IMMACULATE CONCEPTION CHURCH
— A Brief History —
By: Elizabeth DeNoble
With the transfer of Father George Zebrowski OFM Conv. and Father Krzysztof Cybulski OFM Conv. a new pastor, Father William Moloney, began his pastorate at Immaculate Conception. During his pastorate, the parish undertook the installation of a new entrance ramp at the parking lot door replacing the old ramp that had been there for many years.
Also, plans were drawn up for an accessibility project that would see the installation of an elevator to take parishioners and visitors to the Church Hall. The funds raised in annual established parish dinners and other fundraisers were directed to the cost of the elevator. Father Bill also continued the annual Corpus Christi Eucharistic Procession, which had been initiated by the Franciscans, through the neighbourhood of the church. Father Moloney was a daily visitor to the local hospital bringing kind support and Holy Communion to sick parishioners and friends.
In 1914 Immaculate Conception Parish became the third parish to be formed in the City of Peterborough. Recognizing the rapidly growing population in the eastern area of the city, Most Rev. M. J. O’Brien, fourth bishop of the Peterborough diocese, established the parish dedicated to the Mother of God under her title of Immaculate Conception. A section of land fronting on Rogers Street which already included St. Joseph’s Hospital and the House of Providence was chosen as the site for the new church and Rev. W. J. McColl was appointed first pastor of the new parish.
Following Bishop O’Brien’s advice, it was decided that the parish would construct only the basement for the proposed church and a parish rectory for the clergy. On December 6th, 1914 the new basement church was solemnly blessed by Bishop O’Brien.
In 1930, Bishop Denis O’Connor, the fifth Bishop of Peterborough, on his first visit to Immaculate Conception, expressed a desire that the building of the superstructure be undertaken as quickly as possible. Under the direction of the second pastor, Very Rev. Dean F. J. O’Sullivan, work began early in 1933 and on December 8th of that year the completed church, built in the Byzantine style of gray Credit Valley stone, was solemnly blessed by Bishop O’Connor. In 1934 the visiting Apostolic Delegate, Archbishop Andrea Cassulo, complimented the pastor and parishioners on the erection of such a beautiful church during the depression years.
Over the following decades, various renovations and renewals have been undertaken to update the church liturgically and to maintain the beauty of the building. The last major restoration occurred in 1998 under the direction of the eighth pastor, Father Gerard McMahon.
Since then, the Immaculate Conception Church has been selected three times, in 2003, 2004 and 2009, to be part of the Ontario Doors Open program, where the general public is welcome to visit buildings of significant beauty and interest.
Always a very busy parish, the clergy of Immaculate Conception at various times have also taken on pastoral responsibilities at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Marycrest Senior Citizens’ Home. Two elementary schools have been a feature of the parish over the past few decades: the original Immaculate Conception School which opened in 1913 and later, St. Francis de Sales on Parkhill Road East. In 2009 the parish was served by the modern Immaculate Conception School and Monsignor O’Donoghue School. St. Joseph’s at Fleming Nursing Home on Brealey Drive, replaced Marycrest and was served by Immaculate’s clergy.
Realizing that a parish is much more than buildings, the parishioners, under the sure guidance and dedication of all their pastors and associate priests who have been their shepherds, sanctifiers and teachers, have sought through Christ and the Holy Spirit to do the will of God the Father. Through faithful participation in the sacramental life of the Church, by extending a helping hand to the less fortunate and through the spirit of co-operation with their sister churches in East City, the parishioners have worked hard to follow their Lord.
Perhaps the greatest proof of the wonderful pastoral care shown by the priests of Immaculate Conception is the fact that, since its founding, ten young men of the parish have been ordained, two have joined the brotherhood and several young women have joined religious orders.
From 1984 to 1986 with Father Raymond Heffernan’s encouragement, the parish took part in the in the diocesan-wide Renew program. This program focused on faith development through the study of scripture and prayer.
In 1986, when Father Heffernan was transferred, Father Joseph Collins was appointed pastor. Father Collins worked diligently to increase spirituality in the parish by continuing the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament on the First Friday of each month, by introducing Our Lady Queen of Peace devotions in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the first Saturday of each month, and by introducing the weekly Chaplet of Divine Mercy.
When Father Collins was transferred in 1996, Father Gerard McMahon became the eighth pastor of Immaculate Conception Church. In 1998 a major restoration of the church was undertaken. The interior was repainted, new carpeting was installed, the Crucifixion tableau was re-assembled in the transept and the Repository of the Blessed Sacrament was transferred to the center of the sanctuary. A new furnace was installed at this time. During these major renovations Sunday Mass was held in the church hall. Christmas 1998 was celebrated in the beautifully restored church.
During Father McMahon’s pastorate, Council 12418 of the Knights of Columbus was formed in the parish. The members of the council held fund raisers and assumed responsibility for various repairs to the building, for erecting a cross and plaque dedicated “To the Unborn Child” and a statue of the Blessed Virgin donated by the Precious Blood Sisters and for developing wheelchair accessibility to the parish hall.
