In the 1800’s a large Catholic population settled in and around Yorkton. For many years, the Oblate Fathers served this area as missionaries. Travel by buggy, horseback or by sleigh, often during dangerous weather conditions, was difficult on trails or very poor roads.
In 1903, the Oblates requested the Belgian Redemptorists from Brandon to take over duties on a permanent basis. Fathers Delaere, Godt, Borgonie and Brother Cyril arrived on July 19, 1903. They purchased a house for a rectory and began 87 years of pastoral work here. The first Mass was celebrated on December 6, 1903 for 100 parishioners.
The Rectory soon became inadequate, and the following year the clergy and volunteer help constructed a three story building. It contained a chapel that served as a church for the next 6 years. It was the first rectory in the Assiniboine District of the Northwest Territories. Yorkton, staffed with 5 priests and 3 religious brothers, became the centre serving ten outlying missions.
On December 11, 1904 Archbishop L.P.A. Langevin of the St. Boniface Diocese dedicated the chapel and St. Gerard Parish was born. Of great historical interest, Pope Pius X proclaimed Gerard Majella a Saint, just a few hours before the dedication.
St. Gerard’s population increased. In 1909 a new church, seating 250, was built for a cost of $20,000. This addition was attached to the existing chapel. The building was in the shape of a cross with 4 nearly-equal arms. The dimensions were 70 feet x 50 feet and 85 feet from the basement to the top of the cross on the steeple. It contained a sacristy, a large sanctuary, a long communion rail, two confessionals and a choir loft. The basement was multi-purpose and served as the meeting place with a very basic kitchen. The parish now had 17 registered families.
Over the years, the Fathers served 49 out-missions by travelling on rugged and often hazardous road conditions. By 1951 the area totalled 10,000 square miles. As the years progressed the number of missions decreased. In 1971 most of the mission churches were closed due to a declining rural population and a shortage of priests. The last to close were at Theodore and the Canadian Armed Forces Base in Orcadia.
A New Church
The rectory housed the parish offices and the large chapel, where weekday Masses were celebrated. The chapel also accommodated the overflow crowd at Sunday masses. It became evident that extensive renovations to the church as both buildings were deemed to be “fire traps” by the city engineer. The church was very expensive to heat because of the high ceiling. By this time the parish family had grown to 502 families and 60 singles.
A building fund, established in 1952, reached nearly $160,000 by December 31, 1967. A general assembly meeting on February 3, 1972 approved plans for a new church with a seating capacity (including the overflow) of 525. The office would be located in the northwest corner. A full basement would be developed later.
On May 24, 1972 the last Mass (in Latin) was celebrated in the old church. Subsequently, both the church and the rectory were demolished. The beautiful stained glass windows, bell, cross from the steeple, and statues were preserved. The Stations of the Cross grace the walls of the present church.
The first Mass in the new church was celebrated February 4, 1973. On May 27, 1973 the new church was officially dedicated and blessed by Archbishop M.C. O’Neill of Regina.
Demolition, construction costs and new furnishings totalled $304,736. Thanks to several donations and successful fundraising, the debt was paid off in June 1975.
The lower level was developed, containing a library; kitchenette; meeting rooms for the Knights of Columbus, CWL and Senior Citizens group; carpenter workshop; storage rooms; coat room; washrooms; children’s centre; and an open area for meetings and gatherings.
The Redemptorist Fathers left St. Gerard Parish in August 1990 due to the declining number and age of the clergy. 73 priests and 11 religious brothers had faithfully served the parish and the outlying missions for 87 years.
Since that time St. Gerard Parish has been served by diocesan priests of the Archdiocese of Regina.
The Parish Hall
From 1910 to 1950, the basement of the old church was used for social activities. The Men’s Club, Young Men’s and Young Ladies’ Sodality, the Amicus, and the Altar Society laboured long and hard in very primitive conditions to cater suppers and the annual parish bazaar. Recognizing the urgent need for a hall, a building committee spent 45 months fund-raising.
Construction began in June 1955. With some hired help and many hours of volunteer labour, the hall was built at a cost of $60,000. Mayor M.C. Novak, M.D. officially opened the building July 1, 1956. The main auditorium was 50 feet by 82 feet. Other features included a furnace room, cloakroom, kitchen, meeting room, washrooms and a foyer.
Mass was celebrated in the hall when the church exceeded capacity at Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. During the construction of the new church mass was celebrated in the hall.
A study completed in 1991 indicated that repairs and upgrades to the hall was not financially feasible. This, in addition to the shortage of office space and meeting rooms, prompted the Building Committee to look into the planning of a new facility. After a successful fund-raising drive, a delegation met with Archbishop Halpin to present the plans and receive permission to obtain the loans necessary for the project.
The last function in the “old hall” was the Parish Christmas Party on December 17, 1995. After serving the parish well for over 40 years, the building was demolished. This site is now the north parking lot.
The Parish Complex
Construction on the new Parish Complex began in May 1995 and was completed in 1996. The facility includes the church, hall with commercial kitchen, offices, board room and meeting rooms. The new building measures 90 feet by 293 feet. The renovated church has a seating capacity of 850, an enlarged sacristy, family room, and a spacious welcome area in addition to a Reconciliation Room converted from a confessional. The new facility was built at a cost of $1,703,449.