Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Feast of St. Stephen and the death of his namesake, Father Stephen Auad

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The Martyrdom of St. Stephen
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, meaning “where the alders grow,” which was eventually amalgamated into Toronto.

Parish of Christ the King and Shrine of St.Anthony of Padua 
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Long Branch was a summer resort area for the wealthy of Toronto, eight miles away, they would come on a ferry for the cool lake breeze. With cheap available land and the Canadian National Railway, it would later become an industrial community with companies such as Chrysler, Pittsburgh Paints, Castrol Oil right beside the church, Gabriel Automotive and Neptune Meters, all of which are now gone along with the good jobs and many of them, to Mexico. Long Branch had become a prosperous and pleasant community and it was to this little village that the Pastor of the Maronites, Father Stephen Auad, would come.

French postcard of Maronite militia, c. 1860
As with all immigrants at the time from Mount Lebanon, including my four grandparents to Canada, 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 against their 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 and political reasons, the French came to the rescue of the Christians at the urging of the Pope and the Ottoman's took advantage and fomented the strife. It included the Massacre of Aleppo, yes, that Aleppo, when over 5000 died as Mohammedans rose up against its Christians. It seems all too familiar now, no doubt and they may live quietly as your neighbour but as in Mosul, it was the Mohammedan neighbours that pointed out to the ISIS butchers where the Christians lived.

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. 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 realized for another thirty years due to the mischief and machinations of King Faisal.

Remarkably, the Qurbono, or Mass, at the Cathedral was reported on September 6, 1920, in the old Toronto World; and the earlier referred to "Pastor of the Maronites in Toronto," assisted at the Divine Liturgy.

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Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Church, Toronto
Sadly for the Lebanese of Toronto and in spite of Father Auad being termed in the secular press the "Pastor of the Maronites" there was no Maronite Church in Toronto. The closest was in Buffalo with the result of most Lebanese, my family included, becoming assimilated into the Latin Rite. 

In 1980, Toronto Archbishop Emmett Cardinal Carter assisted the new Lebanese immigrants with the purchase of the former Anglican Church of the Epiphany on Queen Street in Parkdale, now Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Catholic Church and the Maronites finally had their home. 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 and given the more recent strife and suffering of Middle Eastern Christians, we also see Chaldean Catholic, Syriac Catholic and Coptic Catholic and Orthodox churches being built throughout the greater Toronto region.

While studying in Rome, Father Auad was able to offer the Holy Sacrifice e in both the Latin and Maronite Rites. He would learn Italian which would prove helpful to his future in Canada. The Church in Toronto was an Irish Church and these first Catholics in Toronto suffered many indignities in what was known as the Ulster of North America. 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 with the former becoming Our Lady of Mount Carmel and assigned to the Italians as their first parish. Because he could speak Italian, the Maronite Lebanese Father Auad became their pastor. It still stands today serving Chinese Roman Catholics, the Italians having long since moved on from that community. It didn't seem to go to well. Professor John Zucchi of McGill University who specializes 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."

These Italians were villagers and more accustomed to a more active involvement of the laity in the parish than Toronto Catholics were accustomed to. The Irish were different; they had to escape persecution to forests and cliffs to find a rock to hear Mass. They were quiet in their Masses. Their history was different of course being persecuted on their own soil by the British, it was a different situation and they never questioned the priest or made demands. Given the prevailing climate in Toronto 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 in what was an English and Scottish protestant paradise dominated by Anglican, Presbyterians and Methodists.

The Italians were bolder and had their own customs and devotions and made demands unknown by the locals then. 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 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.”

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.

Attending one weeknight Mass at Christ the King a few years ago, I noticed a window long overlooked. It seemed an odd Saint in a window here, St. Antony of the Desert. I started to look closer. 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." Here was a little parish, built by a priest who came from the land named so often in the Psalms, who procured these windows to the greatest of Lebanon’s Holy Ones including the Mother of our Redeemer whose birth we celebrate.

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.