On Father McMahon’s transfer in 2001, Father Joseph Machaj became the ninth pastor of Immaculate Conception remaining in this post until the autumn of 2001.
Father Asisclo (Ace) Podelino became the tenth pastor of Immaculate Conception in January 2002. Father Ace worked to develop greater participation of the parishioners in the life of the parish.
In 2005 with the transfer of Father Asisclo (Ace) Podelino to St. Joseph’s Parish. Powassan, the care of Immaculate Conception Parish was entrusted to the Franciscan Fathers under the leadership of Father Jerzy (George) Żebrowski OFM Conv. At that time, Immaculate welcomed the area’s Polish community and became an English/Polish parish with services in both languages.
In the foreground is Father Jerzy (George) Zebrowski, OFM Conv. Pastor 2005-2014. In the background is Father Jerzy Naglewski, OFM Conv. retired priest, resident at Immaculate 2005-2014. (OFM Conv. refers to the Franciscan order of priests: Order of Friars Minor Conventual.)
During his pastorate Father George encouraged and supported a very active Parish Council and Knights of Columbus program. Under his leadership, the parish brought the Catholic faith into the community at large with an annual Eucharistic Procession through parish streets and by supporting the parishioners, for two years, in cooperation with Wayside Academy, to enter a float in the city’s Santa Claus Parade. The float, using students from the parish’s two schools and Wayside Academy, presented a Nativity scene with the motto "Keep Christ in Christmas".
Father Zebrowski also emphasized the universality of the Catholic faith by holding the International Rosary in which the 15 decades of the Rosary were recited in the various languages spoken by our parishioners. A beautiful statue of the Blessed Virgin, previously owned by parishioner Mary McCabe, was erected on the north side of the Church.
During Father Zebrowski’s pastorate various repairs were made to the church. In anticipation of our 100th anniversary as a parish, the front steps were removed and completely rebuilt; the windows above the front door were repointed and a layer of glass put over them for insulation; repairs were done to the ceiling and side wall of the church; and major updates were done by the Knights Council 12418 to the church hall as well as the complete renewal of the soffit, fascia and eavetroughs of the church.
In June 2014 Immaculate joyfully celebrated its 100th anniversary as a parish. Special events marked the occasion with congratulatory greetings from religious and political figures. A calendar was produced by parishioner Paul O’Brien showing the beautiful stained-glass windows in the church.
In September of 2014, the Franciscan Order, undertaking a reassessment of the Order's various parish commitments, decided to withdraw from Peterborough Diocese to focus on their work in the United States.
New accessibility ramp from parking lot to church.
In March 2020 Immaculate Conception, along with all Catholic Churches, experienced a lockdown due to the spread of the Coronavirus. All parish events and liturgies were cancelled. As the disease lessened in Peterborough, churches were reopened in June. Father Bill instructed his parishioners in the practices to be followed to ensure the safety of everyone who attended Mass.
In July of 2020, Father Bill Moloney was transferred to the parish of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Campbellford. Father Stephen DeCarlo was appointed administrator of the parish as his replacement.
IMMACULATE CONCEPTION PASTORS
1914-1928 Monsignor W.J. McCall
1928-1955 Monsignor Francis J. O’Sullivan
1956-1969 Rev. W. Christopher McCarney
1969-1979 Rev. John F. Coughlan
1979-1981 Rev. Leo Coughlin
1980-1986 Rev. Raymond Heffernan
1986-1996 Rev. Joseph Collins
1996-2001 Rev. Gerard McMahon
2001-2001 Rev. Joseph Machaj
2001-2005 Rev. Asisclo (Ace) Podelino
2005-2014 Rev. Jerzy (George) ZebrowskiOFM Conv.
2014-2020 Rev. William Moloney
2020 Rev. Stephen DeCarlo
A PERSONAL STORY OF
GROWING UP AT IMMACULATE
By: Murray Byrne
Editorial Assistance: Rosemary McConkey
When we were in the very early stage of schooling, probably Grade One, a catastrophic event occurred in the life of our teachers, particularly the nuns.
Father Walsh, like the Bing Crosby of Going My Way, was being transferred out of the parish to the wilds of Kinmount. To say Father Walsh was a favourite of the nuns was an understatement. He was a regular visitor to the school and he spoke with a soft Irish accent which was not uncommon for our adult population, who were descendants of a generation that had not yet lost the musical brogue of their own parents and grandparents from Douro or Ennismore or Otonabee-the “Swamp Irish”.
Of course, there would be a grand send-off to Father Walsh from the whole school and a special song was created to convey our affection and sense of loss. To the tune of the Wearing of the Green, the nuns, led by Sister Dominica, had us sing:
Oh children dear and did you hear
The news that’s going ‘round.
They moved the priest in Kinmount on
To dear old Grafton Town.
And when they set about to find a priest as good as he,
They came and took our Father Walsh to fill the vacancy.
Oh he’s going off to Kinmount
And in Kinmount he will stay.
