St. Albert’s Namesake

Father Lacombe’s Patron Saint

“Father, this place is charming; I choose it for the founding of a new mission which you will call Saint Albert, in honour of your patron saint.” Bishop Alexandre Taché 1

Catholic Online lists no less than ten saints named Albert.  Who, then, was the patron saint to whom Bishop Taché referred?

St. Albert the Great?  Perhaps, though it is unlikely since Albert the Great was canonized over a century after Father Lacombe’s birth. On the other hand, beatified in 1622, Albert the Great was generally regarded as a saint by nineteenth century Catholics, a man worthy of emulation. It is conceivable that Albert the Great could be the ‘saint’ to whom the infant Lacombe was entrusted at his baptism.

However, several documents point to a different Albert – St. Albert of Louvain.

A letter2 dated September 9, 1878, by Cardinal Dechamps, Archbishop of Malines (Mechelen), Belgium implores the recipient to assist Bishop Grandin, “Bishop of St. Albert in North America” in obtaining “a relic of the patron of his diocese.”  The relic desired was from the remains of “St. Albert, cardinal bishop of Liège, originally from Louvain.”

Further evidence exists in four other documents2. Three letters written by Father Lacombe in late November of 1895, 1912 and 1913 refer to his celebrating the feast of St. Albert as that of his patron saint and the patron of the diocese of St. Albert. The feast of St. Albert of Louvain is on November 21st. The fourth document contains information about the establishment of most Edmonton area parishes, including St. Albert. Written next to “St. Albert” is “cardinal-archbishop of Liège.”

The text of the those documents leaves little doubt that Father Lacombe considered St. Albert of Louvain to be his patron saint, as did his contemporaries, Bishop Taché and Bishop Grandin.

St. Albert of Louvain3

During the twelfth century the noble houses of Brabant and Hainault rivaled for the control of the see of Liège, whose bishop carried considerable political influence.

Albert, son of Godfrey III of Brabant, was born c.1166 and raised at his father’s castle in Louvain. Destined for the clergy, Albert became a canon at age twelve but renounced the office at twenty-one to become a knight for his rival, Baldwin V of Hainault. During that time he rejoined the clergy, received back his canonry and became archdeacon and provost. By orders, however, he was still a subdeacon.

Upon the death of the bishop of Liège in 1191, Albert was presented as a candidate along with Albert of Bethel from the house of Hainault. Both men were archdeacons and neither was a priest. Albert of Louvain was elected by an overwhelming majority; however, Albert of Bethel appealed to the emperor, Henry VI, who set aside both men in favour of his own relative, Lothair of Bonn. Albert of Louvain appealed to Pope Celestine III who upheld his election and authorized the Archbishop of Reims to ordain and consecrate him. Hostilities followed; however, rather than precipitate a war, Albert chose to live in exile in Reims.  While on a visit to an abbey outside the city on or about November 21, 1192, Albert was assassinated. He was buried in the Cathedral of Reims.

St. Albert’s remains were transferred to Brussels in 1612. In 1919, when war debris was being cleared from the Reims cathedral, the tomb of a tenth century archbishop, Odalric, was opened. Irregularities were found and a subsequent investigation revealed that the remains were, in fact, those of St. Albert of Louvain and that it had been the remains of Odalric which had been transferred to Brussels in 1612. The archbishop of Malines recalled the Odalric relics distributed as those of St. Albert and sent the remains back to Reims. The true remains of St. Albert of Louvain were transferred to Brussels on November 18, 1921.

In his journal2 of November 27, 1878, Bishop Grandin noted that the Archbishop of Malines gave him the desired relic. It currently rests at the Archdiocese of Edmonton Archives. For reasons unknown the relic wasnever returned.

1 Le Père Lacombe “L’homme au bon Coeur,” Le Devoir, Montréal 1916

2 The Archdiocese of Edmonton Archives

3 Butler’s Lives of the Saints, Complete Edition, Vol. IV, Burns and Oates, London, Revised 1956

Page 8a of the digital edition of The Black Robe’s Vision, 2010, St. Albert Historical Society

Reprinted from The Echoes, Vol. XXVIII, No. 2, May, 2010; St. Albert Historical Society

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