by Virginia De Witt, Archivist
On Sunday October 6, 2019, ninety years to the day of their founding, the parishioners of St. Patrick’s German Congregation gathered for Mass and the “Kirchweihfest” – a celebration of the founding of the parish community.
On Sunday October 6, 1929 Fr. Paul Stroh, a German speaking Redemptorist from the Baltimore Province, celebrated the first Mass with 300 or so German Catholics in St. Patrick’s Hall on McCaul Street. Fr. Stroh, with the permission of Archbishop Neil McNeil, instituted the weekly Mass, as well as access to Catholic immigrant and social services, for the growing German population in the surrounding neighbourhood.
In 1931, the Catholic Settlement House (Katholisches Vereins-Haus) opened. It was designed to assist new immigrants adjusting to life in Canada by offering them a range of services, including child care, otherwise unavailable to struggling immigrant families during the Depression. Taking over in 1934, Fr. Daniel Ehman became the driving force behind uniting a disparate group of German speaking immigrants through spiritual and social organizations – the Holy Rosary Society, Holy Name Society, a Youth Group and a Credit Union for a start. The Congregation’s importance to new immigrants continued to grow in the immediate post-war years, peaking around the middle of the 20th century (see 1949 photo taken on the steps of the church below).
Welcomed and guided by Redemptorist fathers, German immigrants thrived in their new country. Werner Scheliga, a past president of the Kolping Society, recounts how, when he arrived at Union Station in 1956, he had only Fr. Karl Schindler’s name, given to him by a friend from his parish youth group in Frankfurt. Having little money and no English, he walked up to St. Patrick’s and found, instead, Fr. William Kroetsch in the parish office. Werner knew he had arrived in a new world when he walked in and saw the priest with his feet on the desk. To the young immigrant it was a welcome sign of informality and openness. He grew to treasure Fr. Kroetsch, and the other Redemptorist priests at St. Patrick’s, who assisted him in finding a room, as well as offering social and spiritual aid as he adjusted to his new country.
Werner Scheliga’s story was repeated thousands of times, and the parishioners who shared his experience want you to know they had fun. Summers at Richmond Hill playing sports and swimming, parish dances and bazaars were all major social events. Their spiritual lives centered around the weekly German Mass, as well as pilgrimages to Martyrs’ Shrine at Midland, ON and Passion Plays at Easter. The Redemptorist fathers accompanied them through it all.
This year, Fr. Mark Miller, along with Fr. Tom O’Rourke and Fr. Santo Arrigo, led the congregation in a pilgrimage to Martyrs’ Shrine on August 25th. On October 6th, Fr. Mark joined the congregation at St. Patrick’s for the German Mass, on this occasion concelebrating with Fr. Tom O’Rourke and Fr. Carl Schmidt. In his homily (given in English), Fr. Mark spoke of the importance of increasing and strengthening our faith, reminding the congregation that our faith is a gift given through grace.
The theme of his homily was, “Lord increase our faith.” Fr. Mark noted how important generations of strong community are to transmitting and strengthening the Catholic faith. He said how pleased he was to see young families present, even though they no longer spoke German. He fondly remembered how 50 or 60 years ago the church hall would be full on Friday and Saturday nights. However, he noted that times have changed, and so has the congregation, and yet the German Congregation is still a place that allows and encourages faith to increase.
As if to prove him right, Neumann Hall was full after Mass with families gathering to enjoy a home cooked meal served family style, as always. Maria Luxbacher led a sing-along (pictured below right), Fr. Mark said grace and there were readings and poetry in German as well. Times have changed, and so has the congregation, but a spirit of community remains.