And he’ll not come back to ICP (Immaculate Conception Parish)
For many a long, long day……
In those days, you had to know Kinmount and brother, did we know Kinmount. My father was born in Kinmount and many aunts, uncles and cousins were still living there. Kinmount is about 60 miles north of Peterborough, a trip of 2 1/2 to 3 hours (nowadays 50 minutes or so) on mainly country roads at that time. It consisted of a hamlet really, built around the Gull River‘s logging activity and it had a mill and a railway station. In the winter it was like Siberia.
The purpose of this essay is to illustrate the closeness and important relationship between the church, school and community that was East City in the forties and fifties mainly. The fact that we lived right across the road from the church at 386 Rogers Street expanded our involvement in all three.
Dean O’Sullivan, later Monsignor, was the pastor and he had four or five assistant priests at most times throughout our growing years. For example, at the time of Father Walsh, Father Begley and Father Lynch were assistants and they had responsibility for the church, St. Joseph’s hospital (which had its own chapel), the House of Providence (the senior citizens home of its day) and the Precious Blood Monastery. All of these priests had regularly scheduled Masses and Holy Hours on Sundays and Benedictions, Confessions and Baptisms throughout the week, as well as tending to the sick and dying. So the clergy were a very busy crew.
Monsignor O’Sullivan was a slight scholarly-looking man in his seventies, but he was a strict manager and an accomplished writer, having produced a novel inspired by his early days as parish priest in Port Hope. It was called, “The Chronicles of Crofton”, probably out of print by now. He used to smoke cigarettes using a holder, a tubular device with a stem (a la President Roosevelt), whether for convenience or some supposed filtering action...I don’t know. But of course, everyone smoked in those days. Men, women, even young boys who thought they would look grownup or something. My dad smoked, my grandmother, step-grandfather and my two aunts all smoked...but not my mother.
In this period of the 1940’s people would congregate in front of the church before and after Mass to catch up on each other's doings during the past week. There would be a virtual bushel of cigarette butts to harvest after each event, some not even a quarter smoked and ripe for any kid who might want to indulge.
Monsignor O ‘Sullivan, aka “The Mons”, as the priests referred to him, had a hearing problem. You could say he was pretty deaf. When serving his Mass, one had to speak the Latin responses loudly and clearly. The Mass was said only in Latin and the Mass server responded to all the pronouncements—not the congregation as is done today. But there were more responses and lengthier ones than in today’s liturgy. Over time and because we had been admonished by our teachers to speak up when serving, the Monsignor started asking for me to serve him which was a considerable honour for me, but especially after he started saying his own Masses at the side altar and there was just him and me. His Mass would start just prior to the regular Mass and finish considerably sooner, so that was an added bonus.
What was so special, was when we celebrated Midnight Mass at Christmas with the usual crowd that filled the church. At midnight Mass, the Monsignor and I came out about five minutes early and began the Monsignor’s Mass at the side altar. A few minutes later, the colourful procession for the main Mass came out, led by six acolytes in red soutanes and carrying red glass encased candles on four-foot long wooden poles, known as the Torches. Two co-celebrant priests required for a solemn High Mass followed, dressed in glorious coloured vestments and in turn, followed by the regular altar boys in black and white. The large number of them, perhaps twenty or thirty, filled all of the pews on the south and north sides of the altar. One time, Don,”Doobie” Dubay, a non-Catholic friend of mine was in attendance. Doobie was impressed by the liturgy of the Midnight Mass and my role. I regularly served the “Mons” until we left the parish in 1953.
One of my great memories of the Monsignor was the ordination of his nephew, Father Joe O’Sullivan at our church. The ceremony was led by the Bishop at the time, Bishop Berry, and I sat behind the Monsignor in the altar pews, while the Monsignor knelt at his predieu. His face was transfigured with joy throughout the ceremony. As the candidate priests lay prostrate during ordination, there were tears in the old man’s eyes.
In East City, daily Mass was celebrated early at the Precious Blood Monastery and House of Providence starting at 6:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m. and similarly at the hospital Nurse’s Residence after it was built. Later the hospital had its own chaplain and it was my experience to serve Father McEacherin, because I lived close by. Father McEacherin was a man full of nervous energy and he spoke with a stammer as if impatient with his pace of doing things. But he was a nice guy and I believe he was a good Chaplain at the residence and at the hospital.
The inconvenience of the early rising for 7:00 a.m. weekday Mass was partially offset by the glamour of serving at the Nurse’s Residence, serving in a chapel full of attractive young ladies who, even though they were out of my age bracket, made for a pleasant experience. Then there was the bonus of having a great breakfast for free.
I don’t remember if there were criteria for being chosen as an altar boy, but at the age of 10, when I was in Miss Guerin’s grade three and four class and with the arrival of Father John Greenan to the parish, all of a sudden we started memorizing the Latin responses involved in serving at the altar.
