By Virginia De Witt, Archivist
September 17th marks 45 years since the passing of Fr. Daniel Ehman (1903 – 1975). Fr. Ehman enjoyed a long and varied ministry as a Redemptorist, not least as a Provincial Superior of the Toronto Province (1947 – 1952), and as a preacher of missions. However, perhaps the part of his career that resonates most right now was his tenure as pastor of the German Congregation at St. Patrick’s Church, Toronto (1934 – 1947).
His service at St. Patrick’s coincided with a time of crisis in the world – the Great Depression and the Second World War. During this period, the German Congregation consisted of mainly struggling immigrants, many of whom arrived with no English and unfamiliar with their new country. Fr. Ehman succeeded in this assignment through a combination of formidable organizational ability and a deep commitment to his parishioners.
In an initial blast of organizational activity (1934 – 1935) he founded the Legion of Mary, Catholic Youth Organization (CYO), Church and men’s Choir, Holy Name Society, Holy Rosary Society, and Sodality of the Children of Mary. Fr. Ehman was determined to further buttress the spiritual welfare of the congregation by creating a host of programs to offer financial aid during a time of high economic stress. The Infant Jesus Day Nursery (founded 1936; under the care of the Felician Sisters from 1938), and operated through Catholic Settlement House, was a non-sectarian nursery for the children of working mothers in the neighbourhood. Fr. Ehman set up a pre-natal and post-natal clinic (1934) at Settlement House to offer care for mothers; a Child Welfare Clinic (1935); and a Specialized Tonsil Clinic and Well Baby Clinic (1937) to further assist stressed families. In the late 1930s, he founded a Credit Union to assist parishioners in accessing small loans to help them purchase their first homes, and a Funeral Society to help parishioners defray the costs of burial of their loved ones.
Fr. Ehman combined his administrative skill with an active involvement with the congregation. In a monthly report from 1936 he recorded making 241 personal visits into homes, contacting 616 people, not including visits to the sick in homes and hospitals. Each month, he supervised 1,100 children at Catholic Settlement House, averaging 153 children daily. A housekeeper at Settlement House remembered, “He worked day and night. He never stopped.
No matter who came to the door, he looked after everyone.”
In the summer of 1975, just weeks before his death, he recorded these thoughts on his time at St. Patrick’s,
When later I worked among the immigrants in Toronto, those
people coming over during the depression, many of them with
just their bare ten fingers, and not much more, I wanted them to
be people because that is what Christ wanted. … I spoke the
language; I went among them, and always with the view that later
on, once they felt they were people and they saw that the Church
loved them they would come to Christ.
Photos courtesy of the Archives