St. Joseph's retains its small town feel

  • September 25, 2008
{mosimage}MISSISSAUGA, Ont. - All eight of Helen Steffler’s children celebrated their First Communion and Confirmation at St. Joseph’s Church in Mississauga, Ont., just a few of the thousands who have done the same over the parish’s 150-year history.

The parish was to mark its 150th anniversary with an Oct. 5 Mass celebrated by Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins.
Steffler, 74, who is part of the organizing committee for the milestone anniversary and is a long-time member of the parish’s Catholic Women’s League, said the community has a small-town feel.

“Most of the people, you may not know them,” she said, but “people still speak to you. They’re not stuck up.”

With 8,000 registered families, pastor Fr. Marc-Andre Campbell admits it’s a large parish. But he agrees that most parishioners still identify with the name “St. Joseph’s parish of Streetsville,” instead of Mississauga. The town of Streetsville amalgamated with the city of Mississauga in 1974. 

As for Steffler, her family has been at the parish for 50 years. She’s seen plenty, including an August 1985 fire which caused $172,000 worth of damage to the church. All of the stained glass windows were salvaged but Masses for the then-900-family parish  were temporarily held at a nearby Catholic elementary school gym. Plans to rebuild the church were set aside because of limited parking and space within the church, along with safety concerns.

Construction for a new church on Durie Road began in 1989 and finished about a year later.

Campbell, who has been the pastor for two years, said community spirit is alive and well in the parish today. Not only do people pack the pews — there are about 4,000 to 5,000 people at Sunday Masses — but they also are involved in the parish’s award-winning choir, the Knights of Columbus and the St. Vincent de Paul Society.

Campbell said people’s generosity was evident in a $10,000 donation from the parish last Ash Wednesday to an orphanage in Bethlehem after Campbell spoke of his experience meeting the children during a pilgrimage in the Holy Land.

“If you look at the priests before me, all were very different. But all brought their gifts,” he said.

The parish's Rosary Garden was established by former pastor Fr. Norm Roberts in 2006 as a response to Canada's legalization of same-sex marriage. Campbell said the purpose of the garden was to be a positive, affirming response to defending the traditional family.

In the early years, the parishioners were traditionally from Irish and Portuguese backgrounds. But now it also includes many parishioners from the Philippines and India.

Beverley Wolkowich, 65, is a long-time parish secretary. In 23 years of working at St. Joseph’s and 39 years as a parishioner, Wolkowich said she has enjoyed the busyness of the parish and diversity of people she has met.

As for the parish’s future direction, Campbell said one of its new initiatives is reaching out to youth. It recently connected with students at the University of Toronto’s Missisauga campus and has a fairly young staff: Campbell is 38, assistant pastor Fr. Ed Curtis is 30 and youth minister Orianna Bertucci is in her 20s, he said.

The history of the parish dates back to the early 1830s when Irish immigrants settled in the rural areas of Peel County. Mass was celebrated in log chapels by priests from Wildfield, a hamlet in Peel region. In the pioneer days, the southern Peel area was predominantly Protestant and bitter interdenominational tensions were beginning to subside in the 1850s.

In 1838, Masses were celebrated in the village of Streetsville in the home of Richard Cuthbert, an Irish Catholic shoemaker, until a church was built in 1858. Cuthbert donated land opposite his house, on the north side of Main Street and valued at $600, to build the first Streetsville Catholic church.

Under missionary priest Fr. John McNulty, a brick Catholic church was completed in Streetsville and served many mill workers who lived along the banks of the Credit River. Bishop Armand-Francois de Charbonnel consecrated the altar and St. Joseph’s Streetsville on July 18, 1858, in a five-hour ceremony. The Gothic Revival church, “the finest in the diocese outside Toronto,” played host to distinguished visitors and speakers including Thomas D’Arcy McGee, one of Canada’s Fathers of Confederation. 

By 1860, it was serving an expanded area, including the Fifth Line Church, Irishtown (Dixie), Clairville, Malton and Weston.

In 1872, a new church was built to establish a parish headquarters for the area because of changes in the area which made the Fifth Line Church location unsuitable. The pastor at that time, Fr. William Flaherty, was an accomplished violinist and raised funds for the new church by giving concerts and lectures in the United States and Canada. The parish was reorganized in 1918 and St. Joseph’s Streetsville was placed under St. Mary’s parish in Brampton. In 1956, St. Joseph’s became an independent parish.

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