100 years of Italian heritage celebrated

By  Fr. John Iverinci, Catholic Register Special
  • April 18, 2008

{mosimage}TORONTO - The Italian priests of the archdiocese of Toronto and their parishes are preparing for the 100th anniversary of the first Italian church of Toronto. On Nov. 8, 1908, Archbishop Fergus McEvay gave the old St. Patrick’s Church to the Italian community, under the new name of “Our Lady of Mount Carmel.”

The Italian community kept this church as its own until the late 1960s. They were followed by Portuguese, Korean, Vietnamese and now Chinese communities.

Various social, cultural and religious events are being organized. There will be pilgrimages to the well-known shrines of Marylake on May 19 and of the Canadian Martyrs in Midland on June 29 with Archbishop Luigi Ventura, papal nuncio to Canada, attending.

The cultural events are prepared by UCEMI, an organization working with immigrants. On Nov. 3 a Mass will be celebrated in memory of all the Italian priests, sisters and lay faithful who have died in the past 100 years. On Nov. 4, 5 and 6, Fr. Claudio Bottini, OFM, will be coming from Jerusalem and will give special lectures on St. Paul.

The “pezzo forte” of the anniversary will take place on Sunday, Nov. 8, with a solemn Mass presided over by Archbishop Thomas Collins, followed by a gala dinner at La Riviera Banquet Hall.

A few months after his arrival in Toronto in June 1908, McEvay, knowing well the critical situation of the Italian community, decided to give to this community its first church. Toronto Prof. Luigi Pautasso, in commenting on that decision, wrote: “It is in this electric and difficult atmosphere for the Italian colony that it came, unexpected, the project of an Italian church in Toronto. This was the first sign of welcoming and recognition of the Italian presence by the Canadian society,” in particular by the local church.

In the past 100 years the Italian community has brought its vitality, flavour and colourful life into every sector of Toronto. Many churches are guided by priests who were born in Italy; many old churches have been restored and some newly built. The liturgy in the Italian parishes has followed the Second Vatican Council “aggiornamento” (opening to the outside world). There are 44 parishes with services in Italian, enriched by many associations, clubs and religious festivals in honour of the Virgin Mary and of the patron saints.

Even though the Italians identify themselves according to towns and regions in Italy, they are well integrated into Canadian society and into the local church. After 100 years, there are some signs of aging. In fact, non-Italian priests now head a good number of parishes. The Masses in Italian are well attended but mostly by seniors, while the second and third generations have moved into areas where they felt more comfortable with services in English. Looking at the future with a realistic eye, the community knows the Italian language will disappear from the churches, and yet there is hope that the Italian values of industriousness, inventiveness, sacrifice and hard working strong family ties and the joy of life will be emulated by their children and grandchildren. The accomplishments of the Italian community, for sure, will be engraved forever in the history of this city and this archdiocese.

(Fr. Iverinci is episcopal vicar for the Italians for the archdiocese of Toronto.)

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