The Paulists’ Catholic Information Centre in Toronto opened in 1958. Photo courtesy Toronto’s Paulist Fathers

The Paulist century in Canada

  • June 20, 2015

Paulist priests preached their first mission in Canada 156 years ago. Fifty-six years later they arrived in Toronto where they came to operate St. Peter’s parish and open the Newman Centre on what is now the campus of the University of Toronto. Due to declining numbers they are being forced to cease Canadian operations and return home. Here is a timeline of their years in Canada.

March 18, 1859 — Paulist founder Fr. Isaac Hecker and companions Fr. George Deshon, Fr. Augustine Hewit and Fr. Francis Baker ride by open sleigh through a snowstorm across the St. Lawrence River to preach a mission to the Irish community in Quebec City. They were invited to Canada by New Brunswick’s Bishop Thomas Connolly. The mission attracted between 7,000 and 8,000.

1892 — Fr. Alexander Doyle and Fr. Walter Elliott spend March and April preaching missions in Ottawa and Montreal. Canadian priests grumble that the Paulists are too American and too liberal. Ottawa Archbishop Joseph-Thomas Duhamel declares the “liberality practised by Catholics of the States was the liberality of the children of God.” The Paulists innovate by introducing congregational singing to St. Patrick’s parish in Montreal.

1911 — Fr. Thomas Burke preaches the entire season of Lent in St. Patrick’s, Montreal, then for two weeks during Easter Burke is joined by Fr. Bertrand Conway for a two-week mission to Montreal’s Irish Catholics and a two-week mission to non-Catholics.

1912 — The Paulists swing through Toronto preaching missions at St. Paul’s Basilica and St. Peter’s parish.

1913 — On the invitation of Archbishop Neil McNeil, Burke establishes the Newman Society of Ontario at the University of Toronto.

1914 — The Paulists sign a contract with McNeil granting them St. Peter’s parish “in perpetuity.” Fr. Michael Carey comes from Austin, Texas, to take charge of a parish with a mere 75 Catholic families, but a large Protestant population that incumbent pastor Fr. Lancelot Minehan said would make a perfect challenge for the Americans.

1915 to 1919 — The Newman Club moves from St. Joseph Street to its present location on St. George and builds St. Thomas Aquinas Chapel.

1936 — A series of staffing conflicts combined with a Paulist president who doubted the value of Newman clubs prompts the Paulists to turn the University of Toronto’s Newman Centre back to the diocese, which then hands it over to the Basilian Fathers.

1946 — A young, charismatic Fr. Frank Stone takes on convert work full time and receives about 100 converts into the Church.

1958 — the Catholic Information Centre is dedicated and open for business under Stone, who soon launches into Paulist radio and television ministries and promotes the Paulist Press.

1965 — Fr. Ed Bader arrives in Vancouver at the invitation of Archbishop Martin Johnson who was anxious to see a Catholic Information Centre in his own diocese. In 1966 Bader takes over Holy Cross parish in Burnaby. By June 1972, with opposition from new Archbishop James Carney, the Paulists withdraw from Vancouver.

1973 ­— two bilingual, Canadian-born Paulists arrive in Montreal to take over chaplaincy at McGill University’s Newman Hall. By 1975 Archbishop Paul Gregoire — later to be Cardinal Gregoire — officially designated McGill’s Newman Centre a Communaute de Bas, giving it equivalent status to a parish. In 1980, Paulist Fr. Tom Ryan becomes director of the Canadian Centre for Ecumenism and transforms the centre’s modest newsletter into a national theological and pastoral journal on ecumenism. In 1990 the Archdiocese of Montreal takes over university chaplaincy at McGill.

2015 — Paulists no longer have the vocations to keep the parish and the information centre running in Toronto. June 29 diocesan priest Fr. Mike McGourty takes over St. Peter’s and the diocese takes responsibility for the centre.

(Source: The Paulists and the Canadian Church by Paulist Father Paul Robichaud.)

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