Members of the city's oldest Catholic parish are in the midst of celebrating 125 years since its founding.
The parish was established in 1887, when the original Sacred Heart Church was built near the site of the Battle Street cenotaph. It was the same year that St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church was built down the hill on Seymour Street.
"It's almost inconceivable how things have changed in Kamloops since 1887," said Kathy Dahl, president of the local Catholic Women's League.
Dahl has assembled some of the parish history to accompany celebrations that continue this month.
Catholicism was probably the first Christian faith to be practiced in the area, brought here by the Oblate of Mary Immaculate missionaries in the 1840s. Mission Flats are named after St. Louis Mission, established along the Thompson River in 1845. Since most of the early priests hailed from France, the earliest records of Sacred Heart Parish are written in French.
When the Sisters of St. Ann arrived in 1880, they opened St. Louis School at the mission. With more Catholics arriving, bolstered by Irish immigration and construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway, the need for a church became apparent.
The first service in the wooden church was celebrated by Father Jean Marie LeJeune, a well-loved Oblate missionary who served as rector of the mission at the time.
A Montreal bishop gave a large donation on the condition that the church would be named Sacred Heart (the Convent of the Sacred Heart was founded in that city in 1860). In Roman Catholic tradition, the sacred heart is associated with acts of reparation to Jesus Christ.
It took until 1910 to pay off the debt on that first church, which lasted only another nine years.
"It burned down in 1919, which those little old wooden churches were apt to do," Dahl said. "Mass was going on and smoke started to come out of the vents. It was probably the wood heating that started it."
No one was hurt but only a few vestments were saved from destruction. Services were held at nearby St. Ann's Academy in its original location.
It took another few years to raise funds for the present church, built at the corner of Third and Nicola in 1925. The project was spearheaded by Father Ambrose Madden, who was known as the soldier priest. He was a decorated veteran of both world wars.
The church is distinguished by a Romanesque style and its altar, built of carrara marble shipped from Italy.
In 1945, when the Kamloops Diocese was created, the church was designated a cathedral and acquired a bishop as the seat of the diocese. Bishop Edward Quentin Jennings was named the first Bishop of Kamloops in 1946.
Bishop David Monroe and Father Derrick Cameron now serve the needs of the cathedral.
A mass and multicultural dinner marked the anniversary earlier this fall. On Tuesday, the Catholic Women's League held a gathering at Kamloops Museum. Then, on Dec. 15-16, the parish holds Saturday and Sunday masses celebrating the occasion.
More than 400 families - about 1,200 worshippers in all - belong to the church.
"Hopefully, everybody will get some opportunity to have some feeling for those 125 years."
The anniversary coincides with 200 years of European contact with the Secwepemc as well as the year of canonization of St. Kateri Tekakwita, the first North American native saint, Dahl noted.
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