An early retirement from Director of Communications at the University of Regina June 30, 1997, was staring at me. Now what? I’m not the type to spend my days playing golf (which I’m not good at anyway), or playing hockey in winter (see above reference to skill level), or looking for things to do around the house (same reference to skill level), but I can write reasonably well. I did spend most of my working life in the broadcast news arena as news reader, reporter and then news executive, so maybe someone could make use of that experience.
I had heard that the Regina archdiocese was looking for someone to write for the Prairie Messenger, so I approached Sister Roberta Morrissey, archdiocesan director of Pastoral Services, who, to my shame, I did not recognize as she reminded me of her time as assistant Wolf Cub teacher at St. Joseph Elementary School, which I attended.
Indeed, the archdiocese was looking for a journalist and it was a half-time position with an office in the Chancery building. A half-time position that involved and coming in to the office held no appeal, so I countered with an offer of two stories a week, on average, as a freelance writer, whether it took two hours or the entire week to produce. Sister Roberta said yes. We came to an agreement, and Aug. 1, 1997, began a 20-year odyssey that took me to parishes and events throughout the archdiocese.
I don’t remember the first article I wrote for the PM, but I do remember how thrilling it was to open the pages of that first paper and see my words in print. This wasn’t the first time I had seen my work in print, of course, but somehow I experienced this time as something special. And it has been.
I saw the exquisite joy of Archdiocesan Chancellor James Owolagba at his ordination to the priesthood. There were many others whose journeys I witnessed, from seminarian through acceptance to transitional diaconate and priestly ordination. I was there too, when Joe Lang and Bob Williston were so pumped after their ordination to the permanent diaconate that I thought they might levitate and float a couple of laps around the interior of Holy Rosary Cathedral.
Seven shrines in honour of Our Lady are listed in the archdiocese directory and another, unlisted, just off Highway 13 west of Weyburn, and all of them built with volunteer labour of people of faith, and almost all of them built by the pioneers of the area. And who knew that nestled in a wooded grove near Lemberg is a grotto devoted to Divine Mercy? I enjoyed bringing those stories to readers.
Representing the Prairie Messenger, I was at Rama May 15, 2012, when the bronze statue of pro-life St. Gianna Beretta Molla was unveiled. She was a pediatrician and knew the risk to her own life, but ordered the doctors to save her unborn daughter rather than her own. That daughter, Gianna Manuela, now in her 50s, has promised the Rama community she will try to visit in 2019. (Rama was special for me as early in my life it was the destination of my first charter flight as a commercial pilot. I had never been back until this unveiling.)
I have been present at countless CWL annual meetings, K of C conventions, as well as annual gatherings and retreats of diocesan priests, and arrivals and departures of foreign-born priests. Some of the significant happenings in the diocese that I have witnessed and recorded include: the arrival of Myriam Family of the Prairies; the ministry of the Madonna House Apostolate, which operates the Marian Centre soup kitchen; the establishment of Visitation House as a drop-in centre for women in Regina. There was sadness too in funerals and church closures as life and living changed over those 20 years.
I followed the late Archbishop Daniel Bohan as he travelled tirelessly celebrating the Regina Archdiocese Centennial in parishes large and small. I experienced the faith of the early settlers in the churches and shrines they built, usually as the first order of business as communities were established and began to grow. I am thinking of Kaposvar, a Hungarian settlement whose stone church was built sitting on a hill south of Esterhazy, and enjoys a vista of sky and land where you can almost see the curvature of the earth. Gravelbourg is grounded by its beautiful co-cathedral and Ponteix, further west, has a magnificent twin-spired brick church nestled in a shallow valley with Our Lady of Auvergne poised above a huge pedestal watching over the community from a low-rise hill.
I would be remiss if I didn’t include St. Peter’s Colony celebration of the 100th anniversary of the first pilgrimage to the shrine of our Lady of Lourdes Aug. 12 and 13 of 2017. Archbishop Olivier Mathieu celebrated the inaugural mass and Archbishop Donald Bolen celebrated the centennial mass at the grotto on that Sunday. The mass was preceded with a smudging ceremony and an honour song performed by a group from the Kawacatoose First Nation. In his homily Archbishop Bolen said God was speaking to all the people who came to this area and built this grotto, and his great grandparents were among the people who immigrated there in 1891.
For me, being there at the Colony brought back many memories of my childhood visiting the colony, and the famous grotto, with my parents and playing with my older sister’s children, who lived in Kronau, just down the road from the grotto.
On Nov. 22, 2017, Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi was here in Regina to invest Archbishop Donald Bolen with the pallium to officially denote his position as Archbishop and Metropolitan of Saskatchewan. I was there for the Prairie Messenger and I remembered Donald Bolen at Campion College before he went to Rome, and now I was here, witnessing him receiving this visible symbol.
More recently, in January of this year, I was present when the Relic of St. Francis Xavier tour stopped at Campion College at the University of Regina, and another at Resurrection Parish in Regina. I was in the queue to pass by the relic with hundreds of the faithful and curious, and was not allowed to take a close-up photo because it would cause a delay in streaming the people through. A tremendous disappointment.
All of this and much more I have witnessed and all appeared in the Prairie Messenger. It reminds me of that Johnny Cash song, “I’ve been everywhere, man . . . ”
I see the experiences I have received through journalling for the Prairie Messenger as another example of God’s continuing influence in the direction he has shown in my life. I became much more familiar with my own faith as well as opening the eyes of our Prairie Messenger readers to the important role our faith played and continues to play in the spiritual growth of southern Saskatchewan.
Frank Flegel has been archdiocesan reporter for the Archdiocese of Regina since 1997.