Community is St. Gregory's strength for 50 years

By  J.P. Antonacci, Catholic Register Special
  • September 21, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - The first Mass in St. Gregory’s history was a far cry from the lavish affair that marked the central Etobicoke parish’s 50th anniversary Sept. 13.

For two years before their church at the corner of Kipling Avenue and Rathburn Road was finished in 1959, parishioners trudged to the local public school and sat cramped in hard-backed chairs while Fr. Henry Clarkson stood in front of a makeshift altar on the auditorium stage.

As they hosted spaghetti dinners and bingo fundraisers and volunteered to lay brick, those early parishioners felt a little like pioneers building their new spiritual home, said Marie Palleschi, whose family joined the wave of migration to the leafy borough in the 1950s.

Parishioners like the Palleschis did more than raise money. They were laying the foundation for a lifetime of community-minded activism. Led by the ladies of the Catholic Women’s League, parishioners would visit shut-ins and take patients from the nearby mental health hospital on afternoon outings to the park. The church even sponsored a refugee family from Vietnam who fled to Canada in the 1970s.  

On Sept. 13, 50 years to the day Cardinal James McGuigan blessed the church’s altar, founding parishioners joined younger generations in marking the milestone with Mass celebrated by Archbishop Thomas Collins.

Ann Andrachuk, a longtime Catholic school trustee and chair of the anniversary committee, was thrilled to see so many original parishioners in attendance.

“Their children have become parents, whose children went to the school and have grown up in the parish. That heritage is what makes this a community,” she said.

By getting to know his parishioners — who today number approximately 2,000 families — during his four years as pastor, Fr. John Bertao has come to appreciate what this milestone means to St. Gregory’s.

“What a beautiful blessing it is to celebrate what happened 50 years ago — the blessing of the building and of course the blessing of the community that gathers in the building,” he said.

A veteran member of countless parish committees, Palleschi may not get around as quickly as she used to. But her spirit is as vibrant as ever. She determinedly pushed her walker up the central aisle as part of the Mass’ offertory procession.

“The church is the people — not the priest or the building, but the people,” Palleschi explained when asked why she keeps at it.

(Antonacci is a freelance writer in Toronto.)

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