|Early painting of cathedral interior|
|Bishop Michael Power|
Those familiar with the recent renovations at St. Patrick's in New York will note quite the difference here. There was little money when St. Michael's was built, the population of Irish was dirt poor, having just arrived. They may not have been much better off in New York but they had a few more years to establish and a many, many more faithful.
|Msgr. John Edward Ronan|
Whether they have or not, usually not, liturgical musicians in Toronto are always able to look to the choir school for the standard they should follow. Msgr. Ronan stove to raise the liturgical arts in the Archdiocese to fulfil St. Pius X's vision as articulated in Tra le sollecitudini and to break out from the Sunday Low Mass mentality, something which still presents a problem in more than one Sunday "EF" Mass community, right?
The high altar was lowered to not block the incredible east window some time in the 1950's. Alas, the the rector, or "wrecker," the late Auxiliary Bishop Pearce Lacey who told me himself, as I was driving him home, "I think we went too far," to which my response was, simply, "Yes, Your Excellency."
Lacey was responsible for the removal of the communion rail destruction of the 1950's era simply gothic reredos and altar and installed a concrete hulk. If he could have, he would have whitewashed the rest. Lacey was empowered by then Archbishop Pocock to transform Toronto's churches into Vatican II "compliance." He was described to me by one who would know, as "ruthless" in his zeal to destroy that which came before, but I can tell you as he told me himself at the age of 94, "I think we went too far."
A rector that undertook some sensitive restoration of sacred things, Altar, font, pulpit, tabernacle and a few other additions was the late Monsignor Kenneth Robitaille. He was also a great supporter of the Choir School unlike some who came after him who would opine, "what am I supposed to do while they're singing that Gloria!" Oh, I don't know, sit and pray it? Sheesh!
Under Cardinal Carter, the cathedral had a quick redo in 1984 because Pope John Paul II was coming, just a touching up of the existing paint. But there was something else happening in all of this time that nobody noticed or cared to notice.
St. Michael's was almost literally falling down. From the foundation to the tower.
Enter Thomas Cardinal Collins.
One day, he complained to the Rector about the condition of the once beautiful front doors. Overpainted, over varnished, neglected by all and beaten down by Toronto weather of damp and frigid winters, and hot and humid summers.
Ah, if it were only the doors.
Suffice to say, six years and $128,000,000.00 later, St. Michael's Cathedral will, today, be rededicated.
There was not a part of the building untouched. From the tower to the foundation. From the slate roof to the windows. Fire systems, water, heating and air, lighting, all the fundamental infrastructure. The best part is the return to the vision of the original neo-gothic design and new bespoke Casavant pipe organ to replace the decayed 1880 Karn. The most challenging and incredible achievement was the complete digging out of a full depth basement to construct washrooms and a crypt chapel from what was once a crawl space.
Even included were commissioned statues for exterior niches on the east and west facades the tower.
This Cathedral, and the beauty of its windows and the sounds of its choir, were instrumental in my return to the Catholic faith. I had left the Church and out for a jog one Saturday morning thirty five years ago, I entered it for the first time. I was overwhelmed with what I saw. I recalled the invitation in 1963 to attend Ronan's school which I was not able to do. My father, a good man but a bit of a worrier, would not let me travel the distance on a streetcar. Not long before her death, my mother apologised for not insisting on my acceptance of the invitation to attend the then, fully private choir school. Interestingly, and since the LORD does write with crooked lines, I do more in church music now than many of the boys who did go and left it all behind, and I told her that.
The Catholic people of Toronto owe a debt of gratitude and prayers to Cardinal Collins. There were those who wanted it to "burn down." There were those who desired a new cathedral, some modernist hulk, no doubt. It was this Cardinal Archbishop who fixed the mistakes of the past and made good to repair the literal neglect of his predecessors.
May the Lord bless Cardinal Collins for his vision; and may St. Michael protect him.
New Cathedral webpage
Catholic Register features
Webcast of the Rededication tonight at 7:00PM EDT