St. Cecelia's diversifies over past 100 years

By  Myles Gough, The Catholic Register
  • March 16, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - Parishioners at St. Cecilia’s Catholic Church are enjoying a year-long celebration packed full of fund-raisers to commemorate the 100 years their church has been standing.

With more than 30 events planned events to keep the celebration alive, Fr. Joseph Pap Tran, who has been pastor for the past four years, said it’s an exciting and busy time.

“We have a Lenten retreat on March 29,” he said. “And the closing Mass in November will be presided over by Archbishop (Thomas) Collins.”

One of the largest events is the church’s renowned St. Patrick’s Day celebration, which took place on March 8 this year. The celebration is an annual reflection of St. Cecilia’s Irish roots. The parish was founded in 1895 by Irish immigrants, and for more than a century afterward the church has remained a place of worship and gathering for members of the Irish community.  

Built in 1909, the Gothic-style church is an iconic building for residents of Toronto’s Junction and High Park neighbourhoods. Inside, the church boasts a 93-year old pipe organ, 21-metre ceilings, beautiful murals and stained glass windows that line the walls, and a detailed mosaic floor.

John Rooney, head of St. Cecilia’s historical committee, said the church is full of amazing artwork, but the building itself is in need of work. The church has been undergoing a series of restorations for several years and this continues to be the focus during its centenary celebration.

“There’s some painting that needs to be finished, and some outside stone work that needs to be repaired,” Rooney said.

All of the money raised from the events will fund the renovations, he said.

One potential money-maker is a pictoral history of the church that will be published as a small booklet and distributed to members of the congregation. Rooney, a parishioner for 10 years, said the booklet will include photos of the church’s architecture and artwork, its congregation and all of its former pastors. There will also be letters from religious officials and a history of the parish.

The church was named for St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music. Tran said it was an Irish landmark in Toronto for more than 70 years before it gradually became more diverse. Now, the church caters to a much larger demographic. While it continues to serve as an English-speaking parish, the church also has a large Vietnamese congregation. Since 1981, St. Cecilia’s Church has been home to the Mission of the Vietnamese Martyrs.  

Tran said there are several benefits to sharing the parish between two communities.

“Financially it is more cost effective, but it can also strengthen relationships and improve understanding between cultures,” he said.

Robert Tuzi, chair of the centenary committee, rejoined the church four years ago after moving away from the neighbourhood as a child. Tuzi said the church offers a sense of belonging every time he steps through its doors and said his experiences as a volunteer and parishioner have been very positive.

“I grew up literally right across the street, and now it feels like I never left,” he said.

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