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Jan 18
5 Facts - Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

​The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity runs from Jan. 18-25. For those of us who may not know a lot about it, here are five facts about this key week in the life of the Church that reminds us of Jesus' prayer "that they may be one so that the world may believe (John 17:21)."

1. Father Paul Wattson and Mother Lurana White, co-founders of the Society of the Atonement, celebrated the first Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in 1908.

2. The celebration began as the "Church Unity Octave" (an eight-day period of prayer) and evolved into annual worldwide observance among Christians.

 Pictured above, the logo for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.  

3. Jan. 18-25 spans the days between the feasts of Saints Peter and Paul.

4. Since 1966, the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches and the Vatican Secretariat (now Council) for Promoting Christian Unity began collaborating on a common international text for worldwide usage.

5. The theme for 2018 is: "Your Right Hand, O Lord, Glorious in Power (Exodus 15:6)." To help us unpack the meaning of this, this year's resources were prepared by the churches of the Caribbean.

For more information about the origins of this week, please visit www.atonementfriars.org/2018-week-of-prayer-for-christian-unity/.

As we begin the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, what does this year's theme mean to you on your spiritual journey? 


Jan 15
The Catholic Register celebrates 125 years

The Catholic Register newspaper celebrated 125 years of publication on January 5. Below is an editorial that ran recently, reflecting on the paper's mission to readers and continuing commitment to its founding principles. 

On Jan. 5, 1893, founding editor Fr. John Teefy introduced the debut issue of The Catholic Register to Canada's growing Catholic community with these words: "We are a Catholic journal — Catholic first, last and always.

This shapes our life and orders all our thought. From this standpoint we survey events, upon this ground we discuss questions, and to this fact we owe our being, our usefulness and our importance."

Schoolchildren read The Catholic Register in an undated file photo. 

The world has changed profoundly since then, but as true today as it was 125 years ago is The Register's steadfast allegiance to those founding principles. Fr. Teefy's words have guided this newspaper relentlessly through more than 12-plus decades of the most life-altering technological and social change in the history of mankind. And his words still define us today as The Register, Canada's oldest and most-read Catholic publication, celebrates its 125th anniversary.

In 1893, when Canada was barely a quarter century old and before Saskatchewan and Alberta had even joined Confederation, Toronto Archbishop John Walsh saw an urgent need for a Catholic newspaper in mainly Protestant English Canada. Writing in the first issue, he declared the newspaper's mission was to promote Catholic interests, vindicate the religious, educational and civil rights of Catholics, and to defend the Church against "the falsehoods and calumnies of which she is to frequently the object." He probably would be dismayed to see The Register is still required to advocate for the Church on not only these issues, but many other social and moral matters that Walsh never could have foreseen. We take that duty seriously.

Pope Francis recently echoed Walsh when he praised the value and effectiveness of Catholic media and made a case for its continued existence and vitality. A world that is faith deficient is often sullied by news that is sensationalized, distorted or even manufactured. Catholic newspapers, said the Pope, should adamantly reject those trends and provide reporting that is faithful, precise, thoughtful and charitable, always avoiding the temptation to stir up "media dust storms." Amen to that.

Couples often renew wedding vows on a special anniversary. The Catholic Register proposes to do likewise as we mark 125 years of service.

So to our readers we pledge the following: to do our best to provide quality journalism that is faithful to the Magisterium, respectful of Church leaders, loud in defence of Catholic rights, committed to the principles of truth, accuracy and fairness, unwavering in defence of the vulnerable, inclined to be charitable but ready when provoked to be tenaciously combative.

Above all, as when the first Catholic Register rolled off the press in 1893, we will be a Catholic journal — Catholic first, last and always.



Jan 05
Travels with St. Francis Xavier: Reflections from the “arm guard”

As the relic of St. Francis Xavier travels across Canada, it is accompanied by D'Arcy Murphy, a University of Ottawa student and a missionary with Catholic Christian Outreach, a university student movement dedicated to evangelization. Below, D'Arcy shares insights on what it's been like to be the official guardian for the 465-year-old right forearm of one the greatest missionaries of all time.