Father Greenan introduced a new chapter to our parish history when he, along with Father John Coughlan of Sacred Heart and Father Marrocco of St. Peter’s, organized a hockey league for all the Catholic schools. At Immaculate Conception, this meant beautiful blue sweaters with white trim, shared by both senior and junior teams. What a thrill it was to put them on. Wow, those blue and white sweaters with the little diamond-shaped crest bearing the legend,“ICS” were just about the most beautiful thing I ever saw and when the very first games were played, I remember how magnificent they looked on our senior guys who were first to wear them.
Never mind that Ab Caravaggio of the dreaded Sacred Heart team tore our seniors apart in the early games. Keep in mind that in the 1940’s there were no organized equipment suppliers and everyone made do with what was at hand. Nobody wore hockey pants, just regular winter pants. There were no matching socks, just wool over-socks pulled up over the pant leg. Most guys had some form of shin pad but the use of Simpson’s or Eaton’s catalogue tucked inside the pantleg was not unheard of. We all had our own skates and hockey sticks but now we had an actual goalie stick...for the Seniors, of course. The Seniors also had a pair of actual goalie pads but the Juniors had to settle for a pair of white cricket pads for the goalie. How I wanted to be the first to wear those cricket pads but Allen “Allie” Driscoll was chosen to play goal denying me the thrill of using equipment that we had never used before.
Father Greenan was also responsible for revitalizing the Holy Name Society (HNS), consisting of the men of the Parish who acted as a sort of alumni for supporting the teams and for raising money for parish needs. Also, they would sit as a group in the front pews on the right side of the main aisle and sing as a group once a month at the Sunday Mass. They were led by Frank Connors, a stocky guy with a big voice. I can still hear him ringing out, “Come Holy Ghost, Creator blest….” and “Oh Name that makes the dying live...” and cajoling those both willing and reluctant to sing along.
My dad was president of the HNS in 1947 when Monsignor O’Sullivan was celebrating his 50th anniversary as a priest. My recollection is that they presented him with a Dodge coupe which probably cost in the range of six or seven hundred dollars at the time.
For the young women of the parish, there was the Sodality group and for the adult ladies, the Catholic Women’s League. These groups were active and supported many parish projects such as card parties, bingos of course, and the annual Lawn Social. When the church basement was flooded and had to be completely rebuilt, it was these groups who helped finance the restoration. But when it was completed, it boasted a shiny new tile floor, a kitchen, meeting rooms and a stage. Every year around the first of March an Irish play was staged. The only one I remember was The Mite Box and Bobby Baldwin was one of the main characters. Bobby was not of our parish but he was a fine tenor.
All of the parish groups enjoyed great support and while it was not really mandatory to join, they did take names. After arriving on the scene around 1945-1946, Father John Greenan got the altar boys act together. Where the guys would formerly carry themselves in what you might call today a “cool” undisciplined manner, slovenly genuflections, careless condition of surplices and soutanes, poor posture and sloppy diction, we were given a new set of standards and developed a great sense of pride in being altar boys.
The other priests in residence in the mid to late 1940s were Father Thomas Begley, an older man who moved on shortly after we started serving, Father Joseph Lynch, and Father James Houlihan who was a renowned teacher at St. Peter’s high school. Father Houlihan grew up on Robinson Street next door to the Monastery of the Sisters of the Precious Blood. He was a classmate of my mother through elementary and high school years. My mother also became a teacher and taught in Spanish, Ontario and later Kinmount, where she met my father, whose family was among the early settlers of Galway Township.
In preparation for serving on the altar, our teachers drilled us in Latin to the extent that I can remember most responses even today: “Suscipiat dominus sacrificium, de manibus tuus ad laudem ad gloriam nominus sui ad utilitatem, quoque nostrum totiusque ecclesiae sui sanctae”. Now it’s “Pray brethren that our sacrifice may be acceptable ...”. Not quite the same sort of cache as the Latin gave rise to.
We servers had a kind of competition between us. Bob McCormick, Frank McGillen, Jim McGrath, Jack O’Donoghue and Bruce McColl competed to see who could learn the fastest. We’d get together and practice against each other, just like we did when lacking a coach for our peewee level hockey team and we got together (at age ten) before our first hockey game against Sacred Heart. We organized our forward lines on paper and committed to attacking as lines, passing the puck back and forth as we worked our way up the ice. Surprisingly we totally befuddled the Sacred Heart team (dreaded south-end guys) in front of a visibly angry Father Marrocco (later the auxiliary Bishop of Toronto) who was a very partisan coach and referee—too partisan in our minds.
Later, St. John the Baptist Parish and school joined the competition. By then I was wearing the goalie pads and other, “paraphernalia”, as the Montreal Canadiens hockey broadcaster, Danny Gallivan, would say. St. John’s had a winger named Bob Martell who could raise the puck chest high shooting from the blue line (if we had one) and was scoring at will because all the opposition goalies would flop down either in self-defense or fear. In our first game against St. John’s, I was wearing my grandfather’s leather work mitts with wool mitts inside. I hope he didn’t miss them…but the point was, I decided not to flop and to take the shots on my chest. So what do you know...we shut the dreaded Martell down and won!
