Jennie McRae poses at Sts. Martha and Mary Parish in Mississauga with the letter she received from Cardinal Thomas Collins after completing her decade-long trek around the vast territory of the archdiocese to visit all its churches. Photo by Mickey Conlon

Woman completes her mission to visit every Catholic church in Toronto archdiocese

By 
  • September 11, 2018

It started with Jennie McRae wanting to celebrate her French-Canadian roots, but circumstance soon took over and launched her on a greater journey.

In the end, it was a journey that saw McRae make a pilgrimage to all 225 parishes in the Archdiocese of Toronto. If anyone else has accomplished that before, the archdiocese has no record of it.

“I should go see that,” was what McRae told herself about the Paroisse Sainte-Famille Church in Mississauga, Ont. “And the next thing I knew, I had visited 100 churches.”

From there, it became a matter of why stop there, said McRae.

“Now that my feet are wet, I might as well finish.”

Finish she did. After 10 years of following her GPS, she had made the trek — from Mississauga in the west to Oshawa out east, up to the Huronia area and back down to Lake Ontario, and all points in between — to all the Catholic parishes in the archdiocese, 225 in total over 13,000 square kilometres.

“It was a beautiful, beautiful experience,” said McRae, a parishioner at Sts. Martha and Mary Parish in Mississauga.

Her 10-year odyssey, completed earlier this year, wasn’t McRae’s first experience with pilgrimages. 

She has travelled to St. Anne de Beaupre outside Quebec City, St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal and Cap de Madeleine in Trois Rivières, all places she felt right at home with her French Canadian roots. But the 80-something senior said it didn’t take long to feel right at home on her diocesan journey either, where it was the visits to rural parishes that left a mark on McRae.

“I really enjoyed the country churches,” she said. “You’d stick out like a sore thumb because they know everyone who attends that Mass. Then all of a sudden there was a stranger.”

They weren’t strangers for very long. McRae said people would welcome her, and often she’d be asked what she was doing for lunch.

“I’d ask if there was a Timmy’s (Tim Hortons) and they would say there is a Timmy’s and the Timmy’s is at our home. You come with us and have lunch with us. 

“It was a beautiful, beautiful experience,” she said once again.

McRae was especially fond of the churches in Penetanguishene (St. Ann’s) and Lafontaine’s Paroisse Sainte-Croix, not surprising given her French roots. That part of the province has a rich French cultural background.

“In Penetang, the church is on the shore of Georgian Bay, it was beautiful.”

One of the things she found comforting was the numbers in the pews. Quite often she would find the churches full, something that had disappointed her on visits to churches in Quebec.

“I was very impressed with the attendance at churches in Toronto,” she said.

To speed up the process, McRae would try to attend two Masses a day when she was on her cross-diocese quest. That meant preparation beforehand, including finding two parishes clustered in the same region, and for rural parishes calling ahead to make sure the Masses didn’t conflict with each other.

 Her journey did not go unnoticed. A friend from her parish CWL learned of McRae’s pilgrimage and alerted the diocese. 

In turn, Cardinal Thomas Collins sent McRae a personal letter acknowledging her “most admirable” devotion. 

“I have heard with great joy, that you have over the past 10 years attended Mass in every one of the 225 parishes in the Archdiocese of Toronto,” Collins wrote. “This is a most admirable act of devotion. May Our Lord bless you always.”

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