On November 20, 1985, Bishop Paul O’Bryne wrote to Father Pat Gorman or Lethbridge, officially appointing him administrator of the Catholic community of West Lethbridge. It was to be known as St. Martha's Catholic Community in a “… lasting and fitting tribute to the Sisters of St. Martha who have for so many years given of themselves to serving the people of Lethbridge and area.”
Father Pat, showing energy and enthusiasm, wasted little time. Seventy people attended the first organizational meeting on December 9, 1985 and on the weekend of January 4 and 5, 1986 they celebrated their first mass at Maranatha Christian Reformed Church in West Lethbridge.
January 8, 1986 marked the first meeting of the provisional Parish Council and the first item on the agenda was to establish a future site for the new church. The most ideal location was the present day site, kitty corner to the Children of St. Martha’s School. A Building Fund Committee was organized on February 11, 1986 and immediately began sponsoring various events and pledge drives to raise monies to obtain the 40% of the total project cost before construction could commence.
During this time several other groups also took shape within the parish including our first youth group, social committee, The Knights of Columbus and the Catholic Women’s League. As the community continued to grow, there was a need for more help. Sr. Nora Whelan was welcomed early in 1986 as a pastoral worker who played a big role in the development of a strong liturgy committee for the church in addition to assisting other various groups such as the archive, constitutional and banner committees.
On June 21, 1987 we formally said farewell and thanks to Father Pat Gorman who left to serve as Chaplain of St. Vincent’s Hospital in Vancouver, BC. Father Pat felt he needed to retire from our parish as he believed his health would not allow him to keep pace with our young and vibrant parish. Many who worked closely with him however, felt that he had things reversed – they had a tough time keeping up to him!
On July 16, 1987 Father Jim Hagel came to St. Martha’s and on October 4, 1987 was inducted as its first pastor when St. Martha’s officially became a parish. Father Hagel brought with him a wealth of knowledge and experience and a strong faith that he promptly put to use helping the parishioners grow spiritually and to begin the process of constructing a new church.
In September of that same year Jeanette Henke was hired as a part-time secretary to allow Sister Nora more time to devote to Pastoral work until she left the parish in 1989 to return to nursing. A large duplex was rented at this time at 164 Laval Blvd. so as to offer Father Jim his own living quarters and provide the parish with meeting rooms and office space.
In December of 1987, Parish Council decided that for the sake of convenient mass times, financial savings and a greater awareness of the need for a church building, it would be best to move to The Children of St. Martha School upon the school’s opening. In September of 1988 St. Martha’s Parish celebrated their first Mass in the school’s gymnasium. This auditorium would be the home for St. Martha’s parishioners for the next five years. Dedicated church-goers set up and took down chairs, hosted coffee after mass each weekend and helped to create a worship space for the people of St. Martha’s Church.
During all of this, the Design Team, formed in September of 1987, continued to work diligently and presented the first design plans, with the architect, on June 27, 1989, to the parishioners. It gave everyone a tremendous feeling of accomplishment as they gathered in the school gym looking at the model of a church which directly or indirectly they each helped to develop.
On Sunday, July 11, 1993, St. Martha’s Parish celebrated Mass outside our church property at 355 Columbia Blvd., followed by a sod turning ceremony to officially start the construction of St. Martha’s Roman Catholic Church. Actual excavation took place on July 28 with the cement truck arriving on August 12, 1993 to pour the first concrete footings.
Over the next eight months the church started to take on new dimensions. It gradually rose up above the ground to become a building of character and modern design. The first Mass in our brand new Church was celebrated on Saturday, May 7, 1994 with Father Jim Hagel presiding and Deacon Anthony Organ assisting. It had been eight years and four months since the inception of St. Martha’s Parish.
In the summer of 1996, Father Jim retired to Longview, Alberta and Father Dennis McDonald was appointed as our new pastor. Father Dennis joined the family of St. Martha and quickly came to love and enjoy the youth and energy of the Parish. In the fall of 1996 the Parish purchased a house on Purdue Court and designated it as a rectory; a home for our pastor.
Shortly after Father Dennis came, Robin Moffat was hired as the Director of Religious Education. When Robin left the position to move north, Jennifer DeLaurentiis was hired in the fall of 1998. She continues to hold this position today.
As St. Martha’s Parish grew so grew the responsibilities and duties of our Pastor. To alleviate some of the administrative duties so that Father Dennis could concentrate more on his pastoral duties, in 2003 St. Martha’s filled the position of a Pastoral Assistant with the hiring of Michael Gund. This position had been vacant since the resignation of Sharon Hagel who was employed in this capacity from 1991 to 1993.
Clayton Twigg was appointed Deacon to our parish in 2005. In 2008 Clayton resigned as Deacon to St. Martha’s. Fortunately for our parish, Michael Pollard was enrolled in the 3 year diaconate program and we officially welcomed him as our Deacon in October of 2010. He has been kept busy assisting our Pastor with his liturgical duties ever since.
In June of 2007, with the retirement of our secretary, Jeanette Henke, and the resignation of our Pastoral Assistant, Jeanette Cheshire and Rhonda Kawa were given the positions respectively. Both continue to work for St. Martha’s. August 2008 marked a significant change for our community. Father Dennis McDonald accepted a position as Co-Director of the Diaconate Program and Associate Pastor with St. Mary’s Cathedral in Calgary. We bid a sad but fond farewell to Father Dennis who had been our Pastor for 12 years. Father Eulogio Estaris was appointed as our new pastor in July, however, due to illness was forced to retire at the end of August. Father Fernando Genogaling was appointed Administrator of St. Martha’s Church on August 28 and celebrated his first Mass with us on September 2, 2008.
In 2013, after spending 5 years with the St. Martha community, Father Fernando was reassigned to St. Anthony's in Drumheller as their parish priest. With his departure, St. Martha's was assigned a new pastor, Father Salvador Ahumada, originally from Mexico but who had been the pastor at Our Lady of Guadalope in Calgary for the past 17 years. At the same time, the Diocese of Calgary placed Father Roque Pereira into the position of University Chaplin for Lethbridge and surrounding area. Father Roque is in residence at St. Martha's rectory with Father Salvador.
This is our history to date and we look forward with great anticipation to the years ahead.