Memories From the Past to the Present:
St. Michael’s Parish, Leamington
The Roman Catholic Church in Leamington originated in 1874 when Rev. Father Aboulin of the Basilian Fathers offered the first Mass at the home of William Farren, across the street from the present St. Michael’s Church site. A parish census taken by Father Aboulin shows twenty Catholic families living in the area at the time. The new mission was part of the Parish of Amherstburg, from 1874 to 1882.
Due to the distance from Amherstburg to Leamington and the difficulty of travel at the time — horse and buggy or horse and sleigh — the mission of Leamington was taken over by the parish of Maidstone in 1882. Fr. O’Connor was pastor of Maidstone at the time and immediately after the assigning of the Mission of Leamington to his care, he began to formulate plans for a church in the area. In 1882 a frame church was built on Elliott St. not far from the place where the first Mass had been offered by Father Aboulin.
In 1886 the mission of Leamington again changed hands. From 1886 to 1900 the mission was served by Father Hodginson of Woodslee. In 1900 Bishop McEvoy made Leamington a parish with Staples and Point Pelee as missions. However, Father Colin who was appointed pastor took up residence in Staples. In the years that followed the pastors of Staples, Father Martin, Father Roussel!, Father Compeay and Fr. Brisson came regularly to Leamington to celebrate Sunday Mass and administer the sacraments.
From these humble beginnings, and notwithstanding the many difficulties, Catholicity increased in the area. Following World War I (1914-1918) many Belgian Catholic families immigrated to the Leamington area. Bishop Michael Francis Fallon, Bishop of London at the time recognized the needs of this growing community and in 1918 established Leamington as a Parish. Saint Michael the Archangel was chosen as Patron of the new parish. At the time of constituting St. Michael’s Parish in Leamington, Bishop Fallon made Holy Name in Essex a mission of St. Michael’s, Leamington. Father J. P. Gleeson was appointed the first resident pastor of St. Michael’s Parish, Leamington. One of Father Gleeson’s first acts upon being named pastor was to buy a rectory. He was fortunate in being able to purchase a house immediately opposite the church on Elliott Street.
Successive waves of immigration continued to bring new parishioners from The Netherlands, Lebanon, Italy, Portugal, and more recently from Central America, Mexico, Thailand and The Philippines.
Today, much of the devotional life of the parish is celebrated in annual festivals of faith: Romeiros just before Holy Week, Santo Cristo after Easter, Imperio do Divino Espirito Santo on Pentecost Sunday, Feast of St. John the Baptist in Wheatley in June, Our Lady of Nazare in September, St. Michael’s Patronal Feast Day on September 29th, celebrated on the nearest Sunday of that day, Our Lady of Fatima in October, and Our Lady of Guadalupe in December. Further, each Friday the Divine Mercy Devotions initiated by Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, take place at 3:00 pm.
St. Michael’s Parish continued to grow and with many people from Windsor and Detroit coming to Leamington during the summer vacation the original little frame church was not large enough to accommodate the people. Father Gleeson began formulating plans to build a new Church.
Father Gleeson had a keen interest in the problems of the Church in Mexico and after visiting the country, decided upon his return, to build St. Michael’s Church on the design of the Spanish Mission Churches. On December 22, 1922, a new Church of the Spanish Mission design was blessed by Bishop Fallon.
Because of the large number of Belgian families in the area, Father Damas, a Capuchin Father from Blenheim, came to Leamington each Sunday to offer Mass and preach and instruct the people in their native tongue. Due to the zeal and dedication of Father Gleeson and Father Damas, the Catholic faith grew and flourished in the area.
On December 12, 1928, Father Gleeson was transferred to West Lorne and Father J. A. Finn was named Pastor of St. Michael’s in Leamington. Along with his duties and responsibilities as pastor of Leamington, Father Finn was asked to build a Church in Kingsville and to establish a mission there. In October 1930, the new Church in Kingsville was opened and placed under the patronage of the Canadian Martyrs. With Kingsville now a mission of Leamington, the mission of Essex was returned to Woodslee.
