Four central Alberta communities — Bashaw, Castor, Delburne and Stettler — have welcomed a new Catholic priest to their parishes.
Rev. Dontus Ihekwoaba arrived in the area last month from Jasper, where he served for six years as parish priest at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church.
Previous to his Jasper stint, he served in parishes in Edmonton, Spruce Grove and Stony Plain.
Fr. Ihekwoaba, a priest for 16 years, has replaced Rev. Arlan Parenteau, who served the area Catholic churches for seven years. Fr. Parenteau has relocated to the Northwest Territories, where he has four parishes in his charge.“I will continue with what my predecessors did — bring Jesus to the people,” Fr. Ihekwoaba said.
One of the notable differences for him is the great amount of driving required to minister the four parishes in his charge.
He conducts regular services in Stettler at Christ-King Catholic Church, which has more than 200 families registered in the parish, along with Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church in Castor, where 150 families are registered, and in Bashaw at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church, which serves more than 100 families.
The mass begins at 9 and 11 a.m. each Sunday in Stettler and Castor, with the times alternating between the two communities. In Bashaw, the mass is at 6 p.m. each Saturday.
St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Delburne is a mission parish that serves five families. Delburne’s mass is only held periodically, and Fr. Ihekwoaba hadn’t yet visited that community last week.
Fr. Ihekwoaba said to make it easier for people to remember his name, he’s comfortable with being called “Father Don.”
“I am enjoying my stay here — it is a beautiful place, beautiful town and beautiful people,” said Fr. Ihekwoaba, who has lived in Stettler for the past six weeks. “The town is so clean and the people are very friendly.”
He referred to Stettler and Jasper as “small rural towns,” after coming from an urban centre in Nigeria. His homeland has more than 170 million people who speak hundreds of languages, though English is considered the official language.
Fr. Ihekwoaba returns to Nigeria almost every year for a vacation, because his family members all reside there.
He said he likes to know what goes on in central Alberta and he reads local newspapers to gain insight.
As for the length of his stay in the area, Fr. Ihekwoaba said it would be the archbishop who decides the duration and when it’s time to spread the gospel of Jesus to a different audience.