St. Michael’s Church in Cobourg, Ont., is celebrating its 175th anniversary this coming year. The cornerstone of the current church was laid in 1895.

As long as there has been a Cobourg, St. Michael’s has looked after its Catholic population

By 
  • October 25, 2012

For as long as Cobourg, Ont., has existed, St. Michael’s parish has been there for its citizens.

St. Michael’s parishioners were to celebrate the 175th anniversary of the town’s original Roman Catholic parish with an anniversary celebration on Oct. 27.

“We just want to celebrate the wonderful gift of a parish, a Catholic parish, that’s 175 years (old),” said Fr. Andrew Ayala, St. Michael’s pastor.

Ayala was to kick off the day of celebration with a 5 p.m. Mass, with a sold-out dinner to follow at Cobourg’s historical Victoria Hall.

The parish hasn’t always gone by the name St. Michael’s. When it was established in 1837 by Fr. A. Kernan, the parish took the name of St. Polycarp. The original church building opened on William Street, about three km from the current location at 379 Division St., two years later. When the doors opened, the small wooden church served a congregation of 50 souls.

By 1859 the capacity of the 1,029-square-metre church was deemed inadequate by the parish’s third pastor, Fr. Michael Timin, who served for 33 years at St. Michael’s. So construction began on a brick addition to double the building’s size.

Four years later a fire destroyed the original wooden structure. Restored in brick to match the addition, Bishop Patrick Phelan rededicated the parish to St. Michael, who remains the namesake to this day.

On June 9, 1895 the cornerstone of the current church was laid. The new building was finished in less than one year.

The spirit that helped establish the parish and keep it going for 175 years can be seen in today’s parishioners, said Ayala, and in the planning for the milestone celebration in particular. Planning for the anniversary celebration began in August. This is where parishioners really stepped up to the plate to make the celebration come to fruition.

“God is giving this parish a great gift in the people it has,” said Ayala. “If I have to say something about this parish it’s that the lay people take very seriously their mission in the parish.”

The entire event, organized in less than two months, is a testament to the large impact a small community can have when they come together, said Ayala.

“At the end of August I shared this idea first with my secretary and my secretary told me about one person in the parish, the former mayor of the town, who would be able to organize that,” said Ayala.

That person was Peter Delanty who Ayala asked to establish an organization committee. Before the pastor knew it Delanty gathered seven others to work on the celebrations.

“In math one plus one is two but in my mission we say one plus one equals 2,000 because we can do much more when we come together,” said Ayala.

This was a great help to Ayala. A native of Argentina, English is his second language. And as pastor of a parish that sees about 900 visitors between the three Sunday services alone, Ayala’s time is limited. When the four high schools, hospital, youth correctional centre, five retirement homes and countless house calls, which absorb much of his non-preaching time, were factored in Ayala needed the help.

By early September the committee began holding meetings and relaying their plans to Ayala for approval.

“A wonderful committee of parishioners were able to organize it so well, I’m very happy with that,” he said. “There’s so much spiritual work to do I would have never been able to organize it if it wasn’t for the lay people,”

Along with dinner, those in attendance will also be entertained by the local jazz band from St. Mary’s Catholic Secondary School, receive a history lesson from Delanty and hear from Peterborough’s Bishop Nicola De Angelis.

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