The history of the Catholic Church in Salmon Arm has a close connection to the pioneers of the faith in the Okanagan. When Father Charles Pandosy, one of the original Oblates of Mary Immaculate who sailed from France in 1847 founded the Mission of the Immaculate Conception on the shores of Lake Okanagan in 1859, he convinced Joseph Christian to settle in the region. Joseph’s only child, Annie married J. Duncan Cameron who later became the proprietor of the Cameron Hotel. It was in the lounge of this hotel in the summer on 1895 that the first recorded Mass in Salmon Arm was offered by Father Augustine Dontenwill. On December 11 of the same, Father Edmond Peytavin O.M.I. baptized Grace Cameron in her family – the first Baptism on record in Salmon Arm.
Again in was Augustine Dontenwill, now Bishop Dontenwill of New Westminster and later the Superior-General of the Oblates, who was present on Sunday, February 9, 1908, to dedicate the first St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. He was assisted in this dedication by Fathers Lejeune, Michels, and Rohr – all members of the Oblate order of priests and missionaries. Lillian Cameron (Timpany) was the first bride married in the new church in early 1910, and years later it was Lottie Cameron (Reader) bequest of her parent’s family home to the Parish that gave us the land on which our Parish Education Centre is built.
The Oblates continued to minister to the spiritual needs of the community until the early 1920’s. Priests came from as far afield as Kamloops, Merritt,and Revelstoke to offer Mass once a month. Father Wilbert McKenzie, a native of Prince Edward Island was the first resident priest from 1921 to 1926. He was succeeded by Father (later Monsignor) Frances Chaloner, an Englishman. The names of the priests who served the community and parish in these early years are detailed in both the 60th Report of the Okanagan Historical Society 1996 and the 1995 St. Joseph’s Parish Directory.
In 1947 a quiet gentle Irishman, a native of Kilialoe, County Clare, Father Michael Byrne was appointed as pastor of St. Joseph’s. His quiet zeal, tireless energy, and profound piety left an indelible mark on the parish and the community. For twenty-six years he ministered to Salmon Arm and communities as far apart as Magna Bay, Chase, Sicamous and Notch Hill. On Easter Sunday, 1966, Bishop Harrington solemnly blessed and dedicated the present St. Joseph’s Church, a testament to the faith and piety of a beloved pastor.
Following Father Byrne’s transfer to Armstrong, Father John Sheffield was appointed pastor of St. Joseph’s. Parishioners remember Father Sheffield for his zeal for the Pro-Life Movement and his high regard for the sanctity of human life. Father also worked hard to develop a strong catechetical program and to this end invited the Sisters of St. Ann to the community. During their two year stay they undertook an extensive teacher training program to upgrade and guide the catechism courses being taught in Salmon Arm, Enderby, and Armstrong.
Our Lord gave His apostles the mandate “go forth and teach all nations”. Priests of all nations have certainly given of their energy and ministry to St. Joseph’s Parish for more than the century of Catholicism in Salmon Arm. Whether the priest was from England or Vietnam, China or Ireland, Poland or France, the Philippines or the United States, or as native-born Canadians from East to West in our beautiful country, the parishioners of St. Joseph have warmly welcomed them into our Shuswap community.