At Midnight Mass on December 25, 1944 and whilst delivering his sermon, Father Stephan Auad suffered a stroke. The next day, December 26, 1944, on the very 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.  

Rev. Stephen Auad


Leah said...

What a beautiful story and what wonderful history. Thank you for sharing. Most of us know so little about our own history. I have always loved St. Stephen who looked after widows and orphans as a designated apostolate by the apostles. Today widows are not only left to fend for ourselves, most of the time we are not even seen. I often pray to St. Stephen as I slink through the crowd, unseen, with a smile painted on my face.

Anonymous said...

Christ is Born!

Dear Vox,

In our Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, today (Dec. 26) is the Feast of the Synaxis of the Mother of God and tomorrow (12/27) is the Feast of St. Stephen Protomartyr.

My friend Michael lost his mom 37 years ago today. Tomorrow will be 3 years since my friend Mary Ann died, and my uncle Daniel passed away on Dec. 29, 2014. So the week after Christmas is not very merry for us.

I will burn a candle for +Fr. Stephen Auad tomorrow at the Ukrainian Catholic cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Philadelphia PA USA. Both of our Archbishop Stefan Soroka and retired Archbishop Stephen Sulyk celebrate their patronal Feast tomorrow.

Eternal memory for +Fr. Stephen Auad, Daniel, and all the deceased.

Yours in the Infant King,


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this touching, descriptive story of your people, Vox, and the holy priest constructor of your Church. Yet I think your tale is unfortunately tainted with some strange anti-British bias. I am an "English Catholic" (with some Irish ancestry), and I can assure you, having travelled much in my life, that English Catholics, an approximate 9% of the population of GB, are some of the most fervent, the most traditional, and the most generous in alms giving, of all Europeans. Among their ranks now are many who are converts from Anglicanism (not my case) and have often had to suffer scorn and incomprehension from their family and acquaintances in embracing the True Faith. You also (perhaps unawares) had "English Catholics" who stuck their necks out for you in your threatened lawsuit by Fr Thomas Rosica! We English Catholics are now undergoing a real type of moral persecution by the secular establishment of our nation. Please don't add to the stone-throwing.
In Christ, Veronica McCarthy

Vox Cantoris said...

Dear Veronica,

I apologise for offending you. I love England and most everything about Her. I love our Queen, though I'm not to fussy on the heir and his panderings to Islam or desiring to be his consort's, well, you remember...I never want my Canada to be a republic. I made a Christmas pudding and mincemeat tarts, I love English carols, particularly early music, there is no greater or more interesting national history.

I thank Eccles and others who defended me during Rosicagate.

Yet, the reality is, British politics along with American and our own at times, has destabilized the Middle East. Are you forgetting Sykes-Picot which lead to the artificial borders and mixing of tribes without strongmen like Saddam or, Assad to keep the peace? The fact remains, British PROTESTANT power stirred up the Moslems against the Christians then and has recently under Cameron with his sidekick, Obama. What has changed?

No, the England which I love is the England in your heart's desire. Our Lady's Dowry, the monasteries, the seasons and feasts, the Sarum Rite, the great Cathedrals, all built by the greatest of Catholics. The Plantangant's of Richard III before the Crown was stolen by the wretched Tudors and changed world history forever. America would be Catholic if not for Henry VIII and the Middle East would have been different under a Catholic philosophy then the Protestants. Who rid England of the last Catholic King of the Stuart line? Are the Hanover's, the Windsor's really legitimate? Does Diana's Saxon blood now make the Second Heir a real English King again?

England murdered and martyred her children. Until Elizabeth II or her successor comes to grips with what our England did to the likes of Thomas Saints Thomas More, John Fisher, Edmund Campion, Margaret Clitherow, Robert Southwell, and so many others and to your Irish ancestors, England cannot be great again.

Johnno said...

Awesome post. This is one of 3 churches in my area that I attend! Will share this with some of its parishioners!

Dymphna said...

Veronica, I didn't see anything unkind about English Catholics. Telling the plain truth is not an insult.