What a concept! Self-coaching kids who could barely skate, attacking in organized lines, three abreast, up the ice, passing it back and forth right to the net. And we kept on winning right to the championship much to the chagrin of the competing priests.
Getting back to parish life at Immaculate, one of the best perks afforded an altar boy was to sit on the altar, which stretched across the entire front of the church and which contained three altars: the main altar and the side altars to the left and right. The altars on the two sides were built by a parishioner of wood and were of cabinet-maker quality rising to a height of probably ten feet. The main centre altar was spectacular, centred among four huge Greek columns which supported a great hooded canopy spanning approximately 15’ x 15’. A large mural adorned the ceiling. The canopy stood about 20’ high. Most of our benches were on the right hand (south-side) of the altar with two rows on the left hand (north-side). Together they could accommodate a healthy number of priests and altar boys. In fact, we were required to be on the altar whether serving or not. There was always added prestige to sit in the very front pew on the south-side of the altar reserved first for the additional priests present. If none were present, then all that remained was for us to fight over, the older guys having preference if not deference. When all were present, we probably had about thirty altar boys.
The front right first five rows in the body of the church were reserved for the nuns from the House of Providence and the hospital. The nuns also looked after cleaning and laundering the priests’ vestments and the altar linens as well as preparing the altar for daily and Sunday Mass and Solemn Feast Days. The vestments and altar decorations varied with the time of year, purple for Lent and Advent, red and gold for Christmas and Easter, and white for feasts of the Blessed Virgin. There was a specific protocol for each liturgical season and each particular feast day.
We altar boys started out as “Acolytes” having the duty of carrying the two long candlesticks that were used in processions at each Mass. Then you could graduate to incense, meaning you could spend half of the Mass out in the sacristy where the charcoal was kept lit and the thurible was stored, for those occasions and times where you would have to bring the thurible with the hot charcoal into the ceremony, so the priest could spoon the incense over the hot coals and make the sacred smoke and pungent smell representing sacrifice to God.
As acolytes graduated to bearing the thurible, we were known as thurifers. Top position was Master (of Ceremonies) where you took a major part in the ceremony, attending the celebrant closely, uttering all the response, turning the pages of the book on time, presenting the Beretta (hat which had four tabs on top) to the priest in the correct position for him to take the correct tab between his fingers and place it on his head frontwards. As stated, there was quite a contingent of altar boys because we had two Masses and a Holy Hour every Sunday and Mass on all major Holy Days, plus daily Mass at 8:00 o’clock and Benediction usually Wednesday evenings. Plus special ceremonies and Good Fridays, etc.
The altar boys ranged in age from ten to mid-twenties in that some guys, like Charlie McCabe continued to serve after high school and into their working lives. Peter Roche was another and I think Mike Crowley. Of course, these guys got the plumb jobs of taking the Masters role in major events and serving the Bishop when he visited the parish. While attending St. Augustine’s in Scarborough, Clayton O’Donaghue, Ray Garvey and Jack O’Dette also acted as Masters of Ceremony any time they were home for weekends or the summer.
Other guys I remember were: Ray Spencer (before he died tragically young), George “Red” Sullivan, Mark O’Donaghue, Johnny Vincent, Jack Murdoch, Jack Amyotte, Jack Bacon, Gerry McGrath, Lawrence Foley, and Harold "Had" Driscoll (before he moved away to Detroit). In time, all of us moved up the chain of command to become Master of Ceremonies, the top of the ecclesial ladder.
While the boys were occupied with altar duty, the girls provided the choir for daily Masses. This meant that up to ten of them sang at the 8:00 o’clock Mass before school every day. Rosemary DeNoble played the organ (a full-sized instrument with all the buttons and a huge span of pipes behind. Later, my sister Cecile was full-time weekday organist. Theresa McColl was also organist. I remember some huge controversy in our home about the competition Cecile was facing for the organist position and no doubt there was some intense lobbying going on by my mother. But she’d send my father to do the behind-the-scenes dirty work.
All the singing of the choir was Latin as was all the liturgy at the altar. At that time, the priest faced the altar—which was built along the east wall—his back to the congregation. As already mentioned, we had a beautiful main altar supported by four large columns with a huge curved cap inscribed sic.“Dominvs Nobiscvm”. What a shame that the local haste to comply with the spirit of Vatican II caused it to be turfed in favour of the more “inclusive” but lonely table facing the congregation.
“Dies irae, dies illa, solvet secuum in favila” were the opening words of the hymn the girls sang at every Mass before the Epistle. It went on for what seemed hours and many verses. After a time, it became repetitive sounding, probably just as boring for the choir as it was for we servers on the altar.
I went to Mass at 8:00 o’clock, rushed home for a quick breakfast and off to school by 9:00. This was easy for me, living right across the road from the church and the DeNobles, Jack and Dick who served and Rose Mary who played, lived just around the corner beside my grandmother on Robinson Street where I could take a second breakfast and still get to school in time. Those altar boys and choir girls who lived further away, usually brought their breakfast with them.
