New life shows at inner-city parish

By  Daniel Mesec, The Catholic Register
  • May 1, 2007
{mosimage}Toronto - St. Clare’s parish is seeing new faces these days, demonstrating how an aging inner-city parish community can find new life within its young, diverse parishioners.
As Toronto grows even more multicultural, neighbourhoods such as the one at Dufferin Street and St. Clair Avenue, a traditional Italian community, are becoming more diverse. 

Young families have begun to flourish in the parish, which is now bringing together parishioners from all nationalities and ages. With 3,000 families registered, St. Clare’s continues to attract parishioners from all over the city.

Built in 1913, St. Clare’s was the largest church in the Dufferin-St. Clair area and served a community mainly made up of Irish and Italian immigrants.

According to Dina Totino, a parishioner since 1984,  most who attend Mass at St. Clare’s are lifetime parishioners and care very much about how the church is run and maintained. Since Fr. Ernesto De Ciccio came to St. Clare’s in 1998, he has supported everyone in any way that he can to start new clubs and programs for the parish.

“He has empowered many people in the church to do things they didn’t think they could,” said Denise Araiche, a parishioner of nine years and a member of the parish council.

St. Clare’s has started a number of community activities that attract parishioners from a wide range of parishes. Dinner dances, potlucks, children’s Easter egg hunts and the feast of St. Anthony celebration are just a few of the popular occasions.

De Ciccio has also helped start programs within the church. The children’s liturgy, which takes place during Mass on Sundays, teaches children about God and the Bible in ways they can understand and appreciate. He’s also helped start the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults program, which continues to grow in popularity.  

“I truly believe the Holy Spirit is working here, bringing people together,” said Araiche.

Like any church, St. Clare’s is dependent on its pastor and the energy he brings to the church. De Ciccio is a very welcoming and spirited priest who continues to revitalize the parish, says Totino.

Before De Ciccio many of the ethnic groups in the church weren’t communicating. But through the pastor’s energy and his ability to speak a number of different languages the church has never been closer, said Totino.

“What I’ve tried to do is build a sense of community to bring people together,” De Ciccio told The Catholic Register.

De Ciccio also actively reaches out to those who physically cannot attend Mass. Every month he visits 30 sick parishioners for prayers and to administer Communion.  

Now that a young generation of parishioners is starting to filter into the community, St. Clare’s is preparing to renovate the 94-year-old church. The parish has started a capital campaign to raise $500,000. St. Clare’s is planning to use $300,000 to repair eroding stone from the front and sides of the church as well as some new brickwork and paint. The other $200,000 will be used to repair cracked walls and worn-out carpet inside the parish and restore the painting above the altar.

In the nine years that De Ciccio has been St. Clare’s pastor, he has watched the parish renew itself from within.

“For those who think the city is old and dead St. Clare’s is the proof that it is still very alive,” said De Ciccio.

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