1. As the "arm guard" of the relic of St. Francis Xavier, what does your role involve and what does your daily schedule look like?

My primary responsibility is for the relic itself, including carrying the case it is kept in, packing and unpacking the relic, keeping the Plexiglas case clean and standing on guard during veneration. On the plane rides, the relic is always beside me. As for our daily schedule, it's always different. The only things we can expect other than events on university campuses and in churches are long days, lots of travel and the unexpected!

2. You've taken a semester off from school to accompany the relic. What motivated you to do this?

This really is once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. To travel to so many places in one month, [the tour includes 15 Canadian cities in 30 days] but also to see all of the graces that come of it will be amazing. Through prayer, it was very clear that saying yes to this was more than just saying yes to something cool – I really felt called to partake in this mission when I was asked. I am saying yes to God and trusting that it is part of His plan for my welfare and future with hope! (Jeremiah 29:11)


D'Arcy Murphy, right, is seated beside the relic of St. Francis Xavier. Behind him is André Regnier, founder of Catholic Christian Outreach. They are part of the team accompanying the saint's right forearm across the country. 

3. What has your experience been flying with the relic – and what has been the reaction of your fellow passengers?

The tour team sits with the regular passengers, with the relic in the seat beside me. Even as I respond to these questions, I'm sitting beside the relic on our flight to St. John's. Many people have been quite curious. The airport staff and flight attendants have been most intrigued. While they do have the occasional package taking seat like the relic, they never see one treated with the same care and reverence and definitely not one that flies so frequently. Our flight attendant today sat beside André Regnier (CCO founder and a member of the tour team) for quite a while and asked so many questions – she said she wanted to come see the relic when it is in Montréal.

4. How do you describe travelling with the relic in layman's terms to those without an understanding of it?

The analogy that seems to be the most relevant for my friends is explaining that my role is like the keeper of the Stanley Cup. While this relic is way more important than the Stanley Cup, the practicality of how it is transported and cared for (white gloves and all) is pretty similar.

5. Can you tell us about the mission of the relic tour?

Bringing the relic of St Francis Xavier to Canada is actually about Christ and making Him known to our country, rather than just being about the saint. The relic provides a physical encounter with a man who lived a life of great virtue. He can be an example for all of us seeking to grow closer to the Lord. There are also three things we are anticipating for pilgrims venerating this relic: conversion to a Christ-centred life; healings; and increased zeal to evangelize.

6. Did you do any research on SFX and relics to prepare for the trip? If so, did anything you learned surprise you?

While I already knew the basic story of St Francis Xavier – he was a great missionary saint who travelled through Asia baptizing thousands and even witnessing God heal and raise people from the dead through his own intercession – it was how he got there that stuck out to me. I did not realize he had a conversion in university after being evangelized by another student (St. Ignatius of Loyola). This is really cool because university is where I encountered the Lord in a deeper way and where I seek to evangelize my peers who do not yet have the joy that comes from a Christ-centred life.

7. Before this experience, did you have any connection to relics – and had you ever seen any in the past? If so, which ones?

I've had a number of opportunities to venerate relics, most notably at the Mercy Centre in Krakow during World Youth Day 2016. Relics of St. John Paul II, St. Faustina, St. Maximilian Kolbe,  as well as the body of Bl. Pier Giorgio Frasatti at another site in Krakow, were all on display for veneration. Venerating those relics was an inspiring and moving. Seeing saints makes me want to become one too!

8. What impact do you think this experience will have on you?

Aside from a lot of physical stamina, I have witnessed the moving experiences individuals have when venerating the relic. One moment from yesterday in particular was when a homeless man came forward to venerate the relic. It was a beautiful moment and a great reminder of Christ's love for all people, especially the poor, when his weathered hand reached out to touch the relic. Sainthood truly is for everyone - it's our universal call. That was a pretty cool moment.

The relic will be visiting the Archdiocese of Toronto from January 12 to 14. For a full list of tour dates, please visit www.cco.ca/relic


Jan 02
Tips from Pope Francis on leading a faith-filled year

Happy New Year! As Pope Francis celebrated Mass on New Year's Day – the Solemnity of the Mother of God – his homily was chock full of inspiration on how to lead a faith-filled 2018. Below are three highlights to help incorporate God into your daily life.

