Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Father Stephen Auad, the Pastor of the Maronites

Church of Christ the King
In the southwest corner of Toronto are the old Village of Long Branch and the Parish of Christ the King. Toronto, originally known as York, is essentially a city of towns and villages amalgamated over the years into one city. Long Branch was a Village in its own right until it was amalgamated into Etobicoke, which means in the language of the Mississauga, the native people at the time, "Where the Alders grow" and it was to this little village that was to come the Pastor of the Maronites, Father Stephen Auad.

My father was born in Toronto in 1919 and my mother came here from New Brunswick; their parents were all immigrants from Mount Lebanon which at the time was part of "Greater Syria,” from whence Father Auad also came. A year after my father was born in 1919 and only a few short blocks from the tenement on York Street where the Toronto Stock Exchange now stands, a Maronite Qurbono, literally Sacrifice, or Mass was celebrated at St. Michael's Cathedral by the Rt. Rev. Shakralla Khoury, Maronite Eparch of Tyre and delegate from Mount Lebanon to the Paris Peace Conference after The Great War. The Qurbono was in Thanksgiving to God for the "virtual independence of Lebanon” not totally realised for nearly another thirty years and after another great war because of the mischief of King Faisal. Remarkably, this was reported on September 6, 1920 in the old Toronto World; and that the "Pastor of the Maronites in Toronto" assisted at the Mass. It is possible that this first Maronite Mass in the Cathedral in Toronto had a little child present there with his parents. That little baby, one-year old Norman, my father, in the arms of his mother Farida and his father Wadea, are the grandparents of your writer who remains, canonically at least, a Maronite.

Yet, despite Father Auad being termed in the secular press, the "Pastor of the Maronites" there was no Maronite Church in Toronto until 1980. While every other "ethnic parish" was created, there was to be not one for the Lebanese -- and it was a different Rite! Italians, Germans, Poles -- all were given their own churches. The Lebanese, bearing blood of Phoenicians, Greeks, Canannites, even Hebrews were a different lot than most immigrant communities. They have gone all over the world as did their merchant Phoenician ancestors; to South America, Australia, even the Caribbean islands and they assimilated wherever they went unlike the Italians with whom Father Auad would soon come to have some conflict.

While studying in Rome, Father Auad was able to celebrate in both the Latin and Maronite Rites and he would have known some Italian. Catholic Toronto was Irish and these first Catholics in Toronto sufferred many indignities in the Ulster of North America and the church here was hardly prepared for the waves of immigrants, particularly the Italians. The old parish of St. Patrick's, built in 1867 the year of Canada's Confederation, had a new church built behind it on McCaul Street and the former became Our Lady of Mount Carmel and was assigned to the Italians with Father Auad as their pastor. It still stands today serving Chinese Roman Catholics.

Professor John Zucchi of McGill University who specialises in immigration history wrote in 1983 that "in the late 1920's the Parish Committee of Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish filed a complaint in Italian with the archbishop regarding their pastor, Father Stephen Auad." You see, the Italians were villagers and more accustomed to active involvement of the laity in the parish, even then. The Irish were different; they had to escape persecution to forests and cliffs to find a rock to hear Mass. Their history was different of course being persecuted on their own soil so it was a different situation and they never questioned the priest or made demands. The Italians were bolder and had their own customs and devotions. Father Auad had clearly adopted the Irish culture and this conflicted with the Italians under his care. Professor Zucchi continued that the "committee was highly critical of Auad; he was too busy to hear confession; it was difficult to find him in the rectory or in the church; he rarely visited school children; his masses were too short, etc." It is interesting that even then, parish committees and special interests rallied to speak against their duly appointed pastor, but better days would come for Father Auad.

It wasn't only the local Italians that criticised the poor beleaguered priest; even American Evangelical Pentecostals noticed. It was August 5, 1933 at Springfield in the State of Missouri and the Pentecostal Evangel displayed its bigotry and ignorance in its story, "Paganized Christianity.” Our Pentecostal brethren wrote, “The  following item  taken  from  the Toronto  press  will  show  how  it  is  possible for Christianity to catch the diseases of  the  old pagan religions:  "What  has become  an annual  public religious  function in Toronto will take  place tomorrow, when Rev.  Father  Stephen Auad, pastor of  Mount  Carmel Church,  St. Patrick Street,  will bless  motor  cars and  other conveyances  after  the  11  o'clock  Mass. The vehicles will thus be placed under the patronage of St. Christopher,' patron saint of travelers." They went on to add, "The time is coming when Christianity will be purged of all alien additions. Matt.13:41.” What they don't know is legendary.

Our Lady of Mount Lebanon
It was now 1938 and Father Stephen Auad approached Archbishop James Charles McGuigan, later to be English-speaking Canada's first Cardinal, about building a shrine to St. Anthony of Padua in the old summer resort village of Long Branch now becoming an industrial centre. Finances being what they were at the time, just after the Great Depression and with Canada entering the Second World War, the Archbishop declined the request. Disappointed in the Archbishop's decision Father Auad went home and there he brooded about the situation obviously not happy and still fighting with the Italians until his housekeeper, one Mrs. Maggie Jobin, encouraged him to go back and ask again, but this time, more firmly. So, he did and did so to the point of pounding on the desk of the future Cardinal. Astonished at the boldness, the good Archbishop  is reported to have laughed until tears flowed down his cheeks and then said, "If you feel so strongly about the church, go ahead, but keep it your responsibility" and on August 4, 1938, Father Auad was appointed the parish priest of the Village of Long Branch, and directed to build a church.

