Almost a goner!
By Lenore Swystun 2014
REDBERRY LAKE - Amidst the beautiful landscape of rolling agricultural fields and Redberry Lake, an area 80 km northwest of Saskatoon, stands an historic landmark and church (seen from miles around) known locally simply as the "Polish Church."
This modest church is located within a National Bird Sanctuary and an area recognized as an international Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations Education, Science, and Culture Organisation (UNESCO). This past summer, it was almost a goner!
The Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church, located within the Rural Municipality of Redberry (NW22-42-8 W3M), was built in 1909 by eastern European settlers, including members of my paternal family who were of Polish descent – primarily from the Buzikewich (Buzik) maternal familv side.
During my years growing up as a farm girl in the area, I recall attending services both at the Polish Church and at the Holy Ghost Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.
In the 1990s, the Polish Church was decommissioned for the most part as an active Parish. And, as memory serves, much of its contents were sadly dispersed in the early 2000s.
I have listened to many stories about the Polish Church shared by my late father, neighbours, and my mom –whom, when younger, would often make the two-lkilomter walk from our home up the hill for services with her mother-in-law (my Baba who was a Buzikewich).
I recall, for an assignment as an undergraduate student at the University of Saskatchewan, I interviewed my late uncle John Bupik, who shared with me his passion for the church and the role it played in helping to develop our community.
I recall uncle John sharing his pride in contributing religious paintings he did that were featured in the church. Though these paintings are no longer in the church, I can only hope they are serving another Parish well with recognition of their origin.
This past May, 2O14, the Prince Albert Roman Catholic Diocese, assuming that there would be no objections since the Parish had dissolved so many years earlier, and had no formal local stewardship in place, sent a couple of its administration to take out the remaining pews and the chandelier.
Worried about liability for a structure that was starting to show drastic wear and tear (the roof had begun to cave in), the Diocese was preparing for a bulldozer to come in and knock the church down. By chance, and perhaps divine intervention, a nephew driving by with members of his and his dad's farm crew saw the men at the Church.
They were taken aback upon hearing from the men that the Church may be under threat. In what can only be shared as a heated, passionate exchange of words between my nephew and the two men present, this passionate exchange has since led to a series of positive exchanges and a happy re-beginning for the Polish Church.
Through correspondence with the Bishop and his administration at the Prince Albert Diocese, a meeting was held in June on site.
My two eldest brothers and mother were in attendance. Upon seeing the commitment of our family to do the work needed to keep the Church standing the Bishop agreed to let us do the work.
In exchange they would bring back the pews and the chandelier and a transfer of agreement would be developed to ensure we continue the stewardship of the Polish Church in perpetuity as an historic landmark and as a place of spiritual and community gathering.
Three important things aligned for this to happen.
First, the random (or not so random) chance meeting and exchange between our family and members of the Diocese (demolition does not take long!).
Second, the openness of the Diocese to seeing that, while no local Parish remains due to a limited amount of people living in the area, there still remained local community members committed to seeing the landmark remain.
And third, if not for the resources and skill of an eldest brother Rodney, who was able to quickly mobilize his farm crew of more than half a dozen people to rebuild the roof, fortify the structure and repair and paint the exterior- weII, the Polish Church most likely would have been a goner!
Instead, we have been in correspondence with the Diocese who is preparing to return the chandelier and pews in October.
There were lessons learned on everyone's part in this story - For us, not to take our heritage for granted, and for the Diocese, not to assume that no one cares!
Fortunately, open hearts and minds, a spirit of cooperation, and a Iittle bit of good old-fashioned elbow grease resulted in a happy ending for this local historic landmark.
A Trust is being formed and all donations will be happily accepted to continue with this legacy. You may contact for more information about how to be involved.
Lenore Swystun is a proud farm kid at heart with a passion for heritage throughout Saskatchewan and beyond. She is President of Prairie Wild Consulting, community planning and social research consulting, of Saskatoon. http://www.prairiewildconsulting.ca/.