By Andrew Ehrkamp
News Editor

Father Jim Holland, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, is being commended by the Archbishop of Edmonton for his leadership of the city’s First Nations-focused church even as parishioners plan to protest his scheduled reassignment.

“In a sense for me, that’s a great sign because it shows that Father Jim has been doing exceptionally good work. People have loved him. He’s reached out to the First Nations communities,” Archbishop Richard Smith told reporters on Monday (May 29) at his annual media breakfast.

“But like with any other parish, priests move and they move on. Any parish is always bigger than the pastor.”

Holland’s religious order, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, has assigned two priests to the parish. Rev. Susai Jesu, a fluent Cree speaker who has served in First Nations communities in Saskatchewan, will be the new pastor. He will be assisted by Rev. Thomas Kurudeepan, who has served with the Mi’kmaq people in Nova Scotia for 20 years. Both have been appointed to three-year terms, starting July 2.

Holland, 74, who has served Sacred Heart Parish for 22 years, has been offered a year’s sabbatical by the Oblates.

The Oblates first announced the change at Sacred Heart in 2015, but delayed implementing it after parishioners asked for more consultation.

Some parishioners are drafting a petition to the Oblates to keep him as pastor and a protest has been organized for June 3 in front of the church. Nevertheless, Holland plans to leave.
Archbishop Smith said he understands Sacred Heart parishioners’ concerns.

“It’s no surprise to an archbishop that when you have a priest who’s competent and good and well beloved like Father Jim has been, parishioners are going to get upset. That happens quite a bit.”

The Oblates have said the timing is right to ensure the long-term stability of the parish.

And Archbishop Smith said he agrees.

“So for the good of the parish, we would also say for the good of Father Jim, this is the right time for the move. And that makes sense to me because I want the Church to continue to be able to walk with the First Nations peoples in the parish for a long time,” Smith said.

“We do this with profound gratitude to Father Jim. He’s done great, great work there and the people love him and we’re very appreciative.”

Smith noted that the normal mandate for parish priests is six to eight years, which has already been exceeded. “So they have already been extraordinarily blessed by having him there 22 years.”