St. Mary Immaculate, 150 years a church of the world

  • September 28, 2007
{mosimage}RICHMOND HILL, Ont. - It is easy to measure milestones of an individual, a political party, sports team and any such human institution. One could focus on what change a person made for humanity, the impact a political movement made to the wellbeing of a nation or what a sport did to unite people.

But can you measure the milestone of a church? What would you consider — the number of prayers said in its confines? What about the souls saved because of its establishment or the children born out of love founded in that church?

Milestones of a single church are many and immeasurable as evidenced by St. Mary Immaculate parish in Richmond Hill, a northern suburb of Toronto, which celebrated 150 years of existence in the Toronto archdiocese at a Sept. 23 Mass.

Its multitude of milestones were present in the form of generations of European, African, Asian, Chinese and American descendants who crammed the immaculately built church along Yonge Street.

The more than 500 people who filled the church and spilled out of the doorways represented the 7,000 parishioners and other people associated with the church that was founded in 1857.

{sidebar id=1}The huge and cavernous church looked small as people filled up all pews and some stood along the walls to listen to enchanting music by the choir accompanying the word of the Lord led by Archbishop Thomas Collins.

Collins said St. Mary Immaculate parish’s marking of 150 years is a celebration of life itself. Life, he said in his homily, is a gift from God which can only be fulfilling if it is filled with the spirit of giving and sharing.

“Life is short and it is in giving that it becomes fulfilling,” said Collins, adding that when we pray, we need to ask the Lord to help us to be “less caught up by my ego.”

“It is important that we not (just) exist, we live. The more we give the more we get from life and 150 years (of St. Mary Immaculate’s existence) symbolizes togetherness of humanity,” he said.

Fr. John Duffy said if one achievement were to be singled out of the numerous that could be attributed to the parish, it would be the ability of its successive leaders and members to encourage each other to initiate and sustain the appreciation of the Holy Spirit’s graces.

“This parish has done its share of encouraging a community response to the presence of the Holy Spirit and build a Christian presence in this community,” Duffy said in an interview after the Mass.

St. Mary Immaculate was opened in 1857, having been constructed on a piece of land donated to the Catholic Church several years before that was not utilized until the local visiting priest, a Fr. McNulty, mobilized a building brigade that eventually constructed the structure that still stands today (albeit with modifications and repairs).

 A news article in The Toronto Mirror at the time of the church’s opening described it as a  “beautiful structure of convenient size.” That description is still valid today, however when its parishioner numbers were counted in the hundreds at that time, they are now measured in thousands.

True to a celebration of “becoming of age” there was plenty of food passed around after the Mass and key ring souvenirs with an anniversary inscription on them.

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