1. Set aside a moment of silence each day to be with God. This will help us to "keep our freedom from being corroded by the banality of consumerism, the blare of commercials, the stream of empty words and overpowering waves of empty chatter and loud shouting."

2. Leave behind life's useless baggage and rediscover what really matters. "If we want to go forward, we need to turn back: to begin anew from the crib, from the Mother who holds God in her arms. Devotion to Mary is not spiritual etiquette; it is a requirement of the Christian life."


3. Give everything over to God. "Hopes and worries, light and darkness: all these things dwelt in the heart of Mary. What did she do? She pondered them, that is to say she dwelt on them, with God, in her heart. She held nothing back; she locked nothing within out of self-pity of resentment…We keep things when we hand them over: by not letting our lives become prey to fear, distress or superstition, by not closing our hearts or trying to forget, but by turning everything into a dialogue with God."

To read the full text of the Pope's New Year's address, please visit http://bit.ly/PopesHomilyNewYears2018.


Dec 22
Get Ready! It's off to Church...twice!

​By now, you know that the Fourth Sunday of Advent is on December 24, also known as Christmas Eve. As Catholics, that means we are going to be going to Mass twice, once for the Fourth Sunday of Advent and once for Christmas. But the question is why, why do we have to go to Mass twice? Why can't one Mass just count for both?

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has said that Sundays, Christmas, and the Feast of Mary, the Holy Mother of God (January 1) are Holy Days of Obligation. That means they are days where all Catholics in Canada are obliged to go to Mass.  

When it comes to our obligation to attend Mass, it means that the Fourth Sunday of Advent fulfills the Sunday obligation, and Christmas fulfills the Christmas obligation (Vigil Masses also fulfill the obligation for the day, so a vigil Mass on December 23 would fulfill the obligation for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, and a Mass after 4 p.m. on Christmas Eve would fulfill the obligation for Christmas).

We often talk about Mass as an obligation, as something we "have" to do. While it is true, we are obliged to go to Mass, we should also want to go to Mass. Pope Francis in his catechesis on the Eucharist reminds us that Mass "is the loving encounter with God through his Word and the Body and Blood of Jesus. It is an encounter with the Lord" (November 15, 2017). We spend all of Advent waiting and longing for the coming of Jesus that sometimes we can forget that he is already with us in the Mass. "In the end," Pope Francis says, "we go to Mass not to give something to God, but to receive from him the grace and strength…to be witness of his goodness and love before the world." (December 13, 2017)

It is an unusual occurrence that the Fourth Sunday of Advent and Christmas fall like this, but it gives us a wonderful time to perhaps enter more deeply than we otherwise would, into the mystery of Christ's very presence in our life, in the world and in the Eucharist. Jesus is not just some hoped for saviour, he is truly present.

So yes, we get to go to Mass twice in two days, but isn't that what Christmas is all about, the welcoming Christ with eager and open hearts? 

Rebecca Spellacy is the Associate Director of Liturgy for the Office of Formation for Discipleship in the Archdiocese of Toronto. 

Dec 08
Building in the face of opposition

The following post has been contributed by Arthur Peters, Executive Director of ShareLife and the Development Office of the Archdiocese of Toronto.

It seems quite simple. We go to church on Sunday morning (and/or during the week) at our local parish or, if we are out of our community, at another parish. If our church needs to be renovated, we raise the funds to do so, or if a church needs to be built we will conduct a campaign to raise funds, and the archdiocese will loan an amount to the parish to complete the construction of the church.

But what if it wasn't like that? What would it be like if we were building a church and we faced threats to have it bulldozed, or even set on fire to before it is completed?

Over the past few days I have visited the Diocese of Galle and Kurenegala in Sri Lanka, where Catholics are the minority population. (In Galle, there are only 8,000 Catholics out of a population of 2.4 million people.) There, I met Father Michael Rajendran, pastor of St. Sebastian’s parish, which serves 20 families within the community and another 50 from neighbouring towns who attend Mass. His church, while close to 70 years old, has been a parish for only four years, having served as a mission before this. When the mission was turned into a parish, the church building was reduced in size to accommodate a small rectory for the pastor.