There were two other villages between Long Branch and Toronto, all now amalgamated. The Town of New Toronto and the parish of St. Teresa established in 1924 where Vox was baptised in the presence of his Freemason godfather; of course, none of us knew it until he died and he left me his Shriner Fezz, which I've since gotten rid of. The other was the Town of Mimico, which means, “the place of pigeons” and St. Leo the Great Parish, established a few years earlier. Many children of those first Lebanese settled in Mimico and a few in New Toronto after the war and they became active in these two parishes, but particularly at St. Leo's. When that little baby Norman, most likely present for that Qurbono 25 years earlier grew up, he married his only love, Martha, a nurse from St. Michael’s Hospital at the new St. Patrick's on McCaul, next to Father Auad's original parish.  A year later in 1945 and with a young baby of their own, they bought a house with a rear yard boundary being that of the Parish of Christ the King in Long Branch. 

St. John Maron
A few years ago, I was attending Mass one summer evening in that little stone church built by Father Auad. I was impressed with the new painting and noticed how brilliant the small stained-glass windows looked against the newly painted walls designed to highlight them, not hide them in a sea of whitewash. I was looking at what seemed to be St. Anthony of the Desert and found it odd to be there. It was the first time I had seen a window to this Desert Father and to find it in Long Branch was something extraordinary. It was then that I recalled the plaque to that parish's founder in the portal of the church - yes, Father Stephen Auad and with that name he must have been Lebanese! Coming back from Holy Communion and walking past another window, I was astounded at what I had seen or perhaps more because I had never noticed them before. In addition to St. Anthony of the Desert there was St. Maroun, the great mystic, monk and missionary to the people of Mount Lebanon and Syria who died in 410 A.D.  The next window was Mar Youhana Maroun or as we would say in English, St. John Maron who died in 707 A.D., the first Patriarch of the Maronite Church. Then a little further along, there she was, Our Lady of Mt. Lebanon whom the Maronite Patriarch of Antioch and All the East declared in 1908 to be "Queen of Lebanon." Knowing that the people of Long Branch would not know these Saints, each one has a little banner with their name under their image and quotes from scripture about "Libanus." As mentioned, there were many Lebanese that settled in these parts but not one of them spoke of Father Auad that I can ever recall from my childhood and none of them attended Christ the King Parish. They were a different generation. They had just married and in their twenties were having babies; they worked, had businesses, bought houses and worshiped at the place they knew, their local parish. They didn't know that only a few short blocks away from their homes was a little bit of their cultural and family history. Here was a little parish, built by a priest who came from the same lands as their parents, who may have known them or blessed them as little children and here were the windows to the greatest of Lebanon’s Holy One’s and the Mother of our Redeemer whose birth we celebrate.

Saint Maroun
Father Auad had a great personal devotion to St. Anthony of Padua and wanted this new parish at Long Branch to be named the Shrine of St. Anthony. Given that there was already a large church on Bloor Street dedicated to this much-loved Saint, the Archbishop did not agree. It was named Christ the King and a small grotto was built to house an Altar, yet, “Shrine of St. Anthony” remains today engraved in the terrazzo flooring just below the plaque in memory of Father Auad. The first Mass offered there was celebrated by Father Auad on September 17, 1939 and on Sunday, May 26, 1940, the church was blessed by Archbishop McGuigan.

Surely now the young Lebanese of this community would seek out their old friend, Father Auad from the streets of McCaul, Queen, Bond, York, Simcoe, D'Arcy, and so on but alas, it was not to be; for at Midnight Mass on December 25, 1944, Father Stephan Auad suffered a stroke while preaching the homily. The next day, December 26, 1944, sixty-eighty years ago today and on that very same Feast of St. Stephen, his name-saint, Father Stephen Auad went on to his eternal reward and a little bit of Lebanese history in Long Branch lay hidden.

On this anniversary of his death, may this little Christmas story serve as a tribute to this early and long forgotten priest of the first hundred years of the Church in Toronto. May Father Stephen Auad be rejoicing on this day with St. Stephen in the presence of the LORD whom he loved and served. Thank you Father Auad for what you did so long-ago for those early Catholic villagers in Long Branch and for the windows serving as a memorial to our Maronite heritage.

Father Stephen Auad, 1884 -1944
 Requiescat in pace


Phil Howard said...

I was raised in the Assemblies of God. I was an Assemblies of God minister and God brought me into the Holy Roman Catholic Church. Thank You Lord for drawing me! My parents still receive the Pentecostal Evangel weekly at their church. I read it and regularly see anti Catholic rhetoric or at least insinuations still. I can honestly say it is out of ignorance. I pray many will come to the knowledge of the Truth of our beautiful Catholic faith.

catholicanuck said...

Merry Christmas!

Thank you for this interesting bit of history. I am not from Toronto, nor have I had much contact with Maronite Communities, but I find the history of Catholicism in North America fascinating. Some of your observations in this post have helped me to clarify what I considered to be regional variations in the behaviour of the laity. Thanks again.

The Sheepcat said...

Nicely done, Vox. Merry Christmas!

Barona said...

An absolutely extraordinary and riveting post! God bless you Vox for sharing this with us. A blessed Feast of St. Stephen to you.

Bear said...

You were right when you told me that this would haave made a good addition to my Brief History. There are many stories like this throughout the archdiocese of priests who would not give up and built somethign out of almost nothing.