As St. Michael’s Parish grew in number, it became evident that a Catholic School was needed to help parents instruct and form their children in the Catholic faith. Father Finn invited the Sisters of St. Joseph to open the first Catholic School in Leamington. On January 4, 1932, Mother St. Peter accompanying Sister Sabina, Sister Remiguis and Sister Matilda moved to Leamington and opened the first Catholic School in the basement of St. Michael’s Church. Seventy-five children were registered. The parish purchased a house next to St. Michael’s which served as the sisters’ convent.
In 1939, Father Finn was transferred to St. Mary’s Parish, Simcoe and Father P.E. McKean was appointed pastor of St. Michael’s Leamington, and the mission of Kingsville.
The first major task to face Father McKean was the increasing number of children in St. Michael’s school and the accommodation in the basement of the Church was inadequate. Father McKean, in collaboration with the School Board made plans to build St. Michael’s School on property owned by the parish and adjacent to the Church. Following the Easter vacation of 1941 St. Michael’s School was opened.
As the parish of Leamington continued to grow in numbers as well as the mission in Kingsville, the Bishop decided to constitute Kingsville a parish. In 1944, Father F.M. Doll, then assistant in Leamington was named the pastor of Kingsville.
Father McKean served St. Michael’s Parish until 1951 when he was named Pastor of St. Michael’s London. Monsignor L. J. Phelan was named pastor of St. Michael’s Leamington. His associates were Father Ugo Rossi, Father Doug Mercer – who gave a weekly talk on the radio station, CJSP, and Father Chris Quinlan, who gave his first five years of priestly life to St. Michael’s.
The Town of Leamington continued to grow with large numbers of people immigrating from Europe and the Middle East. The Lebanese Catholics, who trace their faith roots back to Saint Sarkis and Saint Maron (after which they are called Maronite Catholics, in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church), relied on the sacramental ministry of St. Michael’s, until their own pastor came to gather them together in their own Maronite parish of St. Anthony’s. While the liturgical language of St. Michael’s was Latin until the Second Vatican Council which permitted the use of vernacular languages, the language of worship at St. Anthony’s is Aramaic, Arabic and English. By 1967 the parish had grown to 1,100 families. An extra Sunday Mass was added and celebrated in the gym of Queen of Peace School during the year and at the Roma Club during the summer months. Father Chris Quinlan moved to St. John Vianney in Windsor, and Father Patrick Fuerth, newly ordained, succeeded him for 10 months until he was sent for further studies in Rome. Father Bill Komacker succeeded him as Associate Pastor until he was assigned to our Peruvian mission in Chiclayo.
It had become evident that St. Michael’s Church was not adequate for all to worship comfortably on Sunday. Plans were begun to build another Church in Leamington. Monsignor Phelan’s vision was to begin a new parish centre between Sherk and Erie Streets with a second church for the parish, after which a hall, rectory and Catholic rest home were dreamed of. On Sunday, May 24, 1970 the new Church was blessed by Bishop G. E. Carter, and placed under the patronage of St. Joseph. St. Michael’s parish was to remain one parish family, but having two churches. A few years later, half the property was sold and developers obtained the side lots, making the original vision unobtainable.
In 1977, Our Lady of Lebanon Shrine was established to promote devotion to Our Blessed Mother. In 1984, St. Anthony’s Parish was founded and its first pastor, Father George Zina Abi-Fadel, gathered many of the Lebanese thus somewhat relieving St. Michael’s of its space problems.
In June 1970, Monsignor Phelan retired after serving St. Michael’s Parish for nineteen years. Monsignor returned to his birth place in St. Augustine, north of London, for his retirement. Father J. Halter was named pastor and served St. Michael’s Parish for a year before being appointed pastor of St. Michael’s German Parish in Windsor.
