Mature trees on the property of St. Mary’s Church in Brampton, Ont., were at the mercy of freezing rain turned to ice during a pre-Christmas storm that left many without electricity. Photo courtesy of Fr. Liborio Amaral

Ice storm strengthens parish unity

  • January 19, 2014

TORONTO - Midway through January, a number of Toronto area churches were still cleaning up from the ice storm that swept across the region just days before Christmas.

Despite the vast damage caused by the pre-Christmas storm and the subsequent power outages across the hard-hit Toronto region, no churches in the archdiocese reported serious damage to their properties. But ice-coated trees did come down on a number of church properties.

Fallen tree branches sparkled as they littered the property of St. Mary’s Church in Brampton. Three weeks after the storm, the cleanup at St. Mary’s continues.

Located in the heart of Brampton, St. Mary’s neighbourhood felt the effects of the freezing rain that turned to ice upon contact and brought a heavy build up of ice on mature trees overnight on the weekend of Dec. 21. Inevitably, the weight of the ice brought branches down.

“Our church is located in a beautiful green land with huge, old trees,” said St. Mary’s pastor Fr. Liborio Amaral. “Like many other places, our church property seemed like a bomb had exploded.”

Traffic lanes had to be closed, and for a time, the path to the nearby senior’s residence was blocked.

“St. Mary’s senior’s residence, which is next to us, a tree limb basically had bent to such an extreme,” said Amaral. “We also have a Catholic school on our property. We had to make sure that was also safe for them.”

The parish put out a call and about 15 to 20 men, two of whom have access to trucks, are scheduled to continue clean up on the third weekend of January. These parishioners have decided to do what is within their capability and bundle up branches, but will leave the heavy duty work to the professionals with the skills and the equipment, said Amaral.

Beyond the cleanup, bringing in people to help clean up the mess was a boon for parish unity, said Amaral.

“Not only will this clean up St. Mary’s, but it also forms community,” he said. “So in the midst of what appears to be a disaster, there’s also an opportunity for community to come together. And that’s what we’re seeing with these wonderful parishioners.”

It’s a tale that is told in parishes throughout the region. Parishioners at Toronto’s St. Gregory’s Church grew closer while dealing with the power outage, said pastor Fr. John Bertão.

On Dec. 22, parishioners abandoned their pews and huddled together for warmth around the altar of St. Gregory’s Church. The ice storm left the church in the cold and in the dark. Yet treacherous travelling conditions were not enough to stop parishioners from attending Sunday Mass. Coats on, about 100 people stood or sat on the floor in the sanctuary at the 9 a.m. Mass. Almost twice as many attended the 11 a.m. service, with a few of them forced by lack of space near the altar to fill the first few pews. They surrounded Bertão, who was fully dressed for winter under his priestly vestments. From his winter coat to boots and long johns, Bertão was prepared to keep the chill at bay. But what he didn’t expect was how enjoyable the experience would be.

“The people said later on that they were so happy they came because they really felt part of the whole thing, the Mass,” said Bertão.

“It was awesome because they were all around me. No microphone. It was just a matter of talking to them directly, right up close. I was able to relate to them better. It was like being in a little chapel.”

He can’t recall how long either Mass lasted.

“The moment was too intimate and too precious to even worry about time,” he said.

The church was without electricity from 2:30 a.m. Dec. 22 to 10:45 p.m. Christmas Eve, and so Bertão left life at the rectory to stay at a friend’s house to keep warm. But there was no doubt Mass would be celebrated on Christmas Eve.

Twenty-three candles adorned the sanctuary, flickering in the darkness at the 5, 7 and 11 p.m. Masses. The church now had a generator for heat and, as usual, could seat 650 people in its pews. Bertão says the 7 p.m. Mass was about 90 per cent full and the two others had more people attend than could be seated.

“They were in darkness,” he said. “They were not distracted with looking at each other. They really couldn’t see each other. They were totally, completely focused on the altar.”

And since there was still no microphone, Bertão had to annunciate more than usual, but did not need to raise his voice in excess.

“The acoustics in the church were very, very good because even though it was packed with people, everyone was in great reverence.”

Parishioners have been thanking him for the “most amazing Christmas” and “really being in prayer at the Mass.” They want to know what can be done to top this next time.

St. Gregory’s had power on Christmas Day.

As for celebrating Mass with the lights on once again, Bertão said, “We take what we have for granted until we lose it.”

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.