Bishop Vital Grandin, OMI, of St. Albert, invited the closest priests from the Polish parish in Winnipeg to serve Strathcona and vicinity. The ﬁrst priest to arrive was Fr. Wojciech Kulaway, on March 18, 1899. He stayed for eleven days, baptizing children and celebrating Mass at local homes. These soon became too small to hold the many people who attended Mass, so it was decided to build a chapel.
Construction began in 1901 and by 1904 the exterior of the church was completed. The building committee decided to dedicate the chapel under the patronage of “Our Lady of Good Counsel”. With the continued growth of the community, a larger church was planned. The cornerstone for the new sanctuary was blessed on September 30, 1917 and the ﬁrst Mass was celebrated on Christmas Day, 1917. On August 15, 1918, almost a thousand people gathered to witness the consecration of the church by Archbishop Emile Legal.
In the years 1945–51 a fund was started to build a new church, the campaign intensifying with the arrival of Fr. Ignatius Lenckowski in 1958. The old building was dismantled in 1959 and the present structure was completed in the fall of 1960.
Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes (Skaro Shrine)
In the fall of 1918, Fr. Antoni Sylla proposed the building of a small grotto. This idea appealed to the pioneer immigrants who were accustomed to wayside chapels in their mother country. Fr. Sylla approached Fr. Philip Ruh (1883–1963), who was then doing missionary work in Eldorena, as he was familiar with the Grotto of Lourdes in France. An Oblate of the Latin Rite and a native of Alsace-Lorraine, Fr. Ruh was allowed to serve Eastern Rite Catholics after he learned to speak Ukrainian.
Fr. Ruh consented to make plans and to construct the grotto, provided the people supplied the materials and labour. A small grotto was intended, but Fr. Ruh would not agree as he envisioned a large monument. “If I build it, it must be big, otherwise, I do not start at all,” were his words. During the winter months each parishioner was asked to bring ten to ﬁfteen loads of rocks and in June 1919 the work began. The Shrine site was soon buzzing with activity, with the entire community, young and old, working together on the project.
People were of the opinion that the undertaking would be ﬁnished in several days, but the rocks quickly ran out and their enthusiasm waned. Fr. Sylla urged the area residents to ﬁnish the grotto and slowly they came back with their plows and fresnos. It took two solid months, 600 loads of rocks and 300 sacks of cement to complete this replica of Lourdes.
On August 14, 1919, pilgrims arrived to offer their special prayers, and at sunset they gathered in procession to celebrate at the Grotto. Pilgrimages at the Shrine continue to this day; they are held each year on the evening of August 14 and during the day on August 15, drawing 3,500 to 4,000 people.
GPS Co-ordinates: 53.89258, -112.77810
Affiliation: Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton