St. Anthony's celebrates a century of worship

  • October 14, 2010
St. Anthony’s parishToronto - The very first sermon ever preached at St. Anthony’s on Bloor Street West was about social justice.

“The dedicatory ritual completed, Mass was celebrated by Rev. Fr. Coyle of the Church of the Holy Family. Rev. Fr. Roach preached the sermon, pointing out the relationship of the Roman Catholic Church to the social and economic problems of the day,” wrote the Empire and Mail on Sept. 25, 1922.

The pews in 1922 were full of Irish immigrants. They weren’t rich. A few of them were poor. Most of them were in the middle, struggling to establish themselves in a new country — in a city that didn’t always think of Irish Catholics as its most upstanding citizens.

Those pews today are still filled with immigrants, though the Irish departed a couple generations ago.

The parish, which pre-dated the big romanesque church by 12 years, will celebrate its 100th anniversary Oct. 23 with a thanksgiving Mass at 5:30 p.m. followed by dinner in the basement parish hall.

Numerically, Brazilians are now the biggest group at St. Anthony’s. But they share space with Filipinos, Central Americans, Mexicans, Peruvians, Colombians, Ecuadorians, Portuguese, Azoreans, Italians and Tamils. On the Feast of St. Anthony all the communities of the parish are together — including the long-departed Irish who are represented by a triqueta, the Celtic symbol of the Trinity, inlaid in the floor behind the altar.

“It’s one day that we worship our own saint and all the others,” said Ana Alfonso of the Portuguese-Azorean community at St. Anthony’s and a member of the anniversary committee. “It’s chaotic to organize them all.”

Around the church there are statues and images of Our Lady of Aparacida (Brazilian), Our Lady of the Clouds (Ecuador and Peru), Our Lady of Guadalupe (Mexican), Our Lady of Fatima (Portuguese), Our Lady of Hope (Azores), Our Lady of Vailankanni (Tamil), the Child Jesus (Colombian), St. Lorenzo (Filipino). Italians claim St. Anthony, but so do Tamils, Filipinos, Hispanics —  in fact, everybody.

The Feast of Christ the King is St. Anthony’s multicultural day, with Mass in many languages.

“Even though we’re different, we’re together,” said Lourdes Medeiros, a committee member.

The parish worries about the future. The Brazilian community is young and they’re having babies. There’s a Brazilian youth group at the parish.

But the other communities are going a bit grey. There are efforts to strengthen ties to the local schools. But Medeiros can foresee those young families heading for the suburbs where they can find newer, roomier houses for less money.

“Young families can’t afford to live in the city,” she said.

From the Tamil perspective, getting young people involved, giving them responsibility and listening to their concerns, is going to be the key to the future, said committee member Peter Joseph.

“More young people should be in every celebration,” he said.

Keeping people in touch with their culture and spiritual traditions is the real job of the parish, said Seth Papasin of the Filipino community.

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