History of our Church

Through the years Saint Anthony’s Church has witnessed the legendary growth in relationship with people across cultures. As immigration continues to rise, e.g., in the 1900s when continental Europeans like Jews, Italians and Ukrainians came, they first clustered in poor inner-city areas of Toronto. From where we were before to the current time of reckoning where our Catholicism has undergone a lot of changes, parishes have been explored with greater depth and significance reflecting renewal of inner lives and integration of people from different ethnic backgrounds.

Seen in light of the saving movements that parishes evoke in the life experiences of immigrants, the culture of inclusion and the common priesthood of these baptized immigrants have been tapped for pastoral ministry through the years. It’s like saying “all the flesh and the soul of the Church is in action.”

Saint Anthony’s Church was established as a parish on December 8, 1908.1 Father John James McGrand was appointed its first pastor. The ground breaking ceremony was held on July 3, 1909 and the cornerstone was laid on September 12, 1909 by His Grace Archbishop Fergus Patrick McEvay on the corner of Gladstone Avenue and Shanly Street.2 On January 9, 1910, however, the new Saint Anthony’s church was dedicated and blessed and in that same year the Stations of the Cross were blessed and installed.3 The church with its Romanesque design has 800 sitting capacity.

We do not have historical information why the planned building of the church on the corner of Gladstone Avenue and Shanly Street, whose project and design were already approved in 1909, was never realized and why eventually the church was built on the corner of Bloor Street and Rusholme Road.4 The construction of the present church we have now started on July 1, 1921 and it was completed in September 1922.5 Archbishop McNeil blessed the altar and the statue of Saint Anthony.6

As Joseph Fitzpatrick has noted, European priests and sisters who rose from within their own immigrant groups were immensely important because they “knew the way their people felt, the sufferings they endured, the values they cherished, the practices that meant loyalty or generosity or devotion to the faith.7 They had a keen sense of the interests and needs of their people, not only religious and spiritual, but economic, social, and political.8 This is one fundamental aspect in a parish awareness that grounds interests and concerns with people of faith like what Msgr. John James McGrand, first pastor of Saint Anthony, did with the second generation of Irish and English immigrants.

In 1950 Msgr. John James McGrand stepped down as pastor after forty-one years of service.9 He died on October 23, 1953.10 Fr Wilfred L. Gavard took his place as administrator on August 30, 1951 and eventually, he became the pastor.11

Following this, another bigger population inflow came to the fore. British newcomers still led at first. However, Italians became a chief component between the 50s and 60s while Germans, Poles, Hungarians, Balkan Slavs, Greeks and Portuguese steadily widened the non-Anglo-Celtic population segment.12

Cardinal Avery Dulles’s exploration on ‘models of evangelization’ has this truth that ‘in this country, the Catholic population would probably be shrinking except for immigration from Catholic countries.’13 Hence, key issues about immigrants’ cultural values have to be given a space for their sense of belonging, of personal worth, of giving and receiving from each other, and of sharing the ups and downs of life, a secure and integrated ministerial identity that has the potential to engage in genuine dialogue with those who come from other cultures.

In 1964 Saint Anthony’s Church opened its doors to these new immigrants and began its service in Italian.14 Fr Gabriel Maruzzo, FIC and Fr Pietro Borghi, FIC were the first Italian priests who ministered to them.15

With the growing number of contributions brought by the Second Vatican Council, liturgy was one particular issue that reflected in the layout of the interior of the church.16 A Liturgical Building Commission was formed at the time of Fr Joseph O’Neil, pastor, and the De Montfort Studios of Toronto were contracted to carry out the renovations.17 Hence, liturgical architecture came out as a priority at that time reflecting on the shift from a proposition to a more Trinitarian model of divine revelation.

Emerging from the church’s identity, the common ground is to bring people closer to communal celebrations. It is by doing this that each one learns from each other; relationships are strengthened and appreciated.

As Canada’s population continued to diversify in great proportions, some scholars reflect varied demographic implications, particularly in Toronto. In this case, growth in immigration generated some repercussions especially in regard to the rise of ethnic consciousness in Canadian society. It is a huge movement of people living in a culture that is driven by relentless innovation – willing to take part in their new adopted country – Canada that constantly looks toward the future in order not to be left behind. The Portuguese immigrants came. According to the first census return in 1964, there were ten thousand Portuguese registered in Saint Mary’s Church on the corner of Adelaide and Bathurst Street.18 It has been calculated that there were about eighty-five thousand people of Portuguese descent at the time.19

In 1973 the first Portuguese mass was held at the basement of Saint Anthony’s Church. It became weekly when Fr Antonio Arruda Viveiros became a clergy member of the parish.20 In June 1977 Fr Santo Cigolini, c.s. became the pastor.21 He was the first Scalabrinian priest who worked at Saint Anthony’s whose leadership as pastor took its course for more than 10 years.

