Mississauga Slovak parish 75 years young

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  • April 14, 2009
{mosimage}MISSISSAUGA, Ont. - Seventy-five years is a long time, but at Sts. Cyril and Methodius Slovak Roman Catholic parish all those years mask the truth about the parish. The truth is the parish is young.

Third-year University of St. Michael’s College student Stefan Slovak is a member of the parish council and an active organizer of the parish’s 75th anniversary celebrations. He was born in Canada to a Slovak father and an Irish-Canadian mother, grew up in the suburbs and has absorbed Slovak language and culture entirely from the expatriate community of 40,000 Slovaks in and around Toronto.

“We’re all Slovaks and the culture is very strong within the community,” Slovak said. “You find typically the people who are most active and most devoted to the care and upkeep of the parish are actually second generation people. Their parents were the ones who built the parish, or their grandparents.”

If your image of an ethnic parish is of a last redoubt of aging immigrants hanging on to their language and customs for dear life, Sts. Cyril and Methodius in Mississauga will shatter the image, said Slovak.

“Yes, we are an ethnic parish. Yes, we want to keep the language and the culture. But one thing that (our pastors) always emphasized was spirituality first, the culture second,” Slovak said.

About 70 per cent of Slovaks are Roman Catholic, with another 20 per cent Byzantine-rite Slovak Catholics. The church is woven into every aspect of Slovak culture from music and dance to basic attitudes about community and family.

The centrality of the church has meant that Sts. Cyril and Methodius has been a first stop for new immigrants since the 1930s, said Slovak.

“When they come here, it’s to the church right away,” he said. “Even if they’re not the most religious people, they see that’s where the people are.”

There have been waves of immigrants from Slovakia over the years — those who came before the Second World War, refugees from the communist takeover after the Second World War, refugees from the 1968 Prague Spring, another wave following the 1989 Velvet Revolution and a steady stream of young, ambitious professionals during the last decade.

As Slovakia split from the Czech Republic and joined the European Union, the stream of immigrants to Canada has slowed. Slovaks are finding it easier to find jobs within Europe, particularly in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

“There’s not going to be that wave again,” said Slovak. “But we also realize there are many Slovaks in and around Toronto who are immigrants post-Velvet Revolution in the 2000s, but they don’t come to the church... We’re trying to look to that crowd, the post-Velvet Revolution crowd.”

The new children’s choir and a series of parish celebrations of the last 75 years are all aimed at offering families a resource that is both spiritual and cultural — a way of being Slovak, being Catholic and being Canadian.

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