By Fr. Babu Mathew, C.Ss.R.
With gratitude and thanksgiving to all the Redemptorists who came before us, as well as all parishioners past and present, 2023 marks the Centennial of the Redemptorists’ arrival in Vancouver and founding of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish. St Alphonsus Liguori, founder of the Redemptorists, in his Ascetical Works reflects on a passage from the Book of Proverbs 8.31 where it is written, “My delights are to be with the children of men” and responds with the inspired words that speaks to us all: “Since His delights are to be with you, let yours be found in Him.”
With this theme, an assurance of God’s loving presence, we celebrate the Centennial of the Redemptorists’ arrival in Vancouver under the patronage of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. It has been the mission of the Redemptorists to make our Blessed Mother known to all. With the Redemptorists shepherding the parish, it will continue to collaborate in this work, as it grows and journeys together in love and holiness as a happy, close-knit parish community.
Gratitude, excitement and jubilation. These were the collective sentiments shared at Our Lady’s Centennial Inaugural Mass and dinner on Saturday, January 21. Visiting from Toronto was Fr Charles Duval, Provincial Superior of the Redemptorists of Canada, the main celebrant of the evening, with Fr Alfredo and I concelebrating. Due to pandemic restrictions, Fr Charles, unable to visit us in the past two years, was thrilled to be back on such an auspicious occasion. A new Icon of St. Alphonsus was unveiled and blessed during the Mass. And for this occasion, the Gr 7 class at OLPH School wrote a “Centennial Prayer” which the congregation recited at the end of the Mass. The jubilee song “You are My God”, also composed for this centennial, was exultantly sung by the choir. Both pieces featured hereafter will be said and sung at every Mass until the Feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. The event was attended by almost 400 parishioners, especially those octogenarians who have been with the parish the longest. All were feted with an Italian buffet and live performances from the talented youth in the parish community.
The Parish that Almost Never Was Story of an Authentic Redemptorist
It wasn’t a festive beginning though. In fact, there was a moment when this parish almost didn’t come about and it wasn’t a bed of roses after either. In the early 1920s when Archbishop Timothy Casey looked for help to serve his rapidly growing flock in Greater Vancouver, the Canadian Redemptorists in Toronto answered his call and sent an application to Rome which was accepted on November 6, 1922. On February 14, 1923 at 12:15 PM on Ash Wednesday, Redemptorist Father John F Coghlan said he stepped from the cozy comfort of a trans-Canada train into the very teeth of “a blinding blizzard in Vancouver…”. He was to be the founder of Vancouver’s Parish of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
Parish boundaries were established, and a temporary church was set up at an empty store heated by two portable oil stoves where the first mass was celebrated by summer. In organizing the parish, Fr Coghlan met cooperation from the ladies, but most of the men said “it’s foolhardy…. there is no future here.” Thankfully Mr Kearns said “Father has already dedicated this parish to Our Lady…what The Lady wants she gets! We might as well cooperate”. Our Lady indeed got her parish.
The first Redemptorist community in Vancouver was established after two more priests arrived. The next adversity came from the Minister of Lands, who refused to sell the crown land which they’ve identified as the centre of the parish and most ideal land for building the church. After persevering and facing a major confrontation with the Minister, they secured the property. Within 2 years, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish church was built.
A Year of Festivities & Community Building
The week following the inaugural Mass, we opened our home to weekly Dinner with the Redemptorists. By hosting dinner for 3 families who are unknown to each other, we hope to foster increased awareness of the Alphonsian spirit especially among the newer members of the community as well as make acquaintances and build stronger relationships within the community. Other community building festivities are a Family Dinner & Dance, Sports & Games Night, a Celebration of Cultures during Eastertide and a morning of golfing with Birdies, Bogies & Bounty to benefit the centennial projects. And these centennial projects include Beautifying the Beautiful – renovating the sanctuary to reflect the beauty of our worship, and 100 Outreach Gifts to deserving students to support their learning. Everything culminates with the Centennial Celebration & Feast Day on June 25 with Mass and a thanksgiving dinner for the Redemptorist Charism that not only nurtured the infancy of the parish but also fostered a growth in love and devotion to Our Lady. And with utter understanding that “the primary purpose of Redemptorists is the salvation of the most abandoned souls”, every Redemptorist pastor, associate, and the many missionaries that have passed through the doors of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish have been instrumental to the growth and vibrancy of the community it is today.