Fr. Thong Pham of the Order of Preachers is the new pastor of Sacré Coeur, the oldest French parish in Ontario Photos by Michael Swan

Dominicans return to parish life

  • October 31, 2014

Toronto’s Dominican priests are back in the parish ministry business, this time running the 127-year-old downtown francophone parish of Sacré Coeur. 

The Dominicans took over on short notice Aug. 24 to help the Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers) with a difficult staffing situation. 

Before Sacré Coeur presented itself, the Dominicans had gone to the Archdiocese of Toronto looking for an opportunity to pastor an English-speaking parish. Though the Dominicans in Canada have always been predominantly French-speaking, their communities in Toronto and Vancouver and a lone Dominican in Victoria were on the lookout for more opportunities to engage with and invest in English Canada. 

But language isn’t everything, and the Dominicans are more than capable of working in French and Sacré Coeur represents a remarkable opportunity, said Toronto Dominican superior Fr. Darren Dias. 

“It’s an interesting neighbourhood, because on one side there’s the park, there’s drugs, there’s the AIDS hospice, there are refugees, there’s gentrification,” Dias said. “We thought this is a neat area for us to be, because of the diversity. There’s all kinds of people.” 

The parish includes Franco-Ontarian and Quebecois Catholics, but also recent immigrants from Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Mali, Senegal and the rest of French-speaking Africa. Add to that a Haitian contingent. 

Naturally, the perfect pastor for such a group is French-speaking Vietnamese-Canadian Dominican Fr. Thong Pham, assisted by the durable Fr. Michele Coté, now in his 45th year of priesthood. 

But the Sacré Coeur parish community isn’t just getting two Dominican priests. 

“We do it as a community,” said St. Michael’s Theology professor Dias. “We have one pastor, obviously. But we’ve agreed that we share preaching so that at least there will be a variety of styles and messages of preaching. In that sense, we’re happy to be there as a community.” 

For the Order of Preachers, as the Dominicans are formally known, the opportunity to preach regularly and faithfully to a parish is important, Dias said. 

“We always say there’s a variety of ways to preach, and it’s true. But there’s something particularly important about liturgical preaching,” he said. 

For now, there are no changes, no bold plans, in store for the parish. 

“We’re just in there learning and listening,” Dias said. 

Pham sees a need to bolster youth ministry and connect with young people through the francophone schools. But he’s waiting to hear more from parishioners about how to do that. 

“He’s committed to no changes, because he wants to listen to people,” said Dias. 

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