The remains of three giants in the Catholic history of Western Canada have been laid to rest in new graves at St. Albert Cemetery.

Bishop Vital Justin Grandin, Father Albert Lacombe, and Father Hippolyte Leduc were members of the Oblate Missionaries of Mary Immaculate, a France-based order of priests who came west to serve the First Nations and Métis people and the European settlers who followed. The original mission at St. Albert was founded in 1861 by Father Lacombe, and the Oblate Fathers have served the parish ever since.  

For more than 100 years, the remains of Grandin, Lacombe, and Leduc had been interred in the crypt beneath St. Albert Church, site of the original St. Albert Cathedral on historic Mission Hill. Although burial crypts are common in European churches, they are relatively rare in Western Canada.

The crypt was part of popular historic tours of Mission Hill every summer, but it has never been accessible to wheelchair users or those with limited mobility. Over the years, the walls have deteriorated due to moisture seepage and lack of air circulation, but repairs would be costly – and involve moving the caskets. It was decided therefore to transfer the remains to the nearby St. Albert Cemetery, which has a section reserved for the Oblates.

The graves of Fathers Leduc and Lacombe were relocated on May 8. Because Bishop Grandin had been nominated for public recognition as a saint, his remains required special examination and handling, so they were reinterred on May 27. The last of the three markers was installed July 26.

The new graves are situated next to a road through the cemetery, will allow easier access for disabled people and all those who come to visit and pray at the historic heart of Catholicism in Alberta.

Grandin was appointed in 1871 as the first Bishop of the newly created Diocese of St. Albert, which at the time covered large parts of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and the Northwest Territories. Although he suffered from numerous health problems, he was known for travelling thousands of kilometres on missionary trips throughout the vast region, often living side by side with the Indigenous peoples in harsh conditions.   

Throughout his episcopacy, Grandin oversaw the establishment of schools, hospitals, and over 50 parishes and missions across the diocese. He was a fierce advocate for rights of francophone Catholics to maintain their own language and schools, and defended the land rights of the Metis people. With the influx of white settlers and the demise of Prairie bison herds, he became convinced that a European-style Catholic education was the only hope for the survival of the Indigenous people. Toward that goal, he promoted the establishment of Indian residential schools, where Catholic priests and sisters would teach the skills needed to take up farming, trades, or household management.

Father Lacombe served the Cree and Blackfoot Nations, Métis and settlers all over Alberta. A gifted linguist, he translated the New Testament into Cree syllabics, wrote a Cree dictionary and grammar, and taught the language to his fellow missionaries. He was a natural diplomat, whether negotiating with railroad officials for a land reserve, persuading Alberta Métis to stay out of the Northwest Rebellion, or assisting in the negotiating of Treaty 8 in northern Alberta. As he worked to establish churches, schools and homes for the aged, he became known as a friend to all.

Father Leduc, a trusted adviser to Bishop Grandin, helped negotiate with the federal government during the Métis Rebellion of 1885 and with the territorial government in the development of Catholic schools and hospitals in the region. He served a total of 27 years as pastor at St. Albert, as well as working as a school trustee, school inspector, seminary teacher, author, telephone operator, and postmaster.
The contributions of all three men and many other Oblates have been honoured in the names of communities, districts, schools, and businesses across Alberta.

The Oblate section of the cemetery is now home to the graves of two men who have been recognized by the Church for their ‘heroic virtues,’ meaning that their lives demonstrated consistent efforts to grow in holiness. Bishop Grandin was declared venerable in 1966 and Brother Anthony Kowalczyk in 2013. A venerable person is required to have two miracles attributed to their intercession before the Church recognizes them as a saint. 

Brother Anthony, sometimes referred to as ‘God’s Blacksmith,’ served much of his life as a beloved gardener and handyman at Edmonton’s College St-Jean, which is now the French faculty of the University of Alberta.

Download a map of the graves’ location