Toronto's St. Anthony's parish celebrates its immigrant past

  • June 19, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - They sang multilingual songs, carried religious statues representing their former homelands and stopped traffic with a round-the-neighbourhood-block procession marking the 100th anniversary of St. Anthony’s parish.

Pastor Fr. Tiziano Paolazzi, c.s., joined with more than 800 of his parishioners June 14 to celebrate a three-fold anniversary: Corpus Christi Sunday, St. Anthony’s feast day and the parish’s centennial birthday.

Paolazzi, 50, said the celebration was a fitting tribute to the 2,400-family parish because of the community’s rich multicultural history. Its founding community included Irish Catholic immigrants. Now, the parish has families from Portugal, Brazil, Italy, Sri Lanka, Mexico and the Philippines. This means eight Masses over the weekend in four languages (four in Portuguese, two in English, one in Italian and one in Spanish).

Paolazzi noted that working with migrants is part of the ministry of the Missionaries of St. Charles, also known as Scalabrinians, who have been in charge of the parish since 1977.

“We take our faith in the streets,” he said of the annual multicultural event.

Paolazzi, the pastor since 2007, said residents near the parish have a special devotion to St. Anthony, including some from Sri Lanka who are members of other faiths but respect the Catholic saint because of a believed miracle in Sri Lanka attributed to St. Anthony.

“It’s like a small United Nations,” said longtime parishioner Seth Papasin about the church on Bloor Street West.

Papasin, 53, said her fondest memories of the parish, which she first attended in 1978, is this 20-year-old multicultural day.

The parish actually dates back to 1906, when Fr. James Walsh purchased land in the northern part of St. Helen’s parish for a school and a chapel. St. Anthony Mission was established as a parish in 1908 and ground was broken for a new church in the summer of 1909 at Gladstone Avenue and Shanly Street. The church has been at its current location on Bloor since 1921.

On its 100th anniversary, parishioners once again put on their Sunday best, complete with children wearing angel costumes and some parishioners donning the brown Franciscan robe reminiscent of St. Anthony. Parishioners carried statues representing the different communities which make up the parish for a procession: St. Lorenzo Ruiz (Philippines), Our Lady of Fatima (Portugal), Our Lady of Aparecida (Brazil), Our Lady of Guadalupe (Mexico), St. Anthony of Padua (Italy) and India’s Our Lady of Velankanni, who is also revered in Sri Lanka.

Papasin, who is a member of the pastoral council and heads the Concerned Filipinos of St. Anthony group, said she hopes the community’s vibrant faith will pass on to the youth as parishioners grow older.

Former pastor Fr. Ezio Marchetto, c.s., remembers the parish as an active and welcoming community. Even though some parishioners were new to Canada and faced their own challenges, the community, regardless of what group they belonged to, was always willing to help others, he said.

One year, parishioners helped raise money to build 48 houses in India. Another year, 5,000 boxes of aspirin were sent to Brazil, Haiti, the Philippines and migrant houses on the Mexico-U.S. and Mexico-Guatemalan borders.

“The idea was that although we come from different parts of the world,” said Marchetto, who was a 10-year pastor at the parish, “we are united by our faith.”

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