On Sundays and Holy days there was an 8.30 a.m. and a 10:30 a.m. Mass. The choir for the early Mass was again provided by the school girls and the High Mass at 10:30 featured the adult choir and it was a beauty. Anchored by Agnes O’Donnell (Mayock) on the organ...and could she make it jump! I specifically remember the Regina Coeli at Easter Sunday Mass. The choir included Tony DeNoble with a rich tenor voice, Romeo Leonard with a mellow baritone voice and Stella Brady an operatic contralto. In the 1940’s other organists were Bernice (Flynn) McDonald and Theresa Roche. The supporting cast included the Flynn sisters, Louise and Madelaine, my Aunt Marg McMurray, and Barb Cavalier among others and my dad also sang on occasion. The choir loft was at the back of the church on the second level. With the pipe organ pumping out the sound and the choir literally pitching in, we were treated to some beautiful music.
Immaculate Conception School was located in two buildings on the northwest corner of Mark Street and Robinson Street. The main building (the original East Ward school built in1884) was a square, two-story, red brick building with a second, smaller building to the north and facing the schoolyard. The main building housed four classrooms, cloakrooms and washrooms and was obviously built after flush toilets were introduced. The main building, about 40' x 40' had distinctive coined corners. There was a cupola in the centre of the roof of the main building which had slatted openings on all four sides and the side facing south had some slats knocked out. This caused the pigeons to use it as a home and was the site of some adventures in climbing and "pigeonry" later on.
The second one-story building housed two classrooms and a lunchroom and was situated to the north of the main building with street access from Mark Street. The boys’ schoolyard was behind the main building and the girls’ yard was behind what was known as ”the small school”.
On the first floor of the main building, the northern side had Grade One, taught by Sister Dominica, CSJ and the southern side had Grade Two taught by Miss Marie Flynn. They were separated by a wide hall and staircase which led to the second floor with Grade Three and Four on the north side upstairs, taught by Sister Xavier, CSJ and Grades Five and Six taught by Miss Hazel Guerin on the south side.
That left the small school to Grade Seven on the west side and Grade Eight on the east side taught by Sister Beatrice Marie and Sister Flora respectively. Seating arrangements throughout the school were: girls on the right side and boys on the left side, shortest at the front and tallest at the back.
Heat was provided by hot water radiators on the window-side of each room and shoes had to be left in the hallway or cloakroom. Mr. Frank O’Donoghue was the janitor. I doubt that he would prefer the title of custodian. He was Clayton (later Monsignor) O’Donoghue’s dad. They lived in a house that still stands, set back on the south side of Robinson Street just up the street from the tracks. Oh...I forgot, the railway tracks are now gone.
Parish and School events were very much co-ordinated and intertwined. Being Catholics, we were immersed in things religious such as morning prayers before class, the Angelus at noon (a beautiful prayer said every day at 11:50 a.m. in response to the church bells of Immaculate ringing it in). Mr. Joe Garvey, Ray’s Garvey’s dad (later Father) was the custodian at the church and part of his duty was to go to the bell tower at designated times such as before each Mass or other ceremony and as reported above, ring the bell. At times, on Sundays particularly, we enjoyed a festival of bells with St. Luke’s (Anglican) virtually next door to our church and Mark Street (United) just a few blocks away and the town clock, a fair distance away across the river but readily audible sounding the quarter hour. I remember St. Luke’s bells sounding the surrender of Italy in August,1943 while we played ball on Robinson Street in front of my Grandma’s house.
As already written, we practiced our faith and actively participated as a school in every phase of liturgy that existed. We learned hymns at school and we sang them there as well as at the church where we would form the choir at certain times notably at early masses during Advent. We lined up and marched the block and a half to the church to attend or practice for all events including Confession before any major Holy Day and First Fridays. Our first trip was no doubt for our First Communion with the nuns choreographing every step, every move and bow. We uttered prayer responses in unison, sang our special hymns, bowed and genuflected at appropriate times, processed to the communion railing and back. Then we lined up for our picture afterward, suitably enough, at the back of the small school, where a reception was held.
For First Communion and a couple of years later, Confirmation, we got new suits at Grafton’s with short pants and wore a white silk bow on our left arm. Of course the occasion warranted a new haircut at Cliff Jackson’s barber shop in East City, with a board over the arms of the regular chair to make up for our size. The girls wore white dresses and stockings, white shoes and white veils (very pretty). It was mandatory for female's heads to be covered in the church. The adults fussed over us on these special occasions in our faith life.
During the war, Confirmation was much later than usual because of the absence of a Bishop for a few years. Bishop Berry confirmed me when I was nine, three years after First Holy Communion. We also marched to the church for Confession before every Holy Day. I remember Jack O’Donoghue rehearsing the Our Father out loud one time as we crossed the railway tracks on Robinson Street on the way to the church, ad libbing, “Give us this day our daily bread and don’t forget the butter”, breaking everyone up to the “Hush up” remonstrations of the teacher. Of course, in church, we always said the Our Father in Latin: “Pater Noster qui est in coelis sanctificetur nomen tuum.Adveniat regnum tuum.Fiat voluntas tua, sicut in coelo et in terra. Panem nostrum quotidianem. Da nobis hodiae et demiti nobis debita nostra sicut et nos dimitimus debitoribus nostrae. Et ne nos inducas in tentationem. Sed libera nos a malo.Amen”.
