Saturday, 26 December 2015

The Feast of Stephen and Father Stephen Auad, the Pastor of the Maronites

Church of Christ the King
In the southwest corner of Toronto is 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 1967, when it was amalgamated into Etobicoke, before Etobicoke itself, was eventually amalgamated into Toronto. Etobicoke means, "where the alders grow" in the language of the Mississauga, the native people of the area, now also the name of the City west of Toronto and only a few blocks from Christ the King parish. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Long Branch was a summer resort area for the wealthy of Toronto, only 8 miles away. They would come for the cool lake breeze on a ferry and it would later become a residential and industrial community with companies such as Chrysler, Pittsburgh Paints, Castrol, Gabriel Automotive and Neptune Meters all now gone, many to Mexico with the jobs along with them. Long Branch was a prosperous and pleasant community and it was to this little village that would come the Pastor of the Maronites, Father Stephen Auad.

As with all immigrants at the time from Mount Lebanon, including my four grandparents to Canada from Lebanon, life in the old country was hard. My grandparents, along with Father Auad, were born just after the then, latest wave of Islamic persecution. It was known as the Mount Lebanon Civil War or the Civil War of Syria as Lebanon was officially part of the Greater Syria Province of the detestable Ottoman Empire. It began as an uprising by the Maronite Christians of Mt. Lebanon, my ancestors, against the Druze overlords and culminated in a massacre of Christians at Damascus. Nearly 400 Christians villages and 500 churches were destroyed in a battle by Islamists which eventually spread even to the south of Lebanon. The British backed the Druze for economic reasons, the French came to the rescue of the Christians at the urging of the Pope and the Ottoman's enjoyed fomenting the strife. It included the then, Massacre of Aleppo when over 5000 died as Mohammedans rose up against the Christians of Aleppo. It seems all too familiar.

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 "Offering" or Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, was celebrated at St. Michael's Cathedral by the Rt. Rev. Shakralla Khoury. Khoury was the Maronite Eparch, or Bishop of Tyre and delegate from Mount Lebanon to the Paris Peace Conference following The Great War (World War I before it became necessary to label it as the First). 

The Qurbono was in Thanksgiving to God for the "virtual independence of Lebanon” from the defeated and vanquished Ottomans, an independence that would not be totally realised for another thirty years and after another great war due to the mischief and machinations of King Faisal. 

[If you note a theme here about foreign domination by Islamists, Arabs, Europe, specifically Britain and now, the rest of us in the "West" in Christian Syria and Lebanon which has served to destroy these lands and kill thousands, you would not be mistaken, but let's get back to the subject at hand. ... ]

Remarkably, this Mass at the Cathedral was reported on September 6, 1920 in the old Toronto World; and that the "Pastor of the Maronites in Toronto" assisted at the Mass. 

Yet, despite Father Auad being termed in the secular press, the "Pastor of the Maronites" there was no Maronite Church in Toronto so Lebanese immigrants followed the Latin Rite and assimilated into it. That all changed in 1980 when then Emmett Cardinal Carter assisted the new Lebanese immigrants fleeing war and the latest Islamic persecution and Israeli war, with the purchase of the former Anglican Church of the Epiphany on Queen Street in Parkdale, now Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Catholic Church. Pope John Paul II had just established the Eparchy of St. Maron in Canada (Montreal). There is now a second Maronite Church in the region with St. Charbel's in Mississauga. Given the more recent strife, we also see Chaldean Catholic, Syriac Catholic and Coptic Catholic and Orthodox churches being built. 

While studying in Rome, Father Auad was able to celebrate in both the Latin and Maronite Rites and was what would be termed, "bi-ritual." He would, of course, learn Italian which would prove helpful. Catholic Toronto was Irish and these first Catholics in Toronto suffered many indignities in what was known as the Ulster of North America and the Church here was hardly prepared for the next waves of immigrants, particularly the demanding 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 as their first parish) with the Maronite Lebanese Father Auad as their pastor, because he could speak Italian. 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." 
Old St. Patrick's - Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church 
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. Given the prevailing climate in Toronto as so well told by Bear at The Spirit's Sword, one can understand the Irish mentality. Their ancestors were persecuted in Ireland by the English and Scots and they came to York - later Toronto, and got it good here too.  Bear also writes in the combox, after the second posting of this story in 2014, that Father Auad was also known as a "healer." Do visit the link above for his take on the persecution of the Catholic Irish, it was a hard go for them. Toronto was not a nice place and the stories are similar to those told of the gangs of New  York.