It has been more than three decades now that the Scalabrinian Missionaries have been serving Saint Antony’s. As a diverse parish, the emerging vision articulates the reweaving of this ministry as a “seamless garment.” By this is meant that leadership of this ministry must model the inclusiveness that the ministry itself seeks to achieve.22 It is the theology of inclusion that takes its course in a dialectical framework that is sensitive to the way of life radically for others regardless of cultures. Hence, it interacts and contributes to the fundamental unity at its core.

Masses and other religious services in Italian, Portuguese, English, Spanish, and Tagalog are now being offered in the parish, especially on Sundays. To date their ethnic and religious commitments have become like the ecclesial engine that keeps the parish thrive and grow in many ways. Their regular worship services have reinforced their identity as Portuguese, Italians, Hispanics, Brazilians, Sri Lankans, or Filipinos. Organizational culture of their ethnic heritage and popular devotions play an important part in shaping the character, content, and implications of the community’s identity.

On Tuesdays, the church is open all day like a round-the-clock devotion to Saint Anthony. As a theological affirmation with equal validity of a variety of truth claims and pluralism as a given fact in the parish, it is essential to find a common ground that expresses acceptance and inclusion. Openness to embrace other ethnic groups or relations with non-Christians Religion is one way to reinforce the missionary mandate of the Church. It is through dialogue, e.g., dialogue of cultures; renewal of its inner life as a church with fundamental human rights and freedoms. With these in mind, we become a living document of ecclesiology in the modern world. As Lumen Gentium 14, paragraph 2 says, “Spiritum Christi habentes,” (“possessing the Spirit of Christ”).

On the strength of this issue, the notions of unity and diversity are even inherent in the conciliar understanding of ecclesial communion as fundamental to the church’s self-understanding.23 Lumen Gentium, Christus Dominus and Perfectae Caritatis, for example, speak eloquently of communion as expressive of both unity and the pluriform diversity of gifts in the church.24 They are focused with distinct boundaries and realistic vision significant to parish life and leadership.

After more than a century, the living history of Saint Anthony’s Church continues to unfold new ecclesial movements that enable people of cultures to rediscover the wealth of their faith. They are like all seasons that exemplify wonder and change. As secularism and challenges of modernity emerge as today’s culture of success, power, and control, our calling as committed Christians needs to be consistently on a journey; a journey both inward and outward heading for unity and harmony. It consists though of some straight & crooked lines along the way that make one fall and get hurt, but his/her wounds and hurts become God’s location of grace.

1 Ezio Marchetto, c.s. A Vision Shared – The Fresco at Saint Anthony’s Church. (Toronto, Ontario: Basilian Press, 1998). 8.
2 Ibid., 9.
3 Ibid., 11.
4 Ibid., 12
5 Ibid.
6 Ibid., 13.
7 Matovina, Timothy. “Leadership.” Latino Catholicism. Transformation in America’s Largest Church. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2012. 134-135.
8 Fitzpatrick, Joseph P. “The Hispanic Poor in a Middle-Class Church.” America 159 (2 July 1988). 11.
9 Marchetto, 14.
10 Ibid.
11 Ibid.
12 Cf. Robert Fulford. Accidental City: The Transformation of Toronto. (Toronto, Canada: Houghton Mifflin, 1996).
13 Dulles, Avery, S.J. Evangelization for the Third Millennium. New York/Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2009. 90.
14 Marchetto, 15-16.
15 Ibid.,
16 Ibid., 16.
17 Ibid., 17
18 Ibid., 18
19 Quoted from Marchetto’s A Vision Shared, 18-19. (See “Portuguese Immigrants in Toronto” in Polyphony Toronto’s People Polyphony The Bulletin of the Multicultural History Society of Ontario. Vol. 6 No. 1 Spring/Summer 1984. 154-157).
20 Marchetto, 19.
21 Ibid.
22 Doris Gottemoeller, RSM. Apostolic Religious Life: Ecclesial Identity and Mission. Origins. October 20, 1995. Vol. 24, No. 19. 325.
23 Quoted from The Interplay of Unity and Diversity. Sister Euart, RSM.   Vol. 24: No. 21. November 3, 1994. 362. See also: Michael A. Fakey, SJ, “Ecclesial Community as Communion,” The Jurist 36 (1976) 13; James H. Provost, “Structuring the church as Communion; Joseph A. Komonchak, “The Local Church and the Church Catholic: The Contemporary Theological Problematic,” The Jurist 52 (1992) 416-426.
24 Ibid.