'Beacon on the Beach' undergoing centennial renewal

  • November 28, 2008
{mosimage}TORONTO - As St. John’s Catholic church in the Beaches celebrates its 100th anniversary, it is also rediscovering its youth.

Where the parish’s Sunday morning catechesis used to see 10-15 children, lifelong parishioner Deacon Gerry Godsoe said there are now more than 45. But as it moves forward in its reinvigorated state, the parish’s dynamic history is not forgotten.
“Just walking into the church, one thing that sticks out to me is the list of the war dead and the stained glass windows dedicated to soldiers,” Godsoe said. “There’s a lot of memory of those who fought.”

Parishioners say it’s fair to say that they are in transition — discovering new roots while appreciating the old. While the current modern Gothic-style building was erected on Kingston Road in 1931, the faith community began as a mission church in the late 1800s. It became St. John’s parish in 1909. The parish will begin its year of celebrations with a candlelight Mass on Nov. 29 at 4:30 p.m. — at the start of Advent, the beginning of the liturgical year in the church.

Joan Breech, a parishioner at St. John’s for about 40 years, said the church carries many memories for her, but in particular, she fondly remembers the time the parish sponsored Vietnamese refugees in the 1980s.

“The whole parish came together and sponsored a huge family that had 13 people,” she said. “We helped them to get their own place and had a celebration in our parish hall. These people were very industrious and were able to move out on their own.”

Breech said it made a deep impact on the parish as a whole, helping to bring parishioners closer together as many took turns volunteering to drive some of the refugees to job interviews, provide them with food and whatever necessities that arose. The parish later sponsored a few more Vietnamese refugees.

“It really provided an opportunity to get to know other parishioners that you normally just saw at Mass and I think it helped in a big way to build community.”

Breech added that another community builder is the annual ShareLife fund-raising campaign the parish took on that had people going door-to-door.

“We always had enough volunteers — people were disappointed when they didn’t have enough doors in the neighbourhood to go to,” she added with a laugh.

Serving Toronto’s Beaches’ neighbourhood, a less transient area in the city, provides some stability for the parish’s numbers. It counts about 1,300 parishioners.

“We call it the Beacon on the Beach,” said Fr. John Newton, pastor at St. John’s. “People are very involved and have taken ownership of the parish.”

Newton said the parish is planning to re-do some of the interior of the church — freshen it up with new carpeting and some painting. But its current capital campaign goal of $120,000 is also dedicated in part to paying back what is owed the archdiocese for coming to its rescue in recent years.

“We had a fire at the rectory the first year I was here that left it as a shell,” Newton said.

Improvements to the interior of the church will help add flair to the already impressive building features such as oak woodwork and brown stucco. Looking to the back of the church, one can see into the loft which contains a Casavant pipe organ, still used today to accompany the church’s 30-person choir at its Sunday 11 a.m. Mass.

“It’s an excellent choir,” said Anne O’Brien, a long-time parishioner who sometimes plays the organ when the “regulars” aren’t there. “It puts on concerts twice a year.”

O’Brien is now happy “just being a parishioner” after many years serving on committees and participating in the Mass as eucharistic minister, lector, cantor, etc. She is currently part of a prayer group at the parish that meets every Friday to pray for those who have cancer — an initiative started after a previous pastor became ill with cancer.

For a complete listing of the church’s anniversary events, visit www.stjohnsrc.ca .

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