Thursday, 29 September 2016

On this Feast of St. Michael, St. Michael's Cathedral in Toronto is rededicated

To write a history of this Cathedral of St. Michael, in Toronto, would take much time; I will be necessarily brief.

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Early painting of cathedral interior
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Bishop Michael Power
Toronto was a city of Irish immigrants from the famine. Michael Power was appointed our first bishop. At that time, there was one Archdiocese from Kingston, at the eastern part of Lake Ontario, all the way to Windsor, across the river from Detroit. Bishop Power commissioned the new gothic revival cathedral and laid the cornerstone on this date in 1848. He died of typhus after attending to the suffering Irish and did not live to see it completed. Toronto was known as the Belfast of North America. Catholics were hated. A good, brief history is written by the Bear over at the Spirit's Sword.  It was the "gangs of New York" on a smaller scale. Even back then, Toronto, or York as it was known, was always trying to emulate the Big Apple.

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.

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Msgr. John Edward Ronan
The Cathedral became the home of the renowned St. Michael's Cathedral Schola, now literally Choir School. Founded by the late Monsignor John Edward Ronan, pictured at left, the school, throughout the liturgical insanity of the last fifty years still maintained Gregorian propers, sung Latin polyphony Masses and motets, every single Sunday. The school was founded in 1937 and is one of the few in the world affiliated with Rome's Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music. 

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?

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In the 1930's, the Cathedral underwent a "wreckovation" of sorts. That's right. A few decided then that the vision of the original gothic revival should be replaced and the ceilings were painted in rather gauche faux mosaics with saints appearing bursting on vaulting that actually covered and preserved the original. The area over the altar was given a romanesque touch with paintings of the life of Our Lord as if taken from some quite dated holy card. The rest of the ceiling was stenciled murals. 

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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."

Image result for st michael's cathedral torontoA 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.

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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.

All the cathedral’s stained-glass windows were painstakingly restored, including this window depicting the Crowning of Mary.

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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. 

Cardinal Thomas Collins gets an up-close look at the cathedral’s starry ceiling.

May he be inspired to one day, go just a little bit further.

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See also:

New Cathedral webpage

Catholic Register features

Webcast of the Rededication tonight at 7:00PM EDT


Anonymous said...

God bless Cardinal Collins, and may St. Michael protect this beautiful Cathedral.

Now we just need Una Voce to hold a Traditional Latin Mass there, and possibly get something regular started. That would really top off the whole restoration!

Vox Cantoris said...

The Cardinal will actually preside at a Mass there on the Feast of Christ the King at 3:00PM.

Yes, you read that correctly. Three Toronto priests will participate in the Holy Sacrifice in the Presence of the Greater Prelate.

Sandpiper said...

I loved learning of Toronto's Catholic history. May this be the re-beginning of a true flowering of The Faith in your fair city. Holy Mary pray for the Torontonians. St Michael, defend the Torontonians in battle against the evils of the Canadian state.

Anonymous said...

Vox, excellent news about that Mass! I will make sure to attend that. I assume by Feast of Christ the King you mean according to the traditional calendar, so October 30 and not the November Novus Ordo date.

Maudie N Mandeville said...

'May he be inspired to one day, go just a little bit further.' Definitely. I guess an ad orientem altar with Jesus Christ as our focal point would have been going too far. Sad.

Marcellina said...

Great post David! Love the photos of the old St Mikes. Too bad the photos were not used to remind the builders that the Tabernacle needs to be front and center and the altar rail restored to its rightful place. A beautiful job nonetheless BUT, a strike out in the bottom of the 9th, Bases loaded when a grand slam walkoff was guaranteed with the softball lob of a pitch given the rest of the plans...

I guess Italian artisans can do traditional statues but not tabernacles and altar rails. A shame...

Kathleen1031 said...

I read this wondering how this could happen today. It's wonderful.
That beautiful space deserves the Holy Mass in the Extraordinary Form. Nothing else will match the magnificence of the space.

Unknown said...

Vox, where oh where is Our Lord. Where is his throne. All I see is the throne of the Cardinal in the center of the altar. I agree that the beauty has been restored, but it's ugly without the Lord in His place, at the center, as the focus. Where is He? Am I mistaken? Am I blind? I was going to take my children to this beautiful cathedral, but no more, they will ask me, where is my Lord?

Vox Cantoris said...