The Italians were bolder and had their own customs and devotions. Father Auad had clearly adopted the prevailing official Irish culture of liturgical minimalism and flying below the radar for the reasons noted above and this conflicted with the Italians under his care. 

Professor Zucchi continued:

"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 wasn't only the local Italians that criticised the poor beleaguered priest unbelievably, even American Evangelical Pentecostals chimed in.  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” writing:
“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 (notice that they left "Our Lady" out of the title!)  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. The time is coming when Christianity will be purged of all alien additions. Matt.13:41.” 
James Cardinal McGuigan
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 that 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, originally from Prince Edward Island, 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 Scotsman Freemason godfather; of course, none of us knew it until he died and he left me his Shriner Fezz, which I've since gotten suitable disposed 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, but none, interestingly enough, in Long Branch.

Saint Maroun

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.  It is from him that the Maronites are named. 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 worshipped 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.

Our Lady of Mount Lebanon

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. “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, seventy-two 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


Bear said...

I was once told a story in which Father Auad was mentioned. A parish to the west of Fr Auad's had a priest by the name of Msgr Sheridan. Both Sheridan and Auad had reputations as healers. Msgr Sheridan had a parishioner who was ill and whom he visited regularly and prayed over much, but the man was still getting worse. The family was going to take him to Fr. Auad and have him pray over the man. Sheridan came one last time to pray over the man, and, as he did, the illness broke and his healing began. Msgr Sheridan thanked God for the man's healing, but confided to a friend that he was also glad the fever broke before Fr. Auad prayed for the man. If he had began to heal after Auad prayed over him only once when Sheridan had prayed over him many times, then, said the Msgr, his reputation as a healer would be in the mud.

Not the best of tales, but it helps convey an idea of what the people of the time thought of Fr. Auad. (BTW, the person who told me the story called him "Father Odd." Is that the correct pronunciation?)

Osusanna said...

Pray for good parish priests.

Anonymous said...

Christ is Born!

Thank you for sharing your Maronite Catholic heritage. I looked at the Maronite Catholic calendar, and I could find no mention of St. Stephen.

In the Ukrainian Catholic Church on Dec. 26th we celebrate the Synaxis of the Mother of God. Dec. 27th is the Feast of St. Stephen. This year, however, we are celebrating St. Joseph, St. James the Less and King David as well as St. Stephen because it is also the Sunday after the Nativity.

Do the Maronites celebrate the Synaxis of the Mother of God? Just wondering.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Desecration of Virgin Mary Statue Marked by Protests and Reparation. "The procession headed up the the end of the block at which point we crossed the street. The only place Our Lady wasn’t welcomed was on the sidewalk in front of St. Joseph’s Old Cathedral. Our Lady was excluded and barred from even being processed on the sidewalk in front of the church. This was at the behest of the ushers of the parish and than enforced by the police. So we crossed back over the street singing our hymns.

Anonymous said...

A stunning and beautiful glimpse of history, art and culture! Thanks Vox.

Vox Cantoris said...

Anon 7:41, I am not a good Maronite --- I was raised in the Latin because we had no priest, no parish. I can't tell you about that feast other than the great devotion by the Maronitis for the Mother of God so well known as Our Lady of Lebanon.

Anonymous said...

Christ is Born!

If I remember right, the Catholic bishops of Lebanon consecrated Lebanon to the Immaculate Heart of Mary a few years ago. Since then, Lebanon has been spared the "Arab spring".

I hope that you will eventually find a good Maronite Catholic priest and parish. We should try to preserve the patrimony of the various Eastern Catholic sui iuris Churches as much as possible.

If a letter comes for me, it will have my name on it. If one arrives for Mom, it has her name on it. If it's for both of us, it will state "The ______ Family".

So it is the same with the Church. Our first names differ (e.g. Byzantine, Maronite, Ukrainian, Roman etc.), but our family name - Catholic - is still the same.

Wishing you a Blessed Nativity and a Happy and Blessed New Year.

Z nami Boh! God is with us!

Lynda said...

Thank you. Very interesting indeed.