St. Francis of Assisi Church, Toronto

The original Parish and Community of St. Francis Of Assisi was established in 1903 on the corner of Dundas (then called Arthur St.) and Grace at a cost of $20,000. Right from the beginning it was quite a flourishing Parish. During the erection of the church, Mass was celebrated in 1902 and the first part of 1903 in St. Francis School on Palmerston Avenue. The architect of the building was Charles J. Read who designed the Church in a modern gothic style. The Church was opened and blessed by Archbishop O’Connor on June 7th 1903. The first Pastor of Saint Francis was Fr. W.A. McCann, later in life promoted to Domestic Prelate, September 29th, 1935. In 1910 it was decided a new church and rectory was to be built on the corner on Grace and Mansfield. This was due to the large influx of immigrants from the British Isles. The architect appointed to design the new church was A.W. Holmes, who also designed Holy Rosary Church, St. Helen’s Church and St. Michael’s College and other noteworthy church buildings.

After four years of planning, building began on an imposing roman gothic stone structure of 158 x 57 feet, with transepts. The corner stone of the new Saint Francis Church was laid on September 14th, 1914 by His Grace Archbishop McNeil. In a vault inserted into the stone were coins of the realm, newspapers and a scroll bearing the names of the King and Governors of the country, the Pontiff, the Archbishop, Pastor and Architect. The outside stone of the church was quarried and cut in Port Arthur, now known as Thunder Bay. The parishioners laboured for a year and a half on the construction of the church. The Church itself was completed at a cost of $115,000 and was blessed by Archbishop McNeil on October 31st, 1915. The parish hall was opened on November 3rd, with a concert put on by St. Francis Glee Club. When the new Church of St. Francis was completed on Grace and Mansfield, in 1914, all the legal documents and church documents were moved to the new location and the old church on Dundas and Grace was then called St. Agnes. A point of distinction from other churches are the large stained glass windows. There are twenty-one stained glass window made by N.T .Lyon Glass Co. Limited of Toronto and four of those windows depicting scenes from the life of St. Francis were made by George Boos of Munich, Germany before WWI broke out. They are truly priceless.

The parish also boasts a fine    Pipe Organ made in 1914 by the Canadian Pipe Organ Company Ltd. of St. Hyacinthe, P.Q. and very much in the style of Casavant organs of that time. However this organ included some very interesting innovations such as brass pipe lips and thin walled lead principals which enhance the beauty and majesty of the sound.

In 1950 Msgr. McCann died having been pastor for 47 years.  It must be well noted that the during the time of Monsignor McCann he was the source of many vocations to the priesthood, and religious life of Nuns and Brothers. Many future Bishops of Canada were also raised in our Parish. There has been a long and strong relationship for the past 100 years right from the beginning of the parish with the Carmelite Sisters on Harrison Street who at that time ran an orphanage for young ladies that later become a Carmelite Day Nursery. The Third Order of St. Francis was established in the parish in 1921. In the presence of Archbishop Neil McNeil over 500 were received into the order.

The parish remained under the jurisdiction of the English-speaking diocesan priests of Toronto until 1957 when Fr. George Mincheri, OSM, was appointed as a Servite Pastor to care for some of the needs of Italo-Canadians of the area. In June of 1968 Fr. Ambrose DeLuca, OFM, together with the other Friars took over the dual administration of St.Francis/St.Agnes. In 1970 the Friars and the Italian community left St. Agnes giving the church over to the Portuguese community and moving the Italian speaking community to St. Francis.

In 1972 the Parish underwent major renovations due to changes in the Municipal building code. The Church began renovations on January 8th under the guidance of Fr. Arthur Lattanzi O.F.M. in order to correct the structural problems and to conform to the restored Liturgy of Vatican II. Alex Von Svoboda, a noted Canadian architect, was commissioned to assist in this restoration. With the emphasis of a new liturgy, a new Altar, Baptistery and Altar of the Blessed Sacrament were all designed in pure white Carrara marble. The additional wood carvings of The Last Supper, which was inlaid into the main Altar, the statue of “St. Francis with the Animals” carved from a single tree, that was placed in the Baptistery, as well as the statues of The Sacred Heart, the Immaculate Conception and St. Anthony, as well as the six gilded Baroque candlesticks used on various occasions throughout the year were carved by Conrad Moroder Arts Studio of Bolzano, Italy.

The Celtic influence is present in every stone of the church due to the early Irish immigrants to Canada. The Italian influence to the church blossoms out in the mosaic of “The Canticle of Brother Sun” of St. Francis of Assisi. In the vision of Fr. Gregory Botte, as a young friar, the mosaic of the Canticle was commissioned depicting Christ as the centre of all creation and all the other elements giving glory to God the Father. The Canticle was the first classical poem of the middle ages that would become the basis of the modern Italian, French, Spanish, Portugese and other romance languages. The tiles of the mosaic were made in Venice, Italy. After 2 years of artistic work in Florence, Italy, it was finally shipped by Air Canada in several crates. The assembling of the mosaic took three months once it arrived in Canada. On the feast of Saint Anthony 1973, parishioners witnessed the solemn blessing of the church and the consecration of a new marble altar by his Excellency, Most Rev Bishop Pocock D.D. Later, on October 4th, 1976, the altar was dedicated in honour of Fr. Riccardo Polticchia O.F.M on the occasion of his Diamond Jubilee of his priestly ordination by Bishop Ambrozic D.D.

To commemorate the third Millennium, on October 16th 2000, the church was once again scheduled for further updating. Masses and services began to be celebrated in the Parish Hall. The church was in need of repainting, some of the plaster damaged by moisture needed repair and a new tile floor was added covering the Sanctuary. All the stained glass windows had to be re-leaded and cleaned. The main window of The Crucifixion of Christ, which was originally on the back wall of the Sanctuary, was relocated behind the new Tabernacle of The Blessed Sacrament Altar and it was illuminated. Also at this time the motif of the solid oak work in the Church was continued into the Sanctuary with new panelling and presidential chairs.

Over the course of the past Century, St. Francis Parish has been a welcoming church to the different communities that make up the Mosaic of Canada. The Clergy, the Nuns, the different schools and many thousands of people who have received the sacraments over its one hundred years have found strength in being a part of St. Francis. The Parish itself has been “A Living Community of Stones” and we give gratitude to Almighty God for the blessings we all received in our life.

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