Hello Anna,

It is there, it is off to the left which you can see in the artistic rendering beyond the pulpit. Formerly, it was on the right side, where the choir now is.

If you look at the original painting, that was an altar as was there on the right side (epistle) and two others in the transepts, now exits to meet the building code.

I hear what you are saying, but in a Cathedral, the Blessed Sacrament is not normally reserved in the aspe, but in a chapel. This would be the case in the Roman basilicas and in gothic cathedrals prior to the Council of Trent. It is because the sedelia is in the center from where the bishop presides and represents Christ. It is twisted in nearly every parish making every priest a presider, like a bishop.

In North America, the tradition was always that the tabernacle was on the main altar as this was the command of the Council of Trent. So, which applies now, the antiquarian manner or Trent?

I think there mistake was to elevate the throne higher than the Altar, but this was the case there since 1965. The good news is that although it would take a redesign of the marble/slate of the floor from a design point of view, it could still be changed - in the future - in God's good time.

Anna, it could be worse. Toronto is pretty fortunate compared to some places.

Unknown said...

Thank you Vox.. I was not aware of all these norms - I do appreciate what the Cardinal has done - God bless him for that - but when you have gone from church to church to see it shoving the Blessed Sacrament to the side - it's so sad. We've had to go to family events - different Catholic Churches in the arch - how many have The Lord completely shoved to the side - and yes all you see are the thrones of men - why can't they have their chairs on the side - I just know I need to see The Lord in the centre - I need my children to see The Lord there - I am all for beauty in the church . I once had an argument with someone - they stated the church should spend money to help the poor not beautify their churches - well all I could say is why didn't you help the poor instead of upgrading your bathrooms and kitchen etc.? It's my home ... Well the church - in the humble tabernacle - is the dwelling place of the King of kings, The Lord.. Does He not deserve to be surrounded by beauty? Very hard and dedicated work went into this renovation- that should be greatly appreciated by all - but the first question my kids asked when they saw the pictures was 'where is Jesus?'

Vox Cantoris said...


In medieval England, and other places perhaps, the Blessed Sacrament was reserved hanging from the ceiling in a "dove."

Adoration came mostly after Aquinas. After Trent, the Tabernacle was required on the main altar, though in Cathedrals, it was a chapel.

At Vatican II, there was this diabolical move against the "real presence." They wanted to downplay the "static presence" in the tabernacle, and promote the "dynamic presence" on the altar.

The problem with Mass facing the people and the tabernacle in the middle is obvious, the priest turns his back on the LORD.

I can see the tabernacle separate but in the middle so that the altar is free-standing, but, Mass must be "ad orientem."

More important, I will assume that you've never been in a Masonic Lodge.

Well, what do you think they look like?

Unknown said...

I was wondering if you would cover this event, given the obvious fact that the renovators have decided to keep the Eucharistic Jesus pushed to the side, while the congregation faces the bishop's chair. The Archdiocese of Toronto is clearly stuck in the errors of the 1960's when it comes to church design.

Vox Cantoris said...

Well, it is an important occasion for the church in Toronto. Without a doubt, this should have been rectified. The good news is that it could be done when the courage is there.

Anonymous said...

Give it another 10-20 years, and I bet the tabernacle will be back where it belongs, and there will be a TLM every Sunday at the Cathedral. It just won't be until the old guard generation of clergy are retired. When Toronto's current seminarians are the priests in charge, things will get better.

Vox Cantoris said...

Indeed, and I pray to live to see it. I know many of those seminarians, not a pink powder puff to be found. Manly men who love Christ!

Niko said...

Hello Vox! I've noticed that the new Seminarians tend to be more Traditional Leaning, while the older Priests are unfortunately still influenced under the essence of Vatican II. However I hope that later on, the Cathedral could possibly move the Tabernacle to the Center and eventually have the Mass in Ad Orientem instead of Versus Populem. Although I wonder how long it would take for this process to happen. How long do you think it would take?

Vox Cantoris said...

Hello Niko,

A traditional Mass was held on the Feast of Christ the King, last Sunday of October. Ad oriented is not a problem. How long you ask? it could take a generation. One in Seminary now might need to be Archbishop. Or, Rome could be destroyed along with the Vatican ll hippies and a new Pope is elected from Fatima and immediately consecrates Russia to Ou Lady and, voila! Grab some popcorn and your rosary, it's going to be a good show!!