Fr. G. H. Duchene was appointed pastor of St. Michael’s Parish in June 1971 and served until his appointment in 1981 to St. Simon and Jude in Belle River. He was largely instrumental in establishing a community-based centre for migrant workers.
The parish welcomed and worked with Fr. Vince Gleeson from 1981-1989. During this period, many historical events were recognized. The parish of St. Michael’s celebrated its 115th Anniversary in 1989. The Catholic schools also celebrated anniversary dates… Queen of Peace in 1987 and St. Louis in 1988. Father Gleeson continues to support students of Cardinal Carter through a bursary he established for their further education.
Catholic education in Leamington was growing and the need for two more schools was met. Cardinal Carter Secondary School and École Saint -Michel opened their doors to students.
Fr. Gleeson was transferred in 1989 to St. John Vianney Parish in Windsor.
Fr. Clare Coleman became the Pastor of St. Michael’s Parish. Also serving the parish were Fr. Ugo Rossi, Fr. Dino Salvador and Fr. Joseph Dabrowski. In 2015 was ordained as Auxiliary Bishop for the Diocese of London. Fr. John Medonca served Blessed Sacrament Parish in Wheatley.
St. Michael’s was also fortunate to have seminarian students to assist with many duties. St. Michael’s welcomed and enjoyed… Richard Bester, Graham Keep, Peter Peel, Chris Gillespie and Tom Ferrera.
Although the actual ribbon cutting for the Cardinal Carter Secondary School building was held in September1992, the school actually began in 1988. It was originally housed in portables located north of the Queen of Peace School and shared gymnasium facilities with that school. As each year approached, and registration increased, additional port-a-packs were added to the site. For the first five years it ran under the leadership of Principal LeeAnne Forsyth-Sells, vice-principal Reno Melatti, and later John Byrne, and in the spring of 1991, the first Grade12 graduation ceremonies were held. This was followed one year later by the graduation of the school’s “Pioneer Students” in the Ontario Academic Credits program.
On hand for the ribbon cutting ceremonies were Bishop John M. Sherlock, Bishop Henry, His Eminence Cardinal Gerald Emmett Carter, Essex County Roman Catholic Separate School Board director , Ron Reddam, and members of the board of trustees, past principal LeeAnne Forsyth-Sells, principal John Byrne, vice-principal Teresa Georges and approximately 1000people. The school featured the latest in modem technology, including an auditorium, a beautiful two storey chapel,computer labs and resource centre, a high technology greenhouse facility and excellent athletic facilities.
During this time, new programs were introduced and meeting space was limited. Renovations began with the removal of the old St. Michael’s School and shortly the new St. Michael’s Parish Center was built in 1994.
1995 saw another celebration in our Parish… St. Joseph’s Church celebrated its 25th anniversary.
In 1996, St.Michael’s saw changes again! Fr. Clare Coleman was appointed as Rector of St.Peter’s Cathedral Basilica, London, and subsequently as Director of Priest Personnel.
Fr. Jim Higgins became pastor of St. Michael’s and served from 1996 until 1998 when he was transferred to Our Lady of Guadalupe in Windsor.
In 1997, the parish saw that a youth co-ordinator would be beneficial to St. Michael’s and programs began. Veronica Costa, who had served as a volunteer in youth ministry for some time, was chosen to work full-time for the parish. One of her initiatives was the inclusion of a children’s liturgy during the 10:30 Sunday Mass.
Fr. Frank Murphy was welcomed in 1998 as St. Michael’s Pastor. Fr. John Duarte was his associate and the chaplain for Cardinal Carter High School. Fr. John led a number of ‘exposure’ tours to Haiti and a mission there in Labadee.
The Parish of St. Michael’s sponsored the World Day of Prayer on March 6, 1998.
In 1999 St. Michael’s Church was designated as a “Millennium Church” for the Jubilee 2000 Celebration. It was in 1999, that Fr. John Duarte was transferred to St. Clair Beach. Fr. Ray Lawhead became the school chaplain for Cardinal Carter Secondary School.
