A Great Cloud of Witnesses

On June 10, 2009, I published a post about our first weekly saint, St. Columba.  Since then, the list has grown considerably.  Most of them get the big ST, but not all.  The principle has been the examination of the lives and teachings of those who have gone before us.  Not all Christians of interest get the big ST.

We have looked at ancient, mediaeval, and post-mediaeval (‘modern’) Christians.  We have looked at Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Protestants, and one Ethiopian Orthodox.  Apostolic men stand alongside poets who shake hands with mystics and martyrs.  All of these people have lived lives for Christ, and I hope that all of them can help bring us nearer to Christ by their example and teaching.

My selection has sometimes been from the Church Calendar.  Sometimes it has started there, as with Edmund James Peck (see in the list) and then extended by association; following Peck I wrote about other missionaries to the Arctic.  Sometimes they are chosen because I am reading about them or studying their work.

Often, if you have been following these weekly saints, you will have noticed that I give a brief biography of the saint, but not always.  Sometimes I offer a meditation on some aspect of the saint’s life and teaching.  Sometimes I ponder how best we might be able to honour or learn from a particular saint.  I hope these have been a blessing and will continue to bless!  Enjoy!

There are no women.  This is too bad.  I should fix this.  I meant to St. Margaret, Queen of Scotland, when her feast rolled on by, but posted about no saint that week.  She and others shall make their way into the saints for 2011.  Here are the Weekly Saints thus far:

St. Joseph the Carpenter

Pope St. Leo the Great (here & here)

St. John of the Cross

St. Ambrose of Milan

St. Andrew the Apostle

St. Albert Lacombe

St. John the Baptist

St. Thomas the Apostle

St. Matthias the Apostle

St. Boniface

St. Augustine of Canterbury

St. Anthony of Padua

Emperor Constantine the Great

St. Athanasius

Dante Alighieri

St. George the Dragonslayer

George MacDonald

Thomas Cranmer

St. Cuthbert

St. Gregory of Nyssa

John Wesley (here & here)

St. Polycarp of Smyrna

St. Valentine

St. Antony the Great

St. Jean de Brebeuf

St. Francis of Assisi

Hans Egede

St. Juvenaly of Alaska

Edmund James Peck

St. John of Damascus

Abba Giyorgis Saglawi

St. Bernard of Clairvaux

St. Maximilian Kolbe

CS Lewis

St. Alban the Martyr

Sts. Peter and Paul

St. Basil the Great

St. Columba

Saint of the Week: Albert Lacombe

Since I spent June 28 – July 10 in Alberta, I feel that it is only fitting for the first weekly saint since my return to be Albertan.

Technically, though, Albert Lacombe (1827-1916) was not Albertan but Quebecois.  However, in 1827, the only people being born in what was to become Alberta were Metis or First Nations.  Lacombe was educated at the College de l’Assomption and the bishop’s palace in Montreal.  During his studies, he learned about the need for western missionaries from George-Antoine Bellecourt who was visiting from the Red River mission.  In 1849 he went West for the first time.

1851-1852 saw him engaged in parish ministry, but his heart was in the West with the First Nations and Metis peoples.  Thus, 1852 saw return to Rupert’s Land, and 1855 was the year of his novitiate in the Oblate Order.  From 1853 to 1860 he was using Lac Ste-Anne as a hub for missions, visiting Jasper House, Fort Edmonton, Lac la Biche, Lesser Slave Lake, and Fort Dunvegan.  In 1861, Bishop Tache moved Lacombe to a new location just north of Fort Edmonton, a place he named St. Albert in honour of Lacombe’s patron saint.

In 1865, Lacombe requested to be relieved of his duties so he could begin an itinerant mission among the Cree and the Blackfoot.  During this period of mission, he established Saint-Paul-des-Cris which was the first Roman Catholic mission amongst the native peoples of Alberta.  He encountered many dangers during this itinerant ministry, as one can expect, given not only the climate and wildlife but also the epidemics that were moving across the West at the time.  On one occasion, he was almost killed by disease.

In 1869, he learned the Blackfoot language during a three week stay at a Blackfoot settlement near Rocky Mountain House (my hometown!).  This would also have been the year that the Dominion of Canada purchased Rupert’s Land from the Hudson’s Bay Company.  In 1871, he was part of the North-West Territories’ health committee to deal with the smallpox epidemic.  This began many years of Lacombe engaging in various different public roles.  He spent time in the St. Boniface area (the original Canadien settlement at Winnipeg) involved with schemes to encourage French settlement of the West.  He went at least twice to the General Chapter of the Oblates in Europe.  He lobbied for the rights of French Canadians involved in the Red River uprising.

He was blessed with a return to his Indian missions in 1882.  He was in active ministry until 1890, when he tried to retire as a hermit in Pincher Creek.  However, since he had spent the better part of a decade trying to help native Canadians understand the desires of white Canadians and vice versa, including bringing the petitions of Chief Crowfoot to the Canadian Pacific Railway, he was not to be left alone.

In 1894, he found himself in St. Boniface again, this time representing the rights of the French Canadians, seeking to restore the educational privileges recently removed.  This task involved him with politicians in Ottawa and lasted until 1896.  This sort of endless moving about was the sort of thing he was to spend the rest of his life doing.  He did a lot, seeking to bring people of differing perspectives together so that a fair solution to a problem could be found, whether the problem was between Cree and Blackfoot, or First Nations and white Canadians, or English and French Canadians, or Eastern and Western Rite Catholics.

He was also involved in the study of native languages such as Cree, Blackfoot, Blood, Peigan, Ojibwa — especially Cree, for which he worked on a Cree New Testament and various Cree hymns.  Although a man of his time in many ways, his desire to see the Gospel proclaimed among the nations as well as to bring reconciliation amongst different peoples is a beacon of light in a history often very dark and gloomy.