Toronto St. Patrick’s parish set for centennial

By 
  • December 14, 2007

{mosimage}TORONTO - Hundreds of parishioners pack St. Patrick’s parish for noon hour Mass each Wednesday. They flock from all over Toronto and beyond for weekly devotions to Our Mother of Perpetual Help.

The downtown parish completed eight years of renovations at the end of November sprucing up Canada’s national Our Mother of Perpetual Help shrine among other things just in time for next year’s centennial celebrations.

“Devotions to Our Mother of Perpetual Help have become the focus of a good part of the activity here,” said Fr. Ed Eherer, chair of the centennial committee. So much so that the Redemptorists offer six Masses on Wednesday with time for private devotion before or after.

Devotion to Mary has been a staple in the parish since the Redemptorists established a permanent presence in Toronto in 1881. The archbishop of the day, J.J. Lynch, was so impressed with a mission the Redemptorist mission preachers from the United States gave at St. Michael’s Cathedral that he invited priests to continue their work at the original St. Patrick’s parish, now Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

{sidebar id=1}A copy of the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help was brought over from Rome that same year and enshrined in the church. But when the congregation started to outgrow the church the Redemptorists opened a new church in 1908 just behind the original on McCaul Street, taking with it the congregation, the icon of Mary and the name St. Patrick’s.

“We are pretty proud of the fact that the devotion of Our Mother of Perpetual Help is known more than we are. Pretty well it’s been (the Redemptorists) promoting it,” said Eherer.

Since 1929, novenas prayed to Our Mother of Perpetual Help have been held continuously on Wednesdays, reaching their peak during the Second World War. In the 1930s and ’40s the Toronto Transit Commission used to add extra street cars to meet the need. Then when the city built the subway system, it decided to name the nearby stop St. Patrick because the parish was familiar to a lot of people.

“When I enter St. Patrick’s Church I feel like I’m returning home,” said Jean Roy, who has come and gone from the parish over the years. She co-ordinates a lunch after Wednesday’s busy noon hour Mass.

Roy’s parents were married at the former St. Patrick’s parish in 1905 and she followed suit as a war bride years later. Although she moved out of the city to raise her family she continued to attend the novena services.

“No matter where I lived I was drawn to the parish. I’m very much attached to Our Mother of Perpetual Help.”

Apart from attracting parishioners through a strong devotion to Mary, St. Patrick’s is also a haven for German parishioners. At one time St. Patrick’s was the largest quasi-parish in the city taking in all German speakers in the area. It started to take in German immigrants after the First World War, but it was after the Second World War that a flood of German refugees from Romania and the former Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia came.

At a time when the German refugees were seen as the enemy, the Redemptorists acted as their spokesperson, said Eherer, who celebrates the Mass in German.

These one-time teenage refugees make up most of today’s elderly congregation at the 10 a.m. Sunday Mass, while their children, second-generation Canadians, are integrated into English-speaking parishes.

St. Patrick’s “represents a kind of a bridge between the old and the new with a strong devotion, very strong sense of the past and the great traditions, but also an openness to the new,” said Eherer.

Today St. Patrick’s participates in the Out of the Cold program, opening its basement doors as an overnight shelter for about 75 homeless men and women every Sunday evening. St. Patrick’s is also home to a weekly charismatic prayer and the Liguori Circle, a Redemptorist-run prayer group for young adult.

To celebrate its centennial St. Patrick’s will feature a spring concert in April, a Passion choral in the fall and a formal celebration, recognizing St. Patrick’s 100th anniversary since its dedication day, will take place Nov. 1 with Archbishop Thomas Collins.

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