April 2000, the Parish celebrated the 50th anniversary of Fr. Alex Costa.In the fall of 2000, St. Michael’s had a Mission with Fr. Pat Martin who spoke on… “Jesus… He Loves You”. In 2001, Fr. Charles Zichella was assigned to help serve the Portuguese and the Italian community.
The parish offered the programme, “Called, Gifted and Sent” and increased the number of volunteers who make the parish attentive to everyone’s needs, from the poor served by St. Vincent de Paul Society, to the sick and shut-ins. These number now close to 60 parishioners.
Sister Elaine Cole, Sister of St. Joseph, became the Pastoral Minister in her home parish after a number of years teaching in Edmonton, upon the retirement of Mrs. Maureen lies., who had initiated a number of out-reach programs in development of family ministries.
New “Gather” Hymnal Books were purchased for St. Michael’s and St. Joseph’s.
Renovations began and St. Joseph’s received new carpeting. St. Michael’s also received new carpeting and the church pews were refinished. At St. Michael’s Church, the wood displayed around the altar was removed to display the beautiful marble artwork.
In April 2001, St. Michael’s Catholic Women’s League celebrated its 50th Anniversary. Guest speaker was Fr. Clare Coleman. A Time Capsule of numerous treasures of the past 50 years was buried on the east side of the Parish Center.
The Catholic Women’s League and The Knights of Columbus joined together and purchased a new gas stove for the Parish Kitchen.
2002 was the year of World Youth Days. In February the wooden World Youth Day Cross arrived at Cardinal Carter Secondary School. This cross traveled throughout the country. St. Michael’s families hosted pilgrims during Days in the Diocese. Pilgrims visited our Parish before they traveled to Toronto to see Pope St. John Paul II in July. Each pilgrim upon arrival in Toronto received from The Catholic Women’s League of Canada, “The Book of Matthew” as a souvenir of their great experience.
Young people from St. Michael’s took part in subsequent World Youth Days – in Germany, Spain, Australia and Brazil. Plans are underway to sponsor participants for World Youth Day in Poland, 2016.
The Catholic Women’s League presented the Parish with a large new sign for the Parish Center of St. Michael’s; also St. Michael’s Church and St. Joseph’s Church were presented with Funeral Palls and Vestments for the Priests.
A succession of secretaries bolstered the pastoral ministry of the parish in the persons of Kay Balsam, Alice Dietz, Maria Perciballi, Beth lmpens, Simone Seres, and Sandy Foldesi.
The Pastoral Care of our elderly in nursing homes is a priority. Many volunteers administer Holy Communion to those in hospital, or in one of the six nursing homes where Mass is offered once a month: Erie Glen, Sun Parlour, Franklin, Meadows Manor, the Mennonite Home and Leamington Court. Visits to Leamington Nursing Home as well are made.
Our schools are also a priority in pastoral ministry. The priests and Youth Minister Veronica Costa tend to them weekly: Cardinal Carter High School, Queen of Peace, St. Louis, and École Saint-Michel. Days of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament take place in each of our schools.
In 2005, Father Frank Murphy retired briefly then took another appointment as pastor of Sacred Heart, Delaware where there was a need, then retired again from parish ministry to live in Delhi where he ministers to the migrant workers in the Ingersoll deanery.
At this time, Fr. Patrick Fuerth was appointed Pastor. The Parish of St. Michael’s continued to flourish. Parish missions brought various speakers, including: Father Guy Desrochers, from Ste-Anne de Beaupre, Deacon Alex Jones, Paul Remniak a lay Evangelist, and Father Louis Mousseau, OFM Cappuchin, who knew St. Pio, Archbishop Marcel Gervais, and recently Father Suarez from the Philippines.
The convent, which had been vacant since the Sisters left, had been home for a group of Jamaican migrant workers, and also served as a centre for Mexican migrants operated by the local Farmers’ Union. Being in such bad repair, it was demolished in 2007 to make way for future use of the property.