Things that seem to stand out about our schooling tend to be things like, the first time you got the strap. Terry O’Loughlin sat behind me and he was related to Sister Dominica, our Grade One teacher. He was poking me in the back and we were whispering back and forth which was frowned upon to the extent that one of us was going to get the strap, a piece of strapping leather normally used to sharpen knives and straight razors and it was about 2 1/2 inches wide, a foot long and a 1/4 inch thick. When swung competently by an irate nun it could hurt—and it did—but you never showed it, even in later grades when it was five on each hand. I think that was for not giving in about my whereabouts on a day when I should have been at some school function or other.
For some unfathomable reason Jim McGrath failed to pass into Grade Two. Jim was my best friend, a smart guy and has more than proven it in real life and nothing stands out as a reason that he didn’t move on with the rest of us. That is memorable. Other things that stand out are the Christmas play where we had a rhythm band. When instruments were being handed out, my name was never getting called and finally there were no instruments and I was devastated. Not in the play? It couldn’t be. But then I was called aside and given a script about the story of the hymn “Silent Night”, which I was to read while classmate Betty Flaherty played the music on her violin. Best part in the whole play! Huge relief.
In Grade three or four, (hard to tell, both were in the same room with the same teacher), there was a world map on the wall and we used to study it for unusual names and then make fun of them. For eample: Iraq-ity Iran; or Do you like Turkey with Greece? Howlers. Mr. Maher was the truant officer and made regular visits to each class which demanded the respect if not fear that his title commanded, but the guy who made the nuns shake in their boots was Mr. Hayden, the School Inspector from Toronto who made annual visits to each Catholic school and each class.
He was an officious little man always dressed in a suit with a vest and he had a little strut. One time in Grade four, he decided to test us and asked if anyone could spell “silhouette”. I had just read a book about the "Umbrellas of Cherbourg", a war story. There was something in that book that related to the word and after a little hesitation I gave it a shot. Nobody’s hand had gone up in the room anyway. Sure enough I got it right but when asked to define it, I couldn’t come up with anything except something related to parachutes. You should have seen Sister Xavier, our Fourth Grade teacher, beaming!
Skipping Grade Seven of course was a big event, prompted by my mother pushing my father to go and speak to the teachers about the idea. In the aftermath, four of us, Frank McGillen, Bob McCormick, Bruce McColl and I were jumped directly from Grade Six to Grade Eight.
Speaking of spelling, there was an annual Spelling Bee conducted on CHEX radio every year and every year the girls from St. Mary’s girls’ school would win. But boy did we have a team, with me as leadoff, followed by Bruce (the "Professor") McColl and the others as well as four girls. We beat St. Peter’s and Sacred Heart and ended up in the finals against, you guessed it...St. Mary’s. At our very first appearance on the programme, with me leading off, I happened to see the script lying on the announcer's desk and the first word was “Wednesday”. I never thought about capitalizing the first letter until I saw it written. I would have gotten it wrong for sure to lead off a year that we never missed until our last appearance.
The event took up an hour of radio time so we went toe-to-toe about four or five times through the lineup into the last go-round and headed for a playoff when Bruce stepped up to spell “fundamental”. No sweat, piece of cake, the Prof would zip through that. Then Bruce went, “f-u-n-d-e….”. Thunder struck, lightning flashed, our hearts went through the floor it…was…over! The school had a parent's night consolation party for us and I was given the job of thanking the parents and teachers with a speech scripted by the teachers which ended, “...for a team that ALMOST won a Spelling Match”. Bruce, the Prof, has not gotten over that to this day. He went on to have a fine career as a college professor.
Our schoolyard activities varied over the seasons and years from softball in spring, to chestnuts in the fall, to a game called “Blue Ball’ in the winter. It was called Blue Ball because one day I found a wooden blue ball somewhere and brought it to school. When I dropped it in the snow, someone kicked it, then someone kicked it back. Then someone ran into someone trying to kick it and it became soccer with rugby rules. Buck Monaghan was probably the strongest and toughest guy in our class. He had whipped an older Leo Sullivan in a fight one day after school just outside our yard. Buck was a bit of a bully who was ordinarily given a wide berth because of this reputation. But in Blue Ball it didn’t work. For some reason, I loved physical contact in sports and no matter how hard Buck would run at me, I would hold my ground and run at him. It wasn’t a fighting situation, just hard contact so nothing ever developed, but I know I had his respect if not his affection. We played that game all one winter at recess and before and after school.
In early spring, as the snow began to melt, it was “alleys” or “agates” or “marbles”. You threw your alley into the snow and the other guy would try to hit it. If he hit it, he won your alley. Then you would try to hit his until the winner was declared and you had gained or lost an alley.
