Brampton's St. Mary's a people's parish for 100 years

  • September 11, 2009
{mosimage}BRAMPTON, Ont. - Whether it was rewarding altar servers with wrestling tickets at Maple Leaf Gardens, covering unpaid heating bills for a struggling family or offering a sympathetic ear to someone whose marriage was breaking down, parishioners at the historic St. Mary’s Church in Brampton, Ont., say it’s stories like these which highlight the spirit of friendship and stewardship between its pastors and the community for a century.

The parish will mark its 100th anniversary Sept. 19 with a Mass and reception. Pastor Fr. James Cherickal will be joined by nine other priests to concelebrate the anniversary Mass with Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins.

Cherickal says the parish will commemorate its Irish Catholic roots and the sacrifices of the early Catholics attending the church who, for a time, didn’t have a permanent pastor or building. Parishioners had even gathered at a house for Mass, just like the first Christian communities, he said.

“There was so much faith and commitment intertwined in ordinary life,” Cherickal said.

The church’s roots can be traced back to travelling 19th-century missionary priests from the Kingston, Ont., diocese.

Former altar server Jim Doyle, 73, recalls the kindness of the parish’s longest-serving pastor, Fr. Cyril W. Sullivan, who was at St. Mary’s from 1946 to 1972. This included treating some altar servers to their first trip to Maple Leaf Gardens for a wrestling match.

Doyle started attending St. Mary’s with his parents in 1938. Sullivan presided at the wedding of Doyle and his wife 50 years ago and baptized his four children.

Former pastor Fr. Larry Marcille recalls the energetic spirit of his fellow priests and parishioners at St. Mary’s from 2004 to 2006. Marcille, 57, said newly ordained priests like himself have benefited from the presence of retired priests like Fr. Reg Whalen and Bishop Philip Pocock, who lived at the parish over the years.

“Every one of those priests certainly touched the lives of people,” Marcille said. “The greatest thing (Fr. Whalen) taught me is to listen, to learn and love the people.”

Marcille said having active volunteers at the church, such as the St. Vincent de Paul Society and its food bank, encouraged him at St. Mary’s.

According to the parish’s longest-serving deacon, Henry Verschuren, 76, the parish has undergone demographic changes over the years, from a predominantly Irish Catholic community to what Cherickal now calls a “mini-United Nations” of people from countries like Sri Lanka, Poland and the Philippines. Verschuren said he enjoyed seeing people donning African headdresses at some of the hundreds of baptisms he has performed in the last 38 years.

The church, with its missionary origins dating back to 1864, had a cornerstone laid Nov. 2, 1909. On Sunday, Feb. 20, 1910, Archbishop Fergus Patrick McEvay opened and blessed the church.  In 1918, St. Mary’s officially became a parish. In 1964, a new and larger church was built at 66 Main St. S. to accommodate the growing population of more than 1,000 families.

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