By MC Havey, Archivist
When Provincial Superior Mark Miller joined the celebrations on March 16-17 for the 100th anniversary of the founding of St. Patrick’s parish in London, ON, he was also honouring the first new foundation of the English-speaking Canadian Redemptorists.
As the first of the 55 CSsR foundations and houses across Canada during the last 100 years, London-St. Patrick’s was established on December 17, 1912, four months following the re-establishment of the Toronto Vice-Province.
The foundation in the London Diocese was the brainchild of missionary Rev. John McPhail, who broached the idea during his social call to London Bishop Michael Fallon after a mission in the diocese during the summer of 1912. Fr. McPhail, steered the conversation to a Redemptorist foundation in the diocese, perhaps in Windsor. The Bishop was delighted with the suggestion but preferred a London site.
Visits and official documents with the Baltimore Province and Rome followed with ease. Of the process, the annalist wrote: “so smoothly did everything progress, that the blessing of God and His Blessed Mother seemed to be present.”
Property was transferred to the Redemptorists in February 1913. Fr. McPhail was sent to London “to take charge of our interests” and arranged for the building of a temporary church. About 225 people attended the dedication of St. Patrick’s church by the end of June 1913.
Fr. Peter Doyle was appointed as the first rector of the almost 75 years that the Redemptorists have provided pastoral care of St. Patrick’s. Initially, the parish was formed with 25 families from the city’s east end and the neighbouring farmland of Dorchester County.
By the next year, the number of families had more than doubled to 65 families (260 souls). The parish continued to grow and in December 1922, Bishop Fallon opened an enlarged church to accommodate the larger congregation with Fr. Doyle, the first superior (1913-1921) as the preacher.
Steadily over the years attendance rose and warranted the construction of a new church despite redrawn parish boundaries. In 1952, a new St. Patrick’s Church was opened and was the last church of Barry Byrne of Chicago, an apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright and successful designer of ecclesiastical and educational buildings for the Roman Catholic Church. Later in that decade, he designed St. Gerard’s Novitiate in Keswick, Holy Redeemer College in Windsor and the redecoration of St. Patrick’s church in Toronto.
More than 140 priests and Brothers have been appointed to London-St.Patrick’s, either to the parish or to the mission band, which was established in 1924 when a new spacious monastery was constructed as Mission House. The foundation served as a regional centre when St. Alphonsus seminary in nearby Woodstock was established in 1931. Second Novitiate was held in the years of 1926 and 1927. At its peak after the Second World War, the community was composed of nine priests, four of whom were missionaries, and two Brothers
In 1975, a shortage of personnel resulted in the Redemptorists’ departure from the parish. However, London native Rev. David Furlonger, C.Ss.R. returned to the parish as administrator in 2002 with Fr. Charles Goakery joining him in 2010.
St. Patrick’s is the first of three Redemptorist-founded parishes to be celebrating anniversary dates this year. Parishioners of Holy Trinity in Calgary and Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Vancouver will honour 50 years and 90 years respectively in the coming months.