Fr. Peter Choi and St. André Bessette Parish member Lindsay Nasci are eager to break ground on the first church in the Archdiocese of Toronto named after the first Canadian-born saint once COVID-19 restrictions lift and a final $2 million in funds is raised. Photo courtesy Fr. Peter Choi

St. André Bessette Parish $2 million shy of goal

  • October 17, 2020

St. André Bessette Parish is about $2 million away from securing the funds needed to build a real church home for its congregation in Vaughan, Ont.

Fr. Peter Choi and the large, diverse and young St. André Bessette community — over 1,700 families are enrolled as parish members and attend services at St. Cecilia Catholic Elementary School gymnasium in Maple, Ont. — have steered this fundraising quest closer towards the magic $14.5-million figure ever since the parish was founded in 2013.

The Catholic Register reported in April 2019 that the Archdiocese of Toronto provided a direct contribution of $4 million, and the archdiocese’s Family of Faith Campaign offered a $4-million interest-free loan. Raising the remaining $6.5 million was tasked to the parish. So far, $4.5 million has been accumulated through anonymous donors, a successful capital campaign in early 2019 that reaped $2.35 million and funds from events such as a golf tournament and gala. Choi hopes a final crowdfunding campaign will get this project across the goal line.

This latest drive, branded as “$2 Two Build,” encourages patrons to help build the church “one toonie at a time.” However, the 30 contributors responsible for the more than $3,000 raised thus far are predominantly donating $50 or $100.

“Fundraising has a snowball effect,” said Choi. “It starts slow, but it builds momentum. We have almost one million people in Vaughan, so if half of the people could donate a toonie, we will realize our goal very soon.”

The original goal entering 2020 was to run the campaign during the early months of the year as the parish had planned to break ground on a 5.5-acre plot of land on Major Mackenzie Drive Oct. 17 to commemorate the 10th anniversary of St. André Bessette being canonized by Pope Benedict XVI. But as with everything around the world, COVID-19 derailed those plans. Fundraising ground to a halt and the tight-knit community was unable to come together for months.

There is no new target date for a groundbreaking ceremony as Ontario is entrenched in a second pandemic wave featuring daily case counts that exceed the peak of the first wave.

St. André Bessette (1845- 1937) is the first male Canadianborn saint. Born in Saint-Grégoire d’Iberville, Que, in 1845, he’s renowned for miraculously healing thousands of people with illnesses and debilitating conditions, helping construct Montreal’s St. Joseph Oratory and being a lay brother for the Congregation of the Holy Cross. His 40 years as a doorman for Notre Dame College in Montreal is an example of his humble approach to ministry, a quality Choi admires.

“When you look at Br. André, he came from very humble origins as his parents died very young, and that meant he had to work for himself. He was very short and didn’t have a lot of strength. Even when he became a brother, nobody really wanted him, so his bishop had to vouch for him,” said Choi.

“All the suffering that he has gone through makes him so relatable to us. I am amazed by his humility and patience. He was a humble porter who opened doors for people. That touches my heart because he opened doors for people and prayed for people. He was a gatekeeper for God.”

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