News Local

Church building legacy

By Josh Aldrich, Camrose Canadian

When Rev. Larry Pederson retires, his legacy will live on for the next century in the new St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Camrose. 


On Sunday, the parish celebrated his 50th anniversary of his ordination the last eight of which has been spent in the Camrose pulpit. Much of that time, however, has been spent designing the new church, packed full of elements from the missionary journeys of the man who's name adorns the building. 

Clark Builders opened the doors so the public could get a look at the progress of the $14 million church being constructed on 50th Street. 

The church is set to open on Dec. 1 and Pederson, 74, says he will retire shortly after. 

"It's very exciting for me," he said. "After 50 years of ministerial priesthood, my main contribution was my experience of liturgy and theology – which I taught at Newman Theological College – and to see it put into a practical reality … is really fulfilling to me coming to the end of my priesthood." 

Pederson's first appointement was at St. Joseph's Cathedral in Edmonton, followed by a stop at S. Matthews and before teaching at Newman Theological College. From there he went to Thorsby and missions, returning to Edmonton's St. Michael Ressurrection Parish before going to Holden then Killam and taking part in more missions. After a year off, he returned to his home parish in Camrose in 2010. 

St. Francis Xavier was one of the first seven Jesuit priests went on extensive missions to Goa and India, South East Asia, and Japan. While on his way to China, he died from a fever on the Island of Shangchaun in 1552, 14 kilometres from the mainland. 

When St. Francis Xavier set sail for China, Missionaries had yet to expand into the country. A 2015 study by the Angus Reid Institute forecasted that there could be as many as 220 million in Christians in China by 2050. 

"His dream, in that sense, is coming true," said Pederson. 

St. Francis Xavier's life-long journey is well represented in the church.  

Granite in the baptismal font comes Madagascar, an Island St. Francis Xavier passed by in the Straight of Mozambique; the marble for the alter comes from Namibia in southwestern Africa, an island he passed on his way to his first mission in India; all of the red granite is India ruby red granite. The three stained-glass windows at the front of the nave depict him and some of the historical people he evangelized the Jesuit elements and his final journey to China. 

Even the placement of the towering spire was important to Pederson. Instead of being at the front entrance to the building, it is located at the entrance to the nave, situated over the submersion baptismal font – also dictated by the saint's style of baptizing an estimated 40,000 people. 

"That is the entry to the nave of the church, that is where the spire should be, that's where the baptismal font should be," said Pederson. "The bell is something that is separate from the nave of the church, it is calling people to come in and worship." 

One of the standout features of the build is the placement of a historical bell that has been with the parish since 1912. The bronze bell comes from Le Mans, France, is emblazoned with numerous symbols and elements from the Diocese of St. Albert which the church originally belonged to. Instead of being hidden away in a bell tower, it will hang outside the front entrance, encased in glass so everyone can see it. It will also be visible from the inside through a large circular window. 

Pederson worked closely with architect Sergio Poles HFKS Architects Inc. In Edmonton has helped design several other Catholic churches in the province, including Corpus Christie in Southeast Edmonton, which was completed two years ago and will be similar to St. Francis Xavier. 

Poles said collaborating with a parish for their specific needs is critical to the design of a church. 

"We can build a space, we can make a space that will hold volume, but it's up to Father Larry and his team to make it holy, to make it a sacred space," he said. "The people who have studied liturgy their whole lives, they're the ones we follow when it comes to designing churches to make sure we incorporate all of those sacred ideas into their spaces." 

This project has been in the works for the better part of 20 years, from when initial discussions for a replacement for the current parish first took place. One of the biggest hurdles was securing a suitable plot of land which took a number of years. Construction on the church began May 1, 2017. 

The church will seat 650 people in the nave and an adjacent hall will have a capacity for 400 people while the total building will be 33,000 square feet and the spire will reach 114 feet with the cross pushing it to about 120 feet. When compete, it will be one of the tallest buildings in Camrose. Currently the building is just at the steel studs and drywall stage, though it is completely closed in.  

Project superintendent Eric Nickerson of Clark Builders has a special connection to the project. He grew up in the area and his wife's family being members of the congregation. Though he lives in Ponoka, his parents live in Camrose, making it that much more meaningful to be a part of a building that will be here for 100 years or more. 

"I'm very proud to be a part of that," he said, "A lot of the commercial buildings we do are around for 20 or 30 years, they change, they renovate, this building the way they planned it, they won't have to do anything for 50 years. It is set up for a long time." 


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