While the history of Our Lady of the Prairies Foundation can be traced from its legal birth as an Act of the Saskatchewan Legislature in1957, it is in essence, a personal story of faith and courage based on real life experiences. A vision of hope for what life can be, coupled with the strength to see it through.
The Foundation was envisioned by James (Jack) Peter Leier in 1956, but the seeds of its mission were sown in 1910, when his parents, Frank and Brigetta, with trust and determination, left their life in Odessa to homestead in Saskatchewan.
While the Canadian Government promise of free land was very inviting, the deeper call was the promise of greater liberty – a freedom to practice one’s faith and live one’s life with less interference from the whims of autocratic governments, be they Czars or Kings.
To leave all behind and migrate from one hemisphere to another can be a daunting and lonely journey but Brigetta, had a strong faith in the spiritual, a strong faith in the community of people, and a deep connection to nature. Like many Catholics, she had a devotion to Mary, the mother of Jesus. A relationship that she considered not just spiritual, but practical, in that she felt Mary would understand from her own experiences the challenges of journeying from one country to another.
So as Brigetta assisted her husband in clearing the land, she picked rocks that she placed in small piles as markers of tribute to Mary, her spiritual companion. On Sundays, the neighbours would gather for religious services, and make plans for assisting each other in constructing their farm buildings, as well as plans for building a church and a school. In the church yard, the community built a shrine to Our Lady with rocks they picked from their land. The relationship between spiritual and everyday living was how Brigetta lived her faith – for hers was a faith rooted in compassion – a faith based on the harmony of Spirit, community and nature.
It was this memory of his early life that her son Jack drew upon, when in 1956 he had a near death experience. While he lay in coma following a massive heart attack, he had a dream which reflected upon the world of faith and sharing community which nurtured him in his youth. As he recovered, he was inspired to establish a Foundation that would support people, programs and projects that addressed the challenging and varied needs of society. A Foundation that had faith in the spirit and goodwill of people.
He named the Foundation Our Lady of the Prairies – a tribute to his mother’s faith and his own faith.
Since inception, the causes and organizations that the Foundation has supported, likewise have their own stories of faith and vision and courage and strength.
As well as supporting over 100 established charities, OLOP has been privileged through the years to support several organizations and projects in their start-up phases, including:
- Saskatoon Friendship Inn – 1969
- Saskatoon Interval House – 1973; and later on Adelle House; their second stage housing program
- Qu’Appelle House of Prayer – 1995
- Coast Mental Health Resources Centre – Vancouver – 2001
- Astonished! – Regina – 2013
The Foundation Mission for over 60 years was born from the faith of its Founder – ‘To Nurture Love and Compassion for all Creation.’