demolished in 1969 when the Smithers Fire Department was allowed to burn it down for practice.

The building of the new church and rectory finished in 1967. The cost of the church and the adjacent school totalled $190,000.

Prior to dismantling the old church, the steeple was removed and set up in front of the new public library as part of a Smithers centennial project. Currently, the steeple is being restored by Clare Moisey and will be returned to the church grounds when the work is complete.

The current church was officially dedicated on Oct. 4, 1967, with an estimated 350 people in attendance.

A quote from the Oct. 11, 1967 edition of the Smithers Interior News reads:

“During his sermon, Bishop O’Grady congratulated the congregation in the completion of a beautiful church and commended it to their use as a centre of prayer and a focal point for the practice of their faith.”

Over the new church’s tenure, the St. Joseph’s school has remained.

Remarkably, the church today is virtually unchanged from the one that was built in 1967. In almost 50 years, only two benches have been removed, both for the installation of a new organ.

Throughout the years, the church has fostered a number charitable organizations. The Catholic Women’s League was created in 1957.

They’ve been active in many areas within the community. Local hospital boards, town council, hospital auxiliary, cancer association and Red Cross.

The members have also supported community services such as the Meals on Wheels, food hampers, food banks and the Passage House.

The Catholic Men’s Club began shortly after the women’s league, in 1959.

The Men’s Club has  been responsible for fundraising socials, bingos and communion breakfasts.

As well, the Knights of Columbus began in 1982 as a fundraising arm of the church. Each year, they sell tickets to the annual Knight’s Charity Appeal, donating proceeds to the Bulkley Valley Child Development Centre and the Learning Disabilities Association.

In honour of the centennial, the parish has planned a year-long jubilee, featuring a series of events that will culminate on May 24th with a dinner and social at the St. Joseph’s school gym. Tickets are $40.

For more information, contact Eileen Bouvier at 250-847-3478, or the parish office at 250-847-2012.