A mission or substation is a location away from the parish where Mass is celebrated. Sometimes it may be a building, but it can also be a cottage or even a place under a tree, depending on the area. Many parishes have substations and priests will travel to these areas to celebrate Mass.

At St. Sebastian’s, it was determined that the church building needed to be expanded. Here is where things became a challenge. To expand the church, approval was needed from the largely non-Catholic government. In many places in Galle, the church does not own the land, but is given permission to use the land by the government. In the case of St. Sebastian’s, the land is owned by the government and leased to a multi-national, who uses the land for agricultural purposes. (Tea, palm oil and cinnamon are crops in the area.) It is important that the multi-national partner be on-side with the church; the government needs to approve, as well.

When plans were presented by the previous pastor to expand the building, there was stiff opposition from extremists and the pastor was driven out of the parish. Father Michael came to the parish this year. Working with the local government, he has managed to get the deed for the land where the church is and is now planning to build a new rectory, as well as to expand the church. He still faces opposition, but has his plans approved and feels comfortable to proceed.

Exterior of St. Sebastian's
After four years, St. Sebastian's Parish received a deed to their land and permission to build a new rectory and expand the sanctuary.

In the schools, while the government requires religion to be taught, it is mostly the Buddhist religion and not the Catholic faith. To provide formation for children, the Holy Childhood Society is involved in parishes. There are local Sunday school programs that work with them, as well.  Our support from the Mission Co-operative program in Toronto helps to provide faith formation for the youth of the parish when there are no Catholic teachers in the schools. We do this by training leaders (teachers) to provide formation in the Catholic faith.

Orphanage in Kurunegala
The Diocese of Kurunegala operates three orphanages where children from broken families are cared for. Food, education, boarding and counselling are provided.

I met with the Bishop Raymond Wickramsinghe, the Bishop of Galle. He explained that Buddhism and Hinduism have been rooted in Sri Lanka for over 2,500 years. He mentioned that most of his parishes are subsidized by the diocese. He relies on the support of some benefactors as well as mission appeals to help evangelize in Galle. On the day I met with him, His Excellency had been out in the community most of the morning meeting with parishioners and non-Catholics in the community where there had been flooding recently, sometimes giving them money for food. His Excellency explained that when there is a need, the church does not ask the religion of a person when determining need. They bring “Kingdom values” into the community.

The next day I visited the Diocese of Kurunegala, where a shrine is being built to St. Joseph Vaz, the first Saint from Sri Lanka. In the late 1600s, he travelled from India to Sri Lanka, disguising himself as a labourer, to evangelize the Catholic faith. After the Dutch took over the island from the Portuguese, the Catholic faith was expelled from the island and there were no priests for a century. Father Vaz brought the Eucharist and sacraments back to the island. By the time of his death in 1711, he had managed to rebuild the church in Sri Lanka. He was canonized in 2015 by Pope Francis.

Father Sagara Perera welcomed me as he told me about his diocese. While the Archdiocese of Colombo has a strong Catholic presence, other dioceses do not and, as such, must work with the government, which is largely non-Christian. He told me of one substation that is being built; after construction started, the church building was burned down. While the parish community is now re-building, they now face threats of it being bulldozed.

The government took over the Catholic schools in the 1960s and declared how much percentage of each faith could attend the schools. Thus, while a school has a name like Holy Angels, the large majority of students are non-Catholic due to the government requirements.

Thalassemia is medical condition that is very prevalent in this diocese. This blood disorder, which causes low red blood cells, affects a large number of children in the area. Children come for treatments at the hospital and then require a special needle to give themselves transfusions at home. The government supplies the medicine for this but not the syringes needed to administer the medication. This is one of the ways the Mission Co-operative program of the Archdiocese of Toronto is making a difference. With our support, they provide these needles to families who are unable to afford them.

We then visited three orphanages that are run by the diocese. Many of the children are living with their grandparents, who are poor and cannot afford to provide for their education. Our support through the Mission Co-operative program is helping bring Gospel values to these children in the formative stages of their lives.