Lewis,“Lewie” LeBarr had a great source of absolutely choice alleys given to him by one of his uncles. He had a huge selection of single, double and even triple spacers and somehow, he and I agreed (I made him promise) that we would play each other exclusively. Now you had to hit double spacers twice in a row to win and triple spacers three times in a row to win. It probably took me three or four weeks to finally “drib” Lewie of his whole collection, a veritable treasure trove of alleys, which I kept for quite a few years before losing track of them.
In the fall it was chestnuts on a string and you hit the other guy’s chestnut till one or the other was broken. Of course we played the usual games like softball and in that reference, in our early years, I can remember Red Sullivan would hit it out of the yard and either off the roof or over the little school, causing lengthy delays in retrieving the ball. A dispute with Leo Sullivan, Red’s cousin, in a softball game in later years, left me with a lovely walnut on my coconut. Leo had the bat you see. Leo and I played sports together for many years and were best friends.
In the Spring we would have a field day and run races like the sack race which constituted jumping while standing in a potato sack pulled up to your waist. Frank McGillen and I teamed up on the three-legged race where we had our interior legs tied together as we stood side-by-side and you sort of hopped and strode, hopped and strode. But while everyone else did indeed hop and stride, Frank and I just ran normally. For a couple of years no one could touch us, until finally, they caught on. Neither Frank nor I had great speed normally.
Our clothing styles were pretty basic. In the winters we wore shirts, sweaters and windbreakers, along with a ski cap or toque. Everything we had was made from wool and the odd person might have a snowsuit, the early version of the snowmobile suit. Most of us skied, tobogganed, skated and played hockey. Of course, we all wore long underwear. The girls were still wearing skirts and wool stockings. Footwear was usually rubber boots with insoles. Some guys wore “gum rubbers”, an ankle-high rubber boot with laces on the front, which I thought was pretty cool. Ear muffs or ear flaps were a must of course, and mitts on your hands. Shoe Packs were in style for a couple of winters—Indian-style leather moccasins that came halfway up the calf, had no tread whatsoever, but were reputed to be very warm. I think it depended on how many pairs of socks you had on.
In spring and summer, we simply shed the extra layers and switched head gear to light ball caps or, more often, no caps. When we were younger, we wore short pants and a pair of brown running shoes. On dress occasions we wore “Brogues”, dress shoes from Neill’s shoe store on the east side of George Street just below Simcoe Street. Neill’s had a foot X-ray machine where you could stand with your feet in new shoes and look through a scope and see where your toes came in the new shoes. There were no cashiers or tills but a system of wires overhead that connected to a central location and the salesperson would collect your money and put it in a little metal cup and attach it to the wire system and send it to the central cashier, who would make change and send it back to your location. It was a great gimmick and fun to experience for kids.
When we graduated to long pants we wore denim overalls, but I never saw a pair of Levi’s until my Aunt Marcella travelled to California to visit a former nursing friend of hers. When she returned, she brought me a pair of genuine Levi denims and a studded belt with a large buckle. They were the first Levis around our parts for quite a few years because you never saw the brand in local stores. As I recall, my aunt referred to them as Levi Strausses as they were called in California at the time, after the original company that introduced them.
Through our mid-teen years involvement in Immaculate Conception parish became less intense and by the time our family moved from East City in 1953, our attendance at Mass was regular as ever, but serving was sporadic at best. Even though it’s been many years, part of me will always be intrinsically attached to Immaculate Conception parish and school. I haven’t visited there much in later years but when I do, there is a memory in every row of seats in the church, at every station of the Cross, at the Baptismal Font and especially in the downstairs change room in the Sacristy behind the altars and at the altars.
I can still hear the sermons and sense the styles of various priests when they spoke. For example, the highly educated Father Houlihan was business-like and brief. You knew that he would rather be somewhere else like at a sporting event. Dear Father Greenan was nervous and brief and you knew he would rather be somewhere else. The Monsignor was scholarly but difficult to understand. He mumbled and carried on a bit. He was downright clear, however, when he was weighing in on the Union battle at the CGE when the “communistic” UEW was fighting for recognition vs the incumbent “non-communistic” IUE.
The annual Missions, lasting a full week and requiring full attendance at every evening Mass were memorable for the grand oratory the missionaries provided and for the “thunder and lightning” messages we received—one year mitigated by the “Love of God” on alternate years. The men attended one week and the women attended the other. The church was packed every night.
It’s easy to recall the great organ and the music played and the hymns sung on regular and special occasions. The soloists already mentioned come clearly to the ears and as distinctly as their voices sounded those many years ago.
I remember silly things like the wooden taste of the pew in front of you when you had to kneel and the top of the pew was directly in line with your mouth and the trauma of going to Confession and lining up on Saturdays at the back of the church where the Confessionals were located. You didn’t want to be in line before the priest arrived because he would know who you were (as if he didn’t anyway). There was always a big lineup on Saturdays but at Christmas and Easter (because it was your mandatory Easter Duty to attend) the lineups were huge, caused by those (mostly men) who avoided Confession all the rest of the time.
Immaculate Conception. East City. Good people. Good times. Great memories.