Also known as the Prairie Cathedral.
68003 Cooks Creek Road
Cooks Creek, Manitoba
Corner of PTH 212 (Cooks Creek Road) and Zora Road
Box 35, Group 23, RR 2
Dugald, Manitoba R0E 0K0
Sunday Divine Liturgy
Fr. Taras Kowch
The Immaculate Conception Church of the Virgin Mary, is the third church of the parish.
The first church, built in 1904 and named St. John the Baptist, was built in the shape of a cross with one central dome. For the convenience of the parishioners another church, St. Nicholas, was built half a mile north and one and one half miles east of the first church. The Basilian fathers from Winnipeg served the parish, rotating the services weekly between the two churches. The first parish priest assigned to the parish was Rev. Roman Krupa, followed by Rev. Peter Oleskiw who purchased the twenty acres of land on which stands the present Immaculate Conception Church. Other clergy who served in this parish were: Rev. Father Roman Cherepaniak, Rev. John Coulson, Rev. Damaskyn, Rev. Pilipovich, CSSR, Rev. Emil Krasisky, Rev. Drohomyresky and from 1930 Rev. Philip Ruh, O.M.I., who drew the plans and headed the construction of the present Immaculate Conception Church, which, because of its majestic appearance, is referred to as the “Prairie Cathedral.”
The church is of a cruciform construction on a solid basement foundation in which there is a chapel where services are held during the winter. The altar in this chapel has an antimension signed by Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky. Besides the chapel there are two other large rooms and a kitchen. There are six entrances into the basement and 65 windows. Measurements of the basement alone, which are: length – 150 feet, width – 101 feet, and height – 12 feet, illustrate the vastness of the structure. For example, one thousand yards of gravel, five freight-car-loads of cement and tens of tons of steel were used for the structure. The arched roof of the church rests on six large and two smaller interior columns of steel and cement. The walls, 40 feet in height and of brick, contain two rows of windows totaling 95 in all. For practical reasons, some of these windows are covered from the interior. A central open dome reaches an exterior height of 110 feet. There are four smal1er dome beside the large dome and four mall domes that occupy the four corners of the gable-end roof; one ·each above the choir loft, sanctuary, and opposite ends of the nave. All the domes are topped with highly decorated wrought-iron crosses. A span of steps with band railing occupy the front approach of the church. An anti-roof above the entrances rests on a set of ten iron reinforced cement columns. The central doors lead into the narthex in which are found steps leading to the choir loft. Doors on either side of the main entrance lead to basement and into the nave of the church. The church has three longitudinal and two transversal (side) sections. A large open dome centres the four arches, three of which lead toward a curved ceiling, and the fourth which becomes concave above the semi-circular apse. This is all supported by massive pilasters and columns of iron reinforced cement, which branch out into an arcade of small pilasters and arches. This architecture allows for the placement of a number of side altars. One in the niche just to the left of the sanctuary is dedicated to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and one is just to the right to Our Lord Jesus Christ. On other side altars are found a processional icon and a statue of the Mother of God. It should be mentioned here that this icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help was placed in contact w1th the original icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Rome in 1980 and has been placed in this church for public adoration by Metropolitan Maxim Hermaniuk on Aug. 16, 1981.
A picture of St. Nicholas is placed high on the end wall of the transversal section of the nave, under which are a row of confessionals. To the right and the left of the raised sanctuary are exits to sacristies. In the end apsidal wall is an exit leading to a corridor which also leads to the sacristies and to a set of stairs to the basement. The walls of the church are finished in a latex paint. On some of these walls are paintings, with several paintings on the apsidal wall. The central one is a painting of the Assumption of the Mother of God. Above it is a picture of the Mother of God Being Taken into Heaven. To the right is the Crowning of the Mother of God. To the right of that is the Appearance of the blessed Virgin Mary to the Children in Fatima. To the left of the central painting is the painting of the Patronage of the Blessed Virgin Mary. There are other paintings which take up the whole wall. Of the smaller paintings those of the Evangelists, in the pendentives, are most significant. From the centre of the highly decorated dome is suspended an electrical chandelier. The cornice around the church and the individually framed panels and arcades, are painted to give them a marble effect.