We also provide support for a home for unwed mothers, who are helped regardless of religion. Finally, we visited the Juniorate, a minor seminary, where young men are in formation before entering the seminary.

I met with Bishop Perera later in the day. He expressed his gratitude and appreciation to the parishioners of the Archdiocese of Toronto for their support of the parishes of his diocese.

Arthur Peters meets Bishop Perera
Here, Arthur meets with Most Rev. Harold Perera, Bishop of the Diocese of Kurunegala in Sri Lanka.

In my visit to Sri Lanka, I saw firsthand how our support is making a difference. In Ontario we are fortunate to have Catholic schools and the freedom to practice our religion. Many places in the world don’t have these rights, so we should never take them for granted at any time. The next time you are in a parish, imagine if you're told the church will be destroyed simply because people don't want you there. Or, try to fathom being told your child needs to have medical attention at home, but the government won't provide the syringes needed to do so.

When we hold our Mission Co-operative collections in the summer months, we are doing more than providing funds – we are bringing the hand of Christ to the greater world. Over the past few days I have seen this first hand. This served as a reminder of the generosity of our parishioners in the Archdiocese of Toronto!

Now, off to India…

Dec 05
St. Nicholas – A man of many gifts

December 6 is the Feast of St. Nicholas. Below, Subdeacon Brian A. Butcher, a lecturer and research fellow at the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies, shares insights on the saint so engrained in our Christmas traditions.

1. Who was the historical St. Nicholas?

St. Nicholas was born on March 5, 270 CE and died on Dec. 6, 343. Thus, as with most saints, we celebrate St. Nicholas' memory on the day of his death – his birth into eternal life. St. Nicholas served as bishop in the Greek city of Myra which is today's Demre, Turkey. Myra was part of what was then called Asia Minor, a region which also included such famous biblical places as Ephesus and Galatia. 

St. Nicholas

2. How did the reputation of St. Nicholas as a gift-giver become so popular?

There are many stories of the magnanimous deeds of St. Nicholas and at least some of them are undoubtedly true. The uniform impression they give is of a shepherd who exercised a great concern for his flock, caring for not only their spiritual but also their physical needs, to the extent that it was within his power. The most famous story, and the one from which his reputation as a gift-giver principally derives, involves him bestowing his own personal wealth upon three poor daughters whose widowed father lacked the means to secure their welfare. In order to be married, a young woman needed her family to provide a dowry for her. Having become aware of the dire circumstances of the family in question, St. Nicholas is to have secretly deposited sufficient gold for each dowry.

3. How do his generous actions live on in customs today?

There are various versions of the story of the three gifted dowries, which correspond to the distinctive customs we see today: Germans and Dutch, for example, put out their shoes, since some say St. Nicholas threw bags of gold into the shoes of the three sisters (and, on other occasions, those of other children also). The British, by contrast, have the practice of hanging stockings by the chimney. St. Nicholas is also celebrated for discreetly dropping the bags of treasure down the chimney of the house—such that they fell into the hung stockings!   

4. St. Nicholas is the patron saint of many causes. Tell us about them and why he represents such a wide spectrum – from lawyers and pharmacists to teachers and travelers.

A full list would also include children, orphans, students, sailors, bankers, pawn-brokers, labourers, merchants, judges, paupers, marriageable maidens, victims of judicial mistakes, captives, perfumers and even law-breakers. To some extent, these are simply the kind of people who appear in stories about St. Nicholas. On a voyage to the Holy Land, for example—we know that St. Nicholas lived for three years near Jerusalem—he is remembered for calming a troubled sea (and the similarly disturbed hearts of those on board) through his prayers.

5. Any other fun facts related to St. Nicholas that might be of interest to Catholics?

One remarkable medieval custom found in different parts of Western Europe—and even observed in a few churches today—is that of the "boy bishop." On St. Nicholas' Day, a chosen boy would be vested as a bishop and given the (temporary!) right to rule, to preside at liturgical services (except the Mass), even to command alms to be given to the poor. Thus the original bishop of Myra's care for the needy—and love of children—are combined. Perhaps the practice also conveys the deeply Christian sense that true holiness really can turn the world topsy-turvy, showing us how off-kilter our usual priorities may be, and how we need to radically re-adjust so as to live worthily as citizens of the Kingdom. 

