91-year-old priest's retirement marks closing of Edmonton church

For the last time on Sunday morning, the melodic rise and fall of hymns and prayers filled St. Patrick Catholic Parish to the rafters.

St. Patrick Catholic Parish closing after 70 years

Parishioners receive the Eucharist from Father Frank Stempfle during the final mass at St. Patrick Catholic Church on Sunday. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

For the last time on Sunday morning, the melodic rise and fall of hymns and prayers filled St. Patrick Catholic Parish to the rafters.

The small building at 11811 96th St. was crammed with people for the final mass at the church and farewell to its long-time pastor, Father Frank Stempfle.

The 91-year-old is one of Canada's oldest serving Roman Catholic priests, and his retirement marks the closing of the church, which was founded in 1948.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton recommended the church close in 1998 but lobbying from parishioners convinced the archbishop to keep it open as long as Stempfle was the priest. 

The church was packed for the final mass on Sunday morning. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

Of his 66 years in the priesthood, Stempfle spent 39 with the St. Patrick parish.

"All this time I've been here, it's because I wanted to be here or I loved to be here. I didn't have to be here, but I enjoyed being here with these people," he said.

"They were so easy to be the priest for. And that was the reason, I think, why I stayed here so long — because they were a beautiful group of people and they were so positive and so good to me."

Leading the final mass at the church was emotional, Stempfle said, and he's sad to retire.

"I'm not jumping for joy that now I'm finally finished. No, I don't feel that way at all," he said. "I just wonder what's in store for me around the corner."

He hopes to lead the occasional mass at other churches in the future.

'Everybody knows Father Frank'

Father Frank Stempfle has been a priest for nearly 70 years. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

Father Andrew Leung is the pastor of St. Alphonsus Church at 11828 85th St.

St. Alphonsus will take over the area formerly served by St. Patrick. Leung said Sunday's mass was attended by parishioners from across the city.

"Everybody knows Father Frank because he's been here so long that's he's baptised grandmothers, mothers, daughters, granddaughters, great granddaughters," Leung said.

"So there's generational families that have known Father Frank for such a long time."

Leung sees Stempfle as a mentor.

"We all look up to him because of his duty and his service, his unselfishness of serving the people of God. It's really incredible to see."

Now that Stempfle has retired, the St. Patrick church building will be sold. Leung said the archdiocese decided to close St. Patrick Parish because they can no longer staff it.

Keepsakes such as stained glass windows will be handed down to other churches in the city.

Parishioners take a photo on the steps of St. Patrick Church after the final mass. (Nathan Gross/CBC)