There are 43 pews, which seat 6-7 persons, and 26 pews, which seat 2-3 persons, and a row of chairs, that provide seating for 500 to 600 persons. The church is heated by two oil furnaces (one larger, one smaller).
Near the church stands a large two tiered bell tower housing three bells. The bell tower, built of iron reinforced cement is topped with a high cupola and a cross. On the ramparts on the side of the top level of the steps at the entrance to the church, are four statues of angels.
To the left of the church, covered in various shrubs and bushes is the entrance to the grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes. The Grotto was built to provide an illusion of an underground structure. The columns and walls are constructed of iron reinforced cement and the floor is asphalt. Within the grotto are statues depicting the XIV Stations of the Cross. You rise to the Cross and you also descend to the grave, to the crucified Christ. Prayers of hundreds of pilgrims who make a yearly journey to this pilgrimage place from distant parts of Canada, and some from beyond Canada, give thanks to Our Lord for His blessings in the presence of the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, which is brought to the grotto from the Immaculate Conception Church during the Pilgrimage celebrations. Almost all the clergy, with their parishioners of the Archeparchy, visit this place of worship. Among those who came here with Bishop Vasilij Ladyka, who was last here in 1940, was Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Roborecki. Others who visit are; Bishop Myron Daciuk and, almost every year since he was a bishop and then later as the metropolitan, Metropolitan Maxim Hermaniuk.
Four cemeteries in the area belong to the parish of Cooks Creek. Rev. Philip Ruh is buried in the cemetery next to the church.
Ukrainian settlement started in the Cooks Creek area in 1897. In 1904 the parish united and, with Fred Spiwak, built their first church. Participants in the building of the first church were: Michael Uskowsky, Fred Kozie, Simon Nymchuk, John Trush and ? Prokopenko. Rev. P. Ruh died in 1962. With the help of Michael Yanchynsky, Victor Garbert, and much volunteer work by the parishioners, Rev. P. Ruh built the present church and lived in the parsonage which was built in 1930 and now sold. After his death the Redemptorist Fathers administered the parish, with Rev. Michael Baranecky and Rev. Gregory Novak. Other priests who served in the parish were: Rev. Marteniuk, Rev. Volodymyr Bozyk (1967-72), Rev. Anthony Pawliuk (1972-74, Rev. Michael Kolynich (1974-77), Rev. Michael Buyachok (1977-78), Rev. John Sholdak (1978-88). Other clergy who assisted in the parish were Rev. Joseph Sliuha from 1940 to 1941 and Rev. Mathew Kotowich from 1954 to 1962. The parish is proud of the following vocations: Rev. Juvenalis Slota OSBM, Sister Servants Alfonsia Antonia Vus and Stella Watchko. On May 3, 1987, Morris Marian Kowalchuk was ordained a deacon. When the parish was founded there were 30 members, in 1941 there were 250 members and many school aged children. At this time there are 250 members, of which 100 were born in Ukraine.
In 1961 Rev. P. Ruh appointed a committee of Steve Rosce, Bill Panchyshyn and Morris M. Kowalchuk to carry on the administrative work of the parish. A year later Fred Dudych was elected to the committee. In 1988 the parish committee consisted of: Eugene Harasymec, John Palidwor, Donald Skibo, Garry Kosheliuk, Gordon Onsowich, Bill Fecio and Morris M. Kowalchuk. Rev. John Sholdak was the parish priest in 1988.
In 1960 a male voice choir under the leadership of Bill Panchyshyn was formed. In 1988 there was a mixed choir under the leadership of Marian Chabluk. Cantoral duties have been fulfilled for many years by Ivan Polidvar.
The Ukrainian Catholic parish in Cooks Creek with the church of the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God, the “Prairie Cathedral” and its Grotto, are a pilgrimage centre and serves Ukrainians in the communities of Dugald, Oakbank, Hazelridge and Pine Ridge.
Source: Kowcz-Baran, Anna Maria. Ukrainian Catholic Churches of Winnipeg Archeparchy. Book One of Volume IV – History of the Ukrainian Catholic Churches in Canada. Winnipeg, 1991.