ST. DONATUS, Sask. — Parishioners past and present gathered June 20 for a 100th anniversary celebration at St. Donatus Parish, located under a vast prairie sky south of Macklin, Sask.
“Generations of families, friendships and prayer” were remembered and celebrated during the centennial, held to mark the construction of the church building in 1915 in the earliest days of the St. Donatus settlement.
Rev. Ron Rolheiser, OMI, and Rev. Wendelin Rolheiser, OMI, were among those who returned home for the celebration, joining Bishop Donald Bolen of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon, and pastor Rev. Agustine Ebido in the celebration of the eucharist, followed by a banquet in the nearby parish hall.
In his homily, Ron Rolheiser reflected on the deep prairie roots of those who have lived, worked and worshiped in the St. Donatus community.
“We are here to re-enkindle something that was given to us by this unique little parish,” said Rolheiser. Even the name of the church is unusual, he noted. St. Donatus was a second-century Roman soldier and martyr, who is a patron against lightening strikes and for good growing weather — appropriate for a farming community at the mercy of the prairie elements.
“The parish is first of all about community, about families,” Rolheiser said, reciting a litany of parish family names and their geography, located on farms surrounding the hub of the prairie church.
“This is a privileged occasion to try and touch those roots and to drink from those roots,” he said, listing such gifts as faith, community, an “ethic of work, humility and sacrifice,” and “souls that are partly shaped by prairie geography.”
“Those who grew up in this community caught the faith,” he said, recalling his own childhood. “We caught it here, we caught it at our family tables at home. We have faith because of this little place and what it did for us.”
Growing up in St. Donatus, “we inhaled the value of family and community of being together, and this church has been the centre of that — but it hasn’t always been easy,” said Rolheiser, cautioning against romanticizing the past and noting the complexities, the temptations, heartbreaks, the sad deaths, the breakdowns and the break-ups that are always part of community life.
“There are no simple farm folk. There are no simple places,” he said. “But the centre always held.”
Rolheiser reflected on how the prairie landscape has shaped the souls of those raised in the community. “We are also formed by the prairies — the barren hills here, the wind storms, the drought, the winter blizzards, the rain, the country roads, the desolate telephone poles, the colour of harvest.”
This is a landscape that breeds qualities such as practicality, earthiness, and toughness. “But more deeply, the prairie has given us a unique capacity to carry loneliness,” said Rolheiser. “It gives us a certain capacity to handle solitude that many people today just haven’t got.”
The prairie landscape also breeds a certain sense of humility and self-effacement.
“When you grow up in St. Donatus, you know you are not the centre of the planet, and that’s a really, healthy thing to know,” Rolheiser observed.
A banquet followed, with a program that included sharing stories, anecdotes and history from 100 years of parish life.