BUILDING A CATHOLIC COMMUNITY IN KING CITY
Most parishioners will have pondered at some time or other, on the drive to Sacred Heart Church, why Sacred Heart Church is situated almost three miles north west of King City itself. Although the location may appear puzzling at first, a trip back in history can solve the mystery. In the early days of the parish, Sacred Heart Church was in fact located at the centre of the Catholic community. The story of the community and the church buildings themselves are inextricably linked. Seeing this history through the contributions of two particular families in the community, (The McCabe and Marsh family) and two priests who served the community (Fr. David Joseph Sheehan and Fr. Francis J. McGoey) will unravel the mystery of why Sacred Heart Parish is located at Jane and 16th Side Road.
The McCabe family lived in a house near the junction of Jane Street and Green Lane (now known as 16th Sideroad). As early as 1876, when St. Patrick’s Parish in Schomberg was founded, the parish priest, Father David Joseph Sheehan mentions visiting the community at Jane and Green. Sacred Heart Parish began as a mission station of St. Patrick’s Parish and only became a Parish in its own right in 1961. However, in the 1870’s, Fr. David Joseph Sheehan would visit the area and say Mass at the McCabe’s home. Mass was celebrated in the community at Easter and Christmas and Fr. Sheehan also visited the sick and elderly. The number of Catholics living in the area increased and eventually the community built a frame chapel dedicated to the Sacred Heart. The chapel was finished in 1929. On Christmas Day, 1930, the pastor, Father Ralph J. Egan, on land donated by John Joseph McCabe, opened the chapel. This first building was on the northwest corner of what we now know as Jane and 16th Side Road. It was known as the Roman Catholic Church on the Fifth Line of King Township. The McCabe family had made that first chapel possible by donating the land but their contributions to the parish would become even more significant in years to come as they played a crucial role in establishing a community centred around the church. Fr. Ralph J. Egan of St. Patrick’s Parish, Schomberg, opened this frame chapel, situated at the heart of the catholic community living in King at the time of its construction.
The original church was built by the community using wood left over from other projects. It served the community until 1960.
The depression in the 1930’s is the single most important event in the community’s history. A curate from St. Clare’s Parish Toronto named Father Francis J. McGoey, who was working with the unemployed and impoverished families in the city, approached the McCabe family and asked the family to lease land to be used to establish a self-supporting community of Catholics. Conditions in the city at the time were appalling and Father McGoey responded to that terrible poverty by providing an opportunity for families to improve their lot by providing them with the opportunity to build a new life in a rural setting. He could not have done so without the assistance of Mr. J.J. McCabe, who loaned twelve acres of land to Father McGoey. Assisted by a few local people, the community known as Mount St. Francis by the community, and officially as the Catholic Land Settlement Corporation, began with five Toronto families. According to the Mail and Empire newspaper, Fr. McGoey expanded the project rapidly and by the Spring of 1936 there were, “112 souls composed of 20 amazingly happy families that were on relief in Toronto not long ago,” living self-sufficiently at the community.
Betty Noel (nee Marsh), a long time parishioner of Sacred Heart, was a child during the depression. Her parents, Clifford and Florence Marsh, were among the first to come to Mount St. Francis. Betty moved with her two brothers, Lionel and Herbert to a new life in King Township. Her testimony provides evidence of how important this community was to those who moved from the city.
During the Great Depression of the 1930’s, my father, who had been working for the TTC in Toronto, had been laid off in 1934, and we were in need of money. So my mother put a baby carriage on the front porch of our home with a “For Sale” sign on it. She was asking $3.00. A lady stopped by inquiring about it and my mother and she got to talking. My mother mentioned that my father was out of work and looking for something. The lady told her about Fr. Francis McGoey, and the settlement he was building up in King City. They were looking for men to help build ‘shacks’ that could house families who would help to develop and build the community. The ‘shacks’ were to be temporary locations that families could live in until they were able to afford to purchase property and build permanent homes.
Betty Noel’s father was one of the men involved in the project. He came up from the city to build this new community. Life was not easy for these men, who had to work hard to prove themselves capable of making this shift in lifestyle. Betty continues:
My father would meet a group of other workers who would ride up to King on the back of a truck every day from the St. Claire Parish in Toronto. Eventually, my Father was given the opportunity to move his family into one of those ‘shacks’ and in 1936 we moved to King Township. Each family was given one year to prove that they were willing and able to contribute to the settlement community. If they were unwilling to do their part, they were taken back to Toronto to live. If they had willingly become valued and contributing members of the community, they were given the opportunity to become permanent residents and offered land to purchase.
One year after we moved from Toronto, Fr. McGoey offered my father the chance to purchase a 30-acre parcel of land, which was located on Jane Street approx 3/4 mile north of the Church. The price was $1000.00 and he was given 20 years to pay off the land. The taxes for the property would be $20.00/yr. My father became a farmhand at a farm on Weston Rd. and would walk to and from work every day, earning $ 1.00/day. The permanent house he and the other community members built for us was built from used lumber taken from renovated or dismantled homes and shacks.
