Fr. Boniface Heidmeier’s first visit out to Chipman, Alberta, was in August 1909. At that time, Mass was held in the house of a local family, the Diederichs. When everyone came for Mass, the house was so full that Fr. Boniface once thought to set up a makeshift confessional at the top of the staircase! In 1915, the Archbishop gave permission for a church to be built in Chipman; the exterior of St. Bonaventure Church was completed by 1917, but the interior was still unfinished.
In 1918, in order to have Mass more frequently in Chipman, Archbishop Legal put the Franciscans in charge of the new parish with Fr. Boniface as the pastor.
Observing the state of the parish, Fr. Boniface was overwhelmed by the task ahead: “Chipman district, with its cosmopolitan population was undoubtedly a very difficult mission to handle; and how was I to succeed? The homesteaders were poor and split up into rival national factions [Polish, Ukrainian, English and German], and let me say openly, hostile. The church was anything but finished, and the so-called parish committee, illiterate and independent, had only a pile of bills to its credit. None of the parish committee would come near me, and refused to turn over to my any contributions that came in.”
Not to be discouraged, Fr. Boniface determined the first thing to do was to finish the church. Only the outer shell of St. Bonaventure Church was finished, but the inside still showed every stud, beam, and joint from the floor up to the roof. The altar was a wooden table and Fr. Boniface “had to make sure that it leaned against the wall, as otherwise it would have collapsed”.
People came together to complete the church.
Fr. Boniface put up wainscotting around the sanctuary and a local carpenter volunteered to put in the flooring as his contribution to the church. Fr. Boniface built the altar himself, nine feet wide and fifteen feet high, with lumber and paint donated by members of the community. The side panels of the altar were filled with two angels holding candelabras given by Henry Dressler. The six wooden candlesticks, five feet high, were made by fellow Franciscan Br. Alphonse, and hand-painted by two local women, Cecelia McNamara and Miss Moret. Vestments, interior decorations, banners, materials of silk and satin, gold fringe and braids, mountings were purchased or donated by parishioners and colleagues.
In his report of the completion of the church, Fr. Boniface was satisfied in concluding that thus, help has come from everywhere!