St Mary’s Parish, Nisku
Gradually organizing themselves in a new land, the early settlers were disheartened at missing the church services and feast days which they fervently practiced in the Old Country. Also, there was the question of securing cemeteries to bury their dead in a common location, because other churches would not accept burial of Uniate or Russian Orthodox in their cemeteries. On June 29, 1898, the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, Rev. Pavlo Tymkiewicz of the Greek Catholic Rite, consecrated a two acre parcel of land on NE 20-50-25-W of 4 as a cemetery to be used by the Slavic community. This was the beginning of the parish that still exists on that location today.
In the month of January, 1900, local community families resolved to begin the task of building a church. A sum of 100 dollars was raised and construction was to begin on March 26, 1900. The name of the new temple was to be consecrated to honour the Nativity of the Most Holy Mother of God. On December 18, 1900, the newly constructed temple was consecrated by Rev. Ivan Zacklynski.
Several pioneers who arrived in the Rabbit Hill area in 1896-1897 realized that they were under no obligation to belong to the Greek Catholic Rite (Uniate Church) as when under the Polish and Austrian authority., and began to follow the faith of their forefathers, the Greek Orthodox Church. The Rabbit Hill area was first visited by Russian Orthodox missionaries, Fr. Dimitri Kamnev, and deacon V. Alexandrov from Seattle, on June 19, 1897, and a Divine Liturgy was celebrated in the home of Theodore Fuhr. Mr. Theodore Fuhr, being a fervent believer of the Orthodox faith, donated land to build an Orthodox church. It was erected in 1902, and named after the feast of the Holy Ascension.
In 1904, Bishop Tikhon of the Aleutians and North America (later becoming the Patriarch of Moscow and all Russ in 1917) visited the Rabbit Hill area and held services at Holy Ascension Church. Bishop Tikhon awarded Theodore Fuhr with a “Grammota”, dated August 12, 1904, honouring him in his work with the Holy Ascension Parish.
By the end of the first decade in the new century, many families from the Greek Catholic Parish of St. Mary’s wished to unify with the Orthodox congregation of Holy Ascension. With the spirit of Orthodoxy growing in strength, the union of the two parishes took place under conditions that St. Mary’s Church and future services were to be held there as St. Mary’s Church was the larger parish. The day of unification, in 1910, was a very solemn and highly emotional event.
St. Mary’s Russian Greek Orthodox Church was registered with the Russian Orthodox Diocese of America on August 2, 1917.
At the Annual meeting of St. Mary’s congregation, held in January 1964, it was decided, after much discussion and deliberation, to build a new church.
On May 23, 1965 the site for the new church was chosen and blessed by Rev. John Margitich. Immediately, the excavation progressed rapidly. The Cornerstone of the new church was dedicated and blessed on August 22, 1965.
In the amazingly short time of seven months, the new church was completed with the installation and complete renovation of the Iconostasis from the old church. On December 5, 1965 the first Divine Liturgy was celebrated in the new church by Rev. Constantine Stakhovsky, pastor of the parish, and Rev. John Margitich of St. Barbara Cathedral. The happy, proud and faithful Orthodox parishioners from hear and far, who came to witness the celebration of this first Divine Liturgy. The new church was crowded with approximately 300 people that day.
Early in 1966, the late John Sidjak of Edmonton constructed the ‘Altar’ and the ’Table of Obligation’ for St. Mary’s Church.
On June 19, 1966 the newly-constructed St. Mary’s Russian Orthodox Church was consecrated in a traditional and glorious service by His Eminence Archbishop Panteleimon of the Patriarchal Orthodox Church of Edmonton and Canada, assisted by the resident priest, Very Reverend Constantine Stakhowsky and other diocese clergy.
In 1981 a new bell tower was erected and officially blessed by His Grace Bishop Iriney on June 13, 1982 when Orthodox Day was held at St. Mary’s.
In June 1985, St. Mary’s observed her 75th Anniversary as a Russian Orthodox parish in Canada and to commemorate this celebration, a church history book, “ECHOES OF FAITH” has been published.
Today, in 2004, the parishioners of St. Mary’s are very involved in church activities. They celebrate Liturgies twice a month and on a number of church feast days, using both the traditional Church Slavonic and English language. The resident priest is Rev. Igor Kisil. The parish has an active choir directed by Mrs. Lavia Borys and a very diligent Sisterhood headed by Mrs. Mary Nazarenko.