A new succession of associate pastors ministered in the parish: Fr. Manuel Correia, Fr. Joel Montano, Fr. Pio D’Oria, Fr. Virginie Gomes, Fr. Zbigniew Sawicki, Fr. Henryk Chibowski, Fr. Patrick Beneteau, Fr. Ben Huyge, Fr. Christopher Pietraszko, Fr. Christian Campos (who cares for migrants and settled persons of Hispanic culture and language), and Fr. Danny Santos (newly ordained priest in 2015), the son of Portuguese immigrants who live in Mississauga where Fr. Danny grew up.
Father Patrick Beneteau led a pilgrimage of parishioners to St. Joseph’s Oratory, Montreal, the primatial Cathedral in Quebec city and Ste.-Anne de Beaupre, during the 400th anniversary of the founding of the Church in North America by Blessed Francis de Laval (Francois de Montmorency Laval).
St. Michael’s parish has always been a great learning ground for future priests. During this time seminarians were: Patrick Beneteau, Hubert Pawlowicz, and Don Pumputis.
The seminarian, Hubert, organized the addition of screens in the church on which the words of the Mass prayers and hymns can be projected. This has helped everyone to participate much more than before.
Our parish is gifted with two vocations to the Permanent Deacon in the persons of Alex Litt and John Vezina. Over the years, priestly and religious vocations from St. Michael’s include Father Albert Williams, Father Jim Casper- Sacred Heart Fathers – Sister Elaine Cole, Father Jim Wharton, Father Murray Sample, Father Nelson Cabral, and Father Tony DelCiancio.
Upon careful review which resulted in a “Capitol Projects Study” which called for two million dollars to be spent by the year 2020 in order to keep the original equipment, it became evident that the current and projected costs of maintaining our three Church sites, rectory, meeting and gathering spaces, and offices, St. Michael’s Parish was on a path where major decisions needed to be made to ensure faithful stewardship of the people’s gifts and to meet the needs of St. Michael’s Parish in the future.
Through the leadership of the Diocese, Pastor, Associate Pastors, Staff, Parish Advisory Council, Finance Committee, Building Committee, Consultants, and dedicated and committed parishioners, the decision was made to pursue the construction of a new Church on the St. Michael’s Church site.
Parishioners were informed and consulted throughout the various decision making and project development stages. A major capital fund raising campaign was launched. The K of C made a generous donation of funds from the sale of their hall, as seed monies for the parish’s rebuilding project. Their additional fund-raising by way of Lenten Friday fish-fries continues to build up the fund.
Parishioners have been forthcoming with pledges, donations, and supported the project through their contributions and participation in fundraising activities, annual parish dinners, and hosting the concert with The Tenors, which helped Leamington move forward despite the set-back with the exodus of Heinz. These major events were led by Lorraine Sabga.
The fund-raising is an opportunity for everyone in the parish to make a personal sacrifice and to work together for the new parish church and hall, where everyone expects to be baptized, confirmed, married and buried. The plan is to complete the project without leaving a debt behind.
Over six years, six houses on John and Elliott Streets were purchased and then demolished to increase the footprint for the new St. Michael’s. In 2013, preparations for the demolition of St. Michael’s Church and Rectory were made. The Parish purchased a house on Baird Street, adjacent to the Church parking lot, which is next to a house donated by a parishioner. These serve as a transitional rectory, and needed storage space for CWL and K of C belongings.
In 2014, St. Michael’s Church was deconstructed. Many items from the Church were stored for inclusion in the new building. These include the beautiful marble mosaics of the Archangels, Michael and Gabriel, the Stations of the Cross, the main marble Altar and the Tabernacle, along with the old oaken pews. Other items of value were made available for sale to parishioners; while other items were designated for donation or free for the taking as tokens of remembrance.
