Father Jim to Stay at Sacred Heart
Changes to parish scrapped by Oblates after the congregation protests.
Changes intended for Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples that would have eliminated Father James Holland have been scrapped, thanks to the vocal protests of the congregation.
Father James L. Holland, OMI, is better known to the community as Fr. Jim. As the priest of Sacred Heart for 20 years, Fr. Jim has presided over hundreds of weddings, baptisms, and funerals. To many in the community, Fr. Jim, 72, is more than the priest at Sacred Heart. He has a long history of community involvement, sitting on many boards for area organizations. The church is often used as a venue for activities and events relating to social justice.
However, Fr. Jim was informed in April by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate that Sacred Heart was chosen to become a missionary centre with four or five priests – not including him.
Fr. Jim was first offered a position with a church in an isolated community in northern Saskatchewan, which he refused. He was then offered a position in Victoria, but also was not interested. He intended on going on a sabbatical in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico for six months to a year.
When the congregation at Sacred Heart found out, an online petition was started asking to keep Fr. Jim at Sacred Heart. Marlene Poitras, a member of Sacred Heart, started the petition.
“I was promoting it on Facebook as well as Twitter and it garnered over 2600 signatures from places as far away as Portugal, Africa, and the Northwest Territories,” she says. The story was also picked up by several major media outlets in Edmonton, after the petition became publicized.
Many people in the community expressed concern in particular over the future of Sacred Heart as an Aboriginal church. To address these concerns, Father Ken Forster, OMI, the Principal of the Oblates in Canada, attended a service on May 10 to speak to the people – a meeting which, according to several sources, was quite tense.
In the end, the voices of the congregation prevailed. The following week, on May 17, a representative of the Oblates read a letter to the congregation in all of the services from Fr. Forster.
“Even though the intention of the Oblate Administration was to make an even greater commitment of personnel to Sacred Heart and the wider McCauley neighbourhood, we did fail to include you in decisions that will affect your life and community. I apologize for that and for the pain that has surfaced as a result,” Fr. Forster said in the letter.
“And so I want to share with you the decision of the Oblates that Fr. Jim will continue in the role of pastor of Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples. Also, know that any future planning by the Oblates regarding Sacred Heart will be done in partnership with you, the people of the parish,” the letter continued.
“The energy was electrifying because everyone was so happy,” says Poitras, who is active in the church’s choir.
Fr. Jim believes that the voices of his Aboriginal congregants in particular had a major bearing on the outcome of this situation. “The First Nations realized they can speak and if they come together as a team it can work. The church or the government comes in and says, ‘this is what you need,’ and that was what was coming across, and they said no. I think that’s a good thing. Power to the people.”