Etobicoke parish 'revolutionized' Bishop Lacey's priesthood

  • June 29, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - Toronto Auxiliary Bishop emeritus Pearse Lacey remembers the first time parishioners at Etobicoke’s Transfiguration of Our Lord got a taste of Vatican II.

Responding to the Council’s 1963 Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Lacey introduced what was then considered a novel idea: highlighting the laity’s role in the Eucharist.

So Lacey tried something new. He placed a ciborium at the church’s entrance and asked people to put a host in it as they walked in.

The 92-year-old founding pastor of Transfiguration recalls that it was like saying, “I want you to know that you are participating. (Parishioners) were not just bumps on a log,” Lacey said with a smile.

Fifty years after the parish’s founding, long-time parishioner Leo Higgins remembers how Transfiguration of Our Lord was one of the leading churches in post-Vatican II Toronto.

Higgins, 77, who has been attending since the parish opened in 1959, recalls volunteering to be a lector as part of Lacey’s efforts to get parishioners directly involved in the Mass. The parish also underwent a physical change: the altar was moved to face the congregation which reflected Vatican II teachings on the laity’s participation in the eucharistic celebration. Parishioners also started serving as communion ministers, something “unheard of” at that time, Higgins said.

Although some people were hesitant about the reforms, there was an “enthusiastic crowd of people” at Transfiguration who embraced the new changes, he said.

“The parish took off from there,” Higgins said.

This year, the parish turns 50. Lacey, its first pastor, will be back at the church where he says his life and priesthood were first “revolutionized.”

On June 27, 1959, Cardinal James McGuigan chose Lacey to establish a new parish in Weston, a northwest Toronto neighbourhood located south of Highway 401 and east of the Humber River. In the beginning, Lacey was celebrating Mass in local schools.

Lacey, who was at the parish until 1966, went knocking on countless doors to find his flock and donors to help build the church. That’s when he met Sheila Williams and her husband who proposed the start of  a Christian Family Movement group at the parish. The couple, he said, represented the active spirit of parishioners at Transfiguration. They’re what Lacey says the milestone anniversary is all about.

A church was finally built and opened on Dec. 18, 1960, on Ludstone Drive with 500 families.

The parish has since thrived and has had pastors like the late Fr. Sean O’Sullivan, the youngest Canadian to be elected Member of Parliament in 1972 before he entered the priesthood, and Fr. Patrick O’Dea, nine-year pastor at Toronto’s Newman Centre.

Current pastor Fr. Mark Richard Van Patten said the parish has seen dynamic changes over the years. At a family day event two years ago, more than 30 different nationalities from 3,000 families were represented.

For Lacey, Transfiguration’s anniversary is also a celebration of a formative time in the Toronto archdiocese and of the people — both clergy and laity — who helped usher in a spirit of renewal, hope and faith in the church.

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.