A time capsule from 1922 and 1955 (items from both years) was unveiled. Included in the contents were the original letter from Fr. Gleeson when the Mexican-style church was built, and newspapers from both years, prayers of consecration of all the families to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the autographs of all the grade eight children from St. Michael’s school in 1955, and several old coins: silver dollars, 50 cent pieces, quarters, dimes, nickels, pennies and banknote worth five cents! Jerry Gillett made a secure waterproof tin box for the corner stone, and his grandson is fashioning a new one for the new church.
On July 6, 2015, the official ground breaking for the construction of the new St. Michael’s Church was undertaken. Bishop Ronald Fabbro and Pastor Fr. Patrick Fuerth officiated at this event. Construction is in progress and is expected to be completed for an opening by Christmas of 2016.
During this time of transition, all St. Michael’s Church liturgical celebrations were transferred to St. Joseph’s site. Managing limited meeting and storage space has been challenging at times, and we acknowledge the patience of our service providers, parishioners, and the support of our community partners who have worked with us to accommodate our needs during this transition period. A portable has been utilized at the St. Joseph’s site.
Upon the opening of the new St. Michael’s Church, the St. Joseph’s Church site will be closed, and the property sold, proceeds of which to be applied to the capital costs of St. Michael’s building project.
In the meantime, initiatives for the New Evangelization are undertaken daily, with the workshop of Michael Dopp, the Apologetics course of Father Chris, home prayer groups following “Why Catholic?”, and a revival of Cursillo for men and women. COR (Christ in Others Retreat) for teenagers continues to grow each year, with two weekends that bring together young people and Moms and Dads. Summer opportunities to experience the renewal days at Steubenville, Ohio and in Toronto are open to teenagers. Young people at every stage are invited to summer camps organized by our diocesan youth ministry office. Individual and group retreats are also experienced at Holy Family Retreat House in Oxley. Collaboration with others in providing a weekday meal for the Poor has been an added blessing to the parish. To combat the pull of pornography through increasingly available sites ‘on line’, St. Michael’s is engaged with other Christian groups and professionals in ONE and in CCAP (Concerned Citizens Against Pornography). Furthermore, to aid spouses who are hurting in their marriages, a program called “Retrouvaille” (a French word that means “rediscovery”) is easily available through weekend retreats scheduled throughout the year at Oxley, in London, Toronto, Detroit, and Cleveland.
It is believed that the new St. Michael’s Church will bring all the parishioners under one roof, an answer to prayer and fiscally more sound. This will have many benefits for our church community. With access to new facilities for parish hall gatherings, meeting and storage space, a designated chapel area for more intimate liturgical gatherings, and the Church proper when greater seating capacity is needed. These facilities will serve the Parish well into the future, in the most cost effective manner available.
The carving of the beautiful corpus which will be mounted on a large Cross in the new church was accomplished by Achim Klaas, the liturgical designer for all the interior features of the new church building. The carving is from linden wood, and the shavings from the sculpting preserved for anyone who would like a souvenir, remembering the teaching of the great Michelangelo who said that the work of the sculptor is to remove from the wood or marble anything that is hiding the image contained inside! Several people have donated towards various items, as well as donations in memory of loved ones whose names will appear on paving stones in the sunken garden.
Sfera Architects drafted the plans, the work largely of John Bortolotti and Patrick Champoux, and Amico Design Build Inc. won the bid as the major contractor. The parish building committee began with a steering committee in 2009 under the chairmanship of Henry Iacobelli, the members being Bruce Horan, Joseph O’Neill Sr., Jonathon Azzopardi, John Vezina, Jessica Mariano, Lorraine Sabga, Brian Johnson, Beth lmpens, and committee members: Frank Moauro, Anna Wilds, Sister Elaine, and Kathy Mayhew.
In August 2015, Pastoral Minister Patricia Fox retired after seven years of service. Simone Seres moved from her secretarial role to assume this ministry. Sandy Foldesi has commenced her secretarial role with St. Michael’s Parish.
Plans are now being made to establish the Society of Ste-Thérèse, as a ministry to promote Vocations.