Beginnings to 1949
Any history of a Franciscan Retreat Centre like Mount St. Francis cannot properly begin without reference to the birth of St. Francis of Assisi in Umbria, Italy in 1182.
St. Francis, answered the call “To repair my house falling in ruins,” by first restoring the ruined church of St. Damian at the beginning of the thirteenth century, and then spending his life in a pattern of being a contemplative in action. Taking time away from the world; retreating to be quiet, to pray and to listen for the voice of God and then responding to that voice by preaching and living in community.
St. Francis founded one of the largest religious orders in the history of the Church; the Order of Friars Minor (Franciscans). Upon his death in 1226 there were thousands of followers desiring to follow the gospel pattern and imitate the poor crucified Christ. His close friend, Clare of Assisi formed the congregation known as The Poor Clares; a contemplative women’s order. She too focused on living the gospel. Their love for Christ inspired many lay people and so the Franciscan Secular Order was formed and continues to this day. Following St. Francis of Assisi’s ex-ample of humility and his passion for the gospel, Franciscans have since preached following the poor Christ the world over for some 800 plus years.
Here, on the other side of the globe, the plains of Alberta have been inhabited by vast herds of buffalo and the First Nations people who relied on them for their livelihood for centuries. The First Nations people first heard the message of Christ with the arrival of such pioneers as the Oblate missionaries. It was discovered that First Nations people had the same deep reverence for God’s hand in nature as St. Francis had. They, too, talked about Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Brother Fire, and Sister Water, and they had the same affinity for Mother Earth.
North of the Bow River, near what is now Cochrane, Alberta, the First Nations people known as the Stoney Nakoda (Iyarhe Nakoda) hunted along the foothills of the Rockies called a prominent hill “Manachaban” or the Big Hill. From it, they could look south across the plains or west to the Rocky Mountains. Today, the Big Hill is graced by the Stations of the Cross which overlook Mount St. Francis Retreat Centre.