Nov 24
To Rome, Sri Lanka and India

The following post has been contributed by Arthur Peters, Executive Director of ShareLife and the Development Office of the Archdiocese of Toronto.

We are blessed in the Archdiocese of Toronto to have the support of our parishioners toward the work of the church, not only locally, but also in the greater world. Our parish communities, when asked, respond generously toward various second collections for international development work, as well as humanitarian relief efforts.

In 2014, I had the chance to visit the Philippines for two weeks to see the recovery efforts after the typhoon, as well as to visit some of the projects supported through our Pastoral Mission Fund (a ShareLife funded agency) and Mission Co-operative programs. This gave us the chance to see firsthand the activity of the Catholic Church across the globe.

Arthur Peters in the Philippines, 2017
During his visit to the Philippines in 2014, Peters (in back of group) visited a ShareLife-funded catechism class run by the Sisters of Our Lady of Carmel.

I am about to do this again.

Starting on November 27, I will be travelling to Rome, followed by a short visit to Sri Lanka, and then an extended trip to India, to visit projects that are supported through the international programs of the Archdiocese of Toronto. During this time, I will be visiting seventeen different projects that are carried out by Catholic dioceses or religious orders. This will be a great opportunity to see how we bring the hands of Christ to those in need across the world.

I encourage you to follow the ShareLife blog, through our website – www.sharelife.org – during this time. I’ll be sharing reflections of my experiences, as well as photos of some of the work that we have supported through our contributions to second collections that take place in our parishes.

Join me as we visit the work of the Catholic Church in Rome, Sri Lanka and India!

Nov 20
Move over, von Trapp Family Singers

The parishioners at Cristo Rei parish are hard at work raising money for new washrooms for their church – but not in a conventional way. There won't be a dinner dance, a pancake breakfast or even a community car wash. Instead, they are having a concert for the new commodes. The parish is hosting its first-ever singing competition: "The Voice of Cristo Rei."

Five families will be sharing their vocal talents with the community to help the cause. Competing in the finals on Saturday, November 25 will be the "De-Mello Siblings," "MTV Kids," "R&B Family," "The HotRodz" and "One Harmony." In the lead-up to the finals, an elimination round was held in mid-October with 12 families competing for a spot in the finals – including a grandfather and granddaughter duo.


The five families set to perform in the "Voice of Cristo Rei" family singing competition Nov. 25 are pictured above, alongside pastor Fr. Carlos Macatangga. (Photo courtesy of July Photography) 

With the goal of bringing families together, spreading joy to the parish community and helping parishioners to share their talents for a good cause, the family singing competition was the brainchild of Fr. Carlos Macatangga, pastor at Mississauga-based Cristo Rei parish.

For him, the best part of the planning process has been meeting with parishioners and admiring their willingness to support the fundraising initiative – especially the youth.

"I've enjoyed praying together with the parish council and asking our almighty God to bless, lead us and inspire us to work together and to be able to bind families and the parish community together."

The finals take place on Saturday, November 25 at Cristo Rei Parish Hall, located at 3495 Confederation Parkway in Mississauga. Tickets cost $25 for adults and $10 for children. For more information, please visit http://www.cristo-rei.com/the-voice-of-cristo-rei/.

Nov 15
Faith on the Frontier

Below is a post by Michelle Sawyers, Project Archivist, Archives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto (ARCAT). This article was originally written for The Shepherds' Trust newsletter accompanying the November 18-19 collection. 

The Archdiocese of Toronto's foundations of faith begin with the story of a handful of pioneer priests who weren't afraid to live on the frontier. In 1842, the diocese stretched from Windsor to Oshawa, and from Lake Ontario to Sault Ste. Marie and beyond, to the borders of Rupert's Land. The territory was vast and Catholics were a small percentage of the population. Though many Catholics lived in the established areas of Toronto, Hamilton, London and Windsor, there were others who lived hundreds of kilometres away from any settlement. An 1844 letter lists one bishop, 18 diocesan priests, five Jesuit priests and one Redemptorist priest administering the diocese and serving over 50 "stations" (parishes or missions). It was up to these few brave men to bring the grace of the sacraments to the pioneers who lived in the wilds of Canada West (now the province of Ontario).

