‘I will still have the memories’

Fr. Ephrem leaving the archdiocese after 10 years as pastor

Kyle Greenham
Northern Light

When asked his fondest memories over his ten years as pastor in the Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan, Fr. Ephrem Nakash simply replies that each moment has been important.

His answer reveals something at the heart of Fr. Ephrem’s ministry – his desire to make whatever place he is assigned his home. The Indian priest has been the pastor of our churches in Slave Lake, Smith and Kinuso for the past six years, and was the pastor of Wabasca and Calling Lake for four years before that.

People have asked me if I liked Wabasca more or Slave Lake more. I told them when I am in Wabasca, I like Wabasca more. When I am in Slave Lake, I like Slave Lake more. I don’t love one more than the other,” Fr. Ephrem said. “Whatever community I am placed, I believe that is my community. I should love the people to whom I am entrusted. That is my simple way of living.”

He has cherished his decade in our archdiocese, but Fr. Ephrem Nakash was recently called back to his order in southern India – the Missionary Society of St. Thomas the Apostle. He will be returning there at the end of the summer.

Fr. Ephrem Nakash celebrates Mass with Archbishop Gerard Pettipas at St. Peter Celestin Church in Slave Lake.

He was initially going to leave our archdiocese at the end of June, but due to a delay in the Missionary Society sending a replacement priest, Fr. Ephrem will now be staying with the archdiocese until at least the end of August. When it was announced to Slave Lake’s parishioners at the Corpus Christi Mass that Fr. Ephrem would be staying for an additional two months, there was an uproar of applause throughout the church.

His time as a pastor here marks Fr. Ephrem’s first time in Canada, having spent six years ministering in Africa and 10 years in India before coming to serve Catholics of the great white north. While he admits the snow and harsh freezing cold temperatures do cause some challenges, Fr. Ephrem said he did not find much difficulty in settling into Canadian life.

As a people-person, what he enjoyed most through his time in the archdiocese is working with the people and being amongst the communities he serves. It is reflected in the many ways Fr. Ephrem fully immersed himself in the Canadian way of life. For example, he fully embraced the outdoorsmanship of northern Alberta, having done plenty of hunting and fishing with parishioners. Even after he had left Wabasca as the parish priest, he remained close friends with many of the parishioners there. Every year he returned to the hamlet for an annual ice fishing trip.

Fr. Ephrem washes the feet of parishioners during a Holy Thursday Mass

“I would always go with them when they went hunting deer or moose and camp outdoors overnight,” Fr. Ephrem recalled. “Fishing I’ve always loved. We’d go every fall and winter. Whatever activities they would do around Wabasca, I would join with them.”

He was also a member of the Wabasca Victim Services board for several years. Wabasca Victim Services is a local agency devoted to helping people in need, especially those looking to leave abusive relationships or overcome grief and trauma.

“As part of the board we would organize a lot of things, and we would go and spend time with grieving families,” Fr. Ephrem said.

“I enjoyed the Wabascan community. To be with the elders I would always make the time to visit the homes of those who cannot come to church due to sickness or mobility issues and give them communion. That was one of my great joys.”

With the strong bonds he has forged with the people of his churches and the wider archdiocesan community, Fr. Ephrem says he will miss most of all the many friendships he has made.

“That is what I miss everywhere I go – the relationships I have made with the people, the chancery, the bishop, and the priests,” he said. “But I will still have the memories.”

Parishioners too will miss his presence. At Fr. Ephrem’s farewell potluck in late June, many tears were shed.

“They asked him to give a speech, and most of us there started crying. It was a very emotional time,“ said Slave Lake parishioner Myrna Jacquias. “During his time with us he was a good priest to all the people. Everybody had a good relationship with him. Many of the seniors were especially quite sad to hear Father was leaving us.”

This is only an excerpt. Read the full story in the July-August 2022 edition of Northern Light