High atop “Catholic Hill” in Guelph, Ont., sits the Church of Our Lady Immaculate. The church was designated a basilica earlier this month. Among its past parishioners is Toronto’s Cardinal Thomas Collins. Register file photos

Guelph landmark church designated a basilica

By 
  • January 6, 2015

Guelph, Ont.’s Church of Our Lady Immaculate now dons the title basilica. The landmark church perched on a hill overlooking the city was designated a basilica earlier this month by Pope Francis, catching parishioners by surprise.

Parishioners heard the news Dec. 8 during a special Mass celebrating the church’s new altar when Hamilton Bishop Douglas Crosby announced at the end of his homily that Pope Francis had approved the designation. Hamilton Vicar General Msgr. Murray Kroetsch said the news left those in the pews speechless.

“People were shocked because the bishop wanted it to be a surprise, which it was,” said Kroetsch, who attended the Mass that day at Our Lady. “After a brief second of silence there was a very hearty applause that was given to the news. The people I think are very, very proud.”

Being designated a basilica, an officially recognized point of pilgrimage by the Vatican, means that a greater emphasis will be added to the celebrations of special feast days.

“It also indicates a special kind of relationship that exists between the Holy Father and this particular church,” added Kroetsch.

Designated a National Historic Site in 1990 by the federal government, the church has played an unparallelled role in the development of the Hamilton diocese’s northern region.

“Most of the parishes in the north of our diocese were missions of the Church of Our Lady,” said Kroetsch. “Those parishes in the north were broken off from Our Lady when they became big enough to become parishes themselves. It is sort of the mother church of much of the north of the diocese.”

In 1877 the cornerstone of the church, which had been established as a parish a number of years earlier, was laid. It took another six years before architect Joseph Connolly would see the Gothic church, consecrated in 1883 and considered one of Connolly’s best designs, completed to stand above the City of Guelph in all its glory.

A massive structure inspired by the cathedral in Cologne, Germany, the church was built as a response to an influx of German immigrants to the area that began in 1875.

But it isn’t just the Catholics of Guelph and the surrounding area who’ve benefited over the years from the church, which sits atop Catholic Hill, as it is affectionately known. Since first opening its doors the parish, an impossible to miss mark of the city’s skyline, has hosted the broader community for various formal functions, concerts and cultural events.

“The Basilica of Our Lady is an iconic landmark in Guelph,” said Mayor Cam Guthrie. “Its history is integral to the history of the founding of Guelph. The people of Guelph have always been immensely proud of the Church of Our Lady and the honour of it being designated as a basilica adds to that pride.”

A number of years ago the city passed a bylaw which restricts the height of new construction in the downtown to avoid obstructing the “awe-inspiring” view.

“So it has been part of the cultural life of Guelph as well as the religious life of Guelph,” said Kroestch, who noted Toronto’s Cardinal Thomas Collins grew up in the parish. “It has got significance in terms of its age, it has got significance in terms of its architecture (and) it has got significance in the life of the diocese because of the history of the diocese. It has so many dimensions of significance.”

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