Basilian superior general Fr. George Smith was joined by pastor Fr. Chris Valka and 12 fellow Basilian Fathers at St. Basil's Chuch on Sept. 14 to celebrate the parish's 160th anniversary. Photo by Jean Ko Din

For 160 years, St. Basil’s has bridged two worlds

By 
  • September 15, 2016

TORONTO – For many of its 160 years, St. Basil’s parish has been a meeting place between the financial district represented by Bay Street and the collegiate atmosphere of the University of St. Michael’s College campus at the University of Toronto.

Basilian superior general Fr. George Smith said this gives the church a unique mission that cannot be replicated elsewhere.

“The essence of this parish’s mission is that for 160 years, you have had the unique privilege, unlike any other church in this archdiocese, of serving both of them,” he said. “In this encounter between these two worlds, we have an icon of the Basilian congregation itself.”

Smith was joined by 13 fellow Basilian Fathers in celebrating an intimate evening Mass on Sept. 14, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross.

The thanksgiving Mass marked the beginning of a nine-day Novena of Thanksgiving which was celebrated by a different Basilian priest every day at the 12:10 p.m. Mass.

Celebrating the parish’s 160th anniversary, Smith said, gives the Basilian Fathers a great sense of pride for the legacy the congregation and its surrounding community has built not just in Toronto, but in all of North America.

“In many ways, you might think of the Basilian Fathers as very proud grandparents,” said Smith. “They look back and say we’ve done very well. We gave birth to this college and to this parish and now they are both thriving.”

The Basilian Fathers, or the Congregation of St. Basil, arrived in North America from France in 1852 at the invitation of the Toronto diocese’s second bishop, Armand-François-Marie de Charbonnel.

They were brought to the New World as teachers and promptly went to work in building St. Michael’s College. On Sept. 14, 1856, the college parish celebrated its first Mass.

“It was the first Basilian church in North America and that’s why for us, it’s really important sentimentally,” said Smith. “Whenever any Basilian sees St. Basil, they say, ‘That’s where it all started in North America.’ ”

The anniversary doesn’t just represent the history of the Basilians, said St. Basil’s pastor Fr. Chris Valka. It also represents the many generations of students, faculty, staff and parishioners.

To mark the occasion, a parish committee has launched a blog series called “People in the Pews” for the parish web site. A team of writers is collecting stories from local parishioners that have been a part of shaping the community.

Valka is also working with St. Basil’s many lay ministries, including its Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program for young families and CREED: Catholicism Rediscovered program for those studying for the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA).

Each ministry is being charged to create a project that will celebrate their ministry during the anniversary year.

“When we were thinking about how we wanted to mark this celebration, we thought well, we could celebrate for a single day and make a really nice day out of it, but then some of the parishioners said that what makes this place special is the people. So let’s do what we always do but just give ourselves an excuse to do it a little better this year,” said Valka.

(Story updated Sept. 21, 2016)

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