Before the establishment of the diocese, Fr. (later Bishop) Macdonell traveled extensively between his base in Glengarry, near Cornwall, and Fort Erie, about 600 kilometres to the west, seeking Catholics and establishing missions. In May 1806 he wrote to Bishop Joseph-Octave Plessis of Québec:

"I arrived last night from my tour through the upward parts of the Province … I visited both going and coming the district of Johnstown, Kingston, Bay of Quinty [sic], and York … I should be able to find out all the Catholics that had spread themselves out in the extensive tracts of country. The numbers I found were as following: The District of Johnstown 23, Kingston 78, Bay of Quinty [sic] 29, York and its neighbourhood had 37. Several of those had not an opportunity of coming to the sacraments since the year 1779 and their children had never seen a priest yet they taught them their prayers very correctly and made them come to confession. I wished to say mass in different places on the Bay of Quinty [sic] but could not get a cruet of wine nearer than York or Kingston."

Photo courtesy of the Archives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto

Almost 40 years later, as first Bishop of the diocese, Michael Power expanded on Macdonell's travels. He wanted a true understanding of the territory in his care. In July of his first year as Bishop, he travelled to Manitoulin Island, sailed north to Sault Ste. Marie, and returned south via Penetanguishene and Coldwater, travelling by cart, canoe, wagon and foot over some 1500 kilometres. He continued to visit the far reaches of his diocese during each summer of his episcopacy.

In such a vast territory, clergy could scarcely avoid extensive travel. In the 1840s each priest had in his care at least three stations; in addition they were compelled to visit isolated Catholic families who did not live near a parish or mission. Before cars, trains or reliable roads, priests had to travel by foot, horse, or boat to visit their missions. The journey took time and had many perils. For example, when Fr. Edward Gordon travelled north in 1830, he wrote,

"I left York on the 16th [of last month] on a mission through the Townships of Toronto, Albion, Mono, Adjala, Tecumseth, west Gwillimbury. In this latter Township, which was never before visited by a Catholic Clergyman, I found 19 Catholic families comprising a population of 75 souls with whom I remained two days, and then proceeded on towards Thora by Lake Simco, where I lost my way on the ice and after straying a part of the night along the shore, fortunately came to a path which brought me to a house within 10 miles of Thora. I stopped 4 days in Thora and then returned to York. The difficulties, hardships, and expenses of my mission were forgotten when I witnessed the fervour of our poor people in complying with their spiritual duties, their willingness to contribute to the support of a clergyman, and the fervent prayers they offered to Heaven for your eternal welfare in thus giving them the means of complying with their duty."

It is clear that the early clergy in this part of the country took their vocations seriously. They knew it was up to them to bring the faith and sacraments to the pioneers who were building the nation. Their work helped to establish the Archdiocese of Toronto as a place where Catholics from all over the world can build new lives while remaining connected to their faith – it's a legacy that has lasted 175 years.

Today, the priests of the Archdiocese of Toronto continue to minister to Catholics from all over the world who now call this place their home. While they don't have the same travel challenges that Fr. Gordon faced when he visited northern outposts, the responsibilities of diocesan priests remain complicated and all consuming. While Fr. Gordon and his brother priests served dozens of families, priests serve thousands today, often providing pastoral ministry well into their 70s. And, just as Fr. Gordon relied on "the fervour of our poor people in complying with their spiritual duties, their willingness to contribute to the support of a clergyman", the diocesan priests of 2017 rely on your prayers and support.

The circumstances in our diocese have changed immensely over the past 175 years, but many of the spiritual and temporal needs of our family of faith remain the same. After a lifetime of service, the Shepherds' Trust appeal ensures diocesan priests who have dedicated their lives to serving the frontier Church of today are provided lodging and support as they rest in their retirement. 


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