Herb Muma is a man with a mission.
The retired RCMP officer has bought what used to be the formal gardens of the old Oblate Seminary on Mission Lake in Saskatchewan's Qu'Appelle Valley, and plans to restore the grounds as a non-denominational grotto of peace.
Raised in the Religious Society of Friends, (the Quakers), in Ontario where he was born, Muma became a Roman Catholic convert when he married after joining the Mounties. In Regina, he conducted the RCMP choir and band and still sings with the Sacred Heart Church choir in nearby Lebret.
It was only after he and his late wife, Elizabeth Anne, retired to a cottage on Mission Lake that he became aware of the grotto and its significance. The formal garden laid out in the French style was on the grounds of the Oblate major seminary, which opened in 1926 and burned in 1982.
When Muma first discovered the property, the statue of the Virgin Mary was gone from its vandalised pedestal. The site was littered with discarded tombstones of Oblate priests whose bodies had been transferred to the cemetery in Lebret when the seminary closed in 1964.
He carted the grave markers away and used them, face down, as stepping stones from his cottage to the beach. He has since returned them to the small park now overgrown with weeds.
"The Anglicans have Stanley Mission church (founded in 1854) up north on the Churchill River as a memorial to its early missionaries, but there is nothing to commemorate the Oblates who opened the southern part of the province to Christianity in the 1860s," Muma says. "Lebret has its chapel and its Way of the Cross, but not everyone can climb the steep hill to get to it."
Muma is a fourth-degree master with the Knights of Columbus and hopes to set up a charitable foundation to obtain public and private grants to help finance the project. He's also looking for photographs of the garden as it looked when the Oblates had it.
Asked whether the $100,000 budgeted for the project might not be better spent on needed repairs to the landmark fieldstone church across the lake in Lebret, he says restoring the garden is his first priority.
"I have often asked myself, 'Am I doing the right thing?' Everything is drawing me this way. I have something inside me telling me to do this."