The community was as self-sufficient as possible with various people using their talents to provide for their own families and contribute to the wider community. It was a community rooted in faith. It was much more than a collection of families who happened to live in the same neighbourhood. Much of the trading that went on was on a barter system. Betty tells us:
My father and others who stayed on in the settlement were given a cow, horse, and chickens to start. Each family was expected to contribute to the community as well as keep their own family – that is how my father became a farmer. He would grow tomatoes, potatoes, and other vegetable: not just for our family but for others as well. There were other men in the community that were bakers, who would supply bread to the families, Other trades were such as weavers, who would weave fabrics for blankets and clothing. Everyone had a ‘specialty’ that they were able to provide for themselves and the others, making the settlement a true community.
Some forty Catholic families arrived during the mid and late 1930’s leaving the depressed economic conditions in the city for a new start as farmers in King Township. This community was based upon the principles of the Papal Social Encyclicals, the co-operative movement, and the belief that “back to the land” could lead one “back to God”. The first five small houses were built on two -acre lots, each costing approximately $200. Within three months of moving from the city those first few families no longer required relief.
The move from the city was not always easy for these families. Life in the country was very different and the winter conditions were tough to live through. The new Catholic community was also resented by many of the predominantly Protestant established community in the area. However, there were also some supporters of the community among local politicians, who realized that the Mount St. Francis community was saving the taxpayers money as people came off relief and became self-sufficient. Not all families were able to survive the harsh conditions and some moved back to the city. Fr. McGoey divided the land among the families who remained. For example, the McCormick family, originally from St. Claire’s Parish in Toronto, ended up with thirty acres. Houses were built with lumber milled from the trees on the properties. They had no indoor plumbing and were heated by a stove in the kitchen. Each parcel of land produced well. A Mail and Empire (1936) headline states, “End of year finds cellars well stocked with food and fuel”. The Mail and Empire (1936) also reported on the ways in which the community was interdependent.
Each family contributed 25 cents a week to a contingency fund. For this it received insurance against small losses, and small loans when in need. A physician called every Monday. A dentist called twice a year and was available in emergencies. Five nights a week were devoted to scheduled activities: senior boys’ night, senior girls’ night, men’s discussion night, the weekly dance and euchre.
Community life was central to Fr. McGoey’s vision of a Catholic community and he ensured that it was a lively community. The Toronto Star (1937) reports that women met in groups on Thursday evenings, cooking, sewing and knitting together, each member of the group taking it in turns to host the circle. In this way the women were able to make clothes for the community while gaining support for each other’s and getting time to socialize. Betty Noel tells us that these women knitted mitts, socks and sweaters among other items. Everyone pulled together to support each other so that no one went without blankets in the winter or clothes on their back. Other activities in the community were: amateur hours, comedies, tragedies, skits and concerts. Religious studies and social studies were also part of the communal activities. On Friday nights the local community orchestra provided the music for neighbourhood dances at the settlement. Based on Catholic principles, there was a five-day workweek. Saturday was for resting and the Sabbath was reserved for worship. Fr. McGoey said in an interview for the Toronto Star (1937):
We realize, in transferring city people to the land that they must have a social life and I don’t think they are ever lonesome – in fact they have greater social activities here than many city residents. All these activities are carefully planned and the effect is noticed on the families soon after their arrival. The boys change for the better in a few weeks after leaving city streets; they get a new interest in life. In fact, the biggest value we have here can’t be measured in dollars and cents, but only in changed lives – in new hopes – in greater outlook and in far better health. The whole settlement might be called a club. We are taking people who had nearly lost hope and making them into valuable citizens in the best possible atmosphere.
By 1938 the settlement had a store where all the purchases were made on the barter system. There was a bakery, a church, a school, and a community of about thirty-eight families of whom some were self-sustaining. Fr. McGoey also had a stall at Bathurst and St. Claire where eggs, honey and vegetables produced by the community were sold. Honey was a particularly good revenue source. The cash helped to buy necessities for the community.
The Sisters of Providence had come from Kingston to teach in the community. They established a convent in a clapboard home at the northwest corner of Jane and Green Lane, and remained here until the late 1970s. The Sisters of Providence and two lay teachers ran the school. It was originally located in the basement of the building opposite from where Sacred Heart Church now stands. Eventually a school was built, which had two rooms: one for grades 1-4, and one for grades 5-8. Betty Noel tells us:
Eventually the school grew, and on the site there were two buildings: one containing two rooms and the main building containing several classrooms, a gymnasium and eventually administration offices and a library were built in the basement where the original school was.
1941 Sacred Heart School
Holy Name Catholic School was built, in 1968, to serve only the senior school. However, in 1976 it was discovered that the roof was caving in at the Sacred Heart School, and the building was rotting away. The students were temporarily moved to what is now King Township Museum, until the addition at Holy Name was finished. The three homes opposite the current Sacred Heart church was the location of the Catholic school that served the original Catholic inhabitants of King.
The community set up under the auspices of Fr. McGoey continued until about 1958 as a community. Through time families moved away, but some continued to live in the homes built in the thirties until their death. Betty Noel’s father lived in the house he built in the mid-thirties until his death in 1976 at the age of 90. Betty, herself, raised her own family on the property, living in the extension to the original house, which was built when she married. The King Weekly (1990) reported that Harriet McCormick, who died on January 8th, 1990, was the last of the original settlers. Harriet lived on the Catholic settlement, raising eight children from the mid-thirties until her death. Her daughter Mary Jane Watts continued to live on the property until 1994.
The original church building lasted for almost thirty years, but the old frame was weakened by heavy snowfalls and on Saturday February 6, 1960 the roof collapsed. By now the Catholic community of King City was made up of approximately 100 families. This vibrant community now took on the task of building a new brick Church, which would be the pride of the community. Sacred Heart Church was built diagonally opposite the original church on the South East corner of Jane and 16th Side Road. Due to the generosity of parishioners the building was completed within a year, which was quite an achievement. Since the frame chapel was not a parish in its own right, Fr. John Brennan, who was then the Pastor of Schomberg, oversaw the construction of the church. The first Mass was celebrated in the new church on Christmas Eve, 1960. On November 11th, 1961 the new Sacred Heart Church became a parish in its own right. Now independent of St. Patrick’s parish in Schomberg, the parish was given into the care of the Augustinians, who had arrived in King Township in 1942. The Most Rev. Francis A. Marrocco, who was Auxiliary Bishop of Toronto at the time, conducted the blessing of the church. The official blessing was held on May 29th, 1963. The Augustinians have provided us with pastors since the parish was established in November 1961. Sacred Heart Parish serves the eastern half of King Township. The pastoral house was located opposite Holy Name Catholic School. The pastor of Sacred Heart ministered to the children of King and Nobleton until St. Mary Catholic School in Nobleton was built in 1996.
The parish has continued to grow physically, and spiritually. In the 1980s the Parish hall, which serves as a meeting place for the community, was constructed. The Parish Hall is used for a wide variety of community centred celebrations including: the children’s liturgies on Sunday mornings, coffee and donuts after the two Sunday morning Masses. Confirmation and first communion classes, community breakfasts, dinner dances. In this way, as in the early days of Mount St. Francis community, the parishioners of Sacred Heart continue to have a place to celebrate their community and faith life.
In 1996 Father Leo Cameron, our parish priest left for an assignment in Nova Scotia. His kind and gentle ways were missed. Following Father Leo’s re-assignment, the parish was pleased to welcome Father Paul O’Brien, on loan from the Irish Province of Augustinians. His energy and dedication to Sacred Heart Parish resulted in changes both physical and spiritual.
In 1999, Austin Friary, which served as the parish rectory was badly damaged as a result of a car accident on King Road. Although extensive damage was done to the house, thankfully no people were injured. Just as in 1959 when the roof the church caved in, destroying parish property, but not spirit, the friary was restored within a year. In the year 2000, the parish took one more step in establishing its independence by purchasing the Friary from the Augustinians. Just as Mr. McCabe was generous in his religious community of Sacred Heart, so was the Augustinian religious community.
For many years the Parish community had discussed physical changes to the Church building. Therefore it was no surprise that renovations began under Father Paul. The ceiling was raised to reveal the wooden beams. The block walls were drywalled and new lighting was installed. A new organ was purchased and placed in the choir loft. Stained glass windows were installed. These windows depict the mysteries of the Holy Rosary including the Luminous Mysteries. They are the first stained glass windows to portray these latter mysteries. The windows were donated by individual families along with the Knights of Columbus and the Catholic Women’s League. The windows enhance the interior of the Church, but, more importantly, they assist in meditation of the mysteries they illustrate. There is also a window dedicated to the Augustinians who served Sacred Heart Parish since 1961 and continue to do so. Spiritual development was encouraged by participation in the Seder Meal every other year, the weekly Children’s Liturgy of the Word Program, the Summer Bible Camp, the monthly blessing of the Sick and inspirational presentations. Sacred Heart Parish send two representatives to the Eucharistic Congress in Quebec.
Changes also took place outside the building. The area between the Church and the Parish Centre was made an area of quiet prayer with the erection of a statue of Our Lady and placement of a bench. A plaque inscribed with the history of the parish was purchased and placed at the front of the church building.
Sacred Heart Cemetery continues to be cared for by volunteers. A wall was built on the east side and a simple cross was attached. The Garden of the Unborn was positioned at the east end of the cemetery by the Knights of Columbus. The Rosary is prayed there once a year followed by Mass in the Church for the unborn. A Mass is celebrated in the cemetery once a year for deceased members of the Parish. Sacred Heart Parish reaches out to the King Township Community by donating monthly to the Food Bank. The Parish also takes part in “Christmas in King” by coming together in a most generous spirit, to provide Christmas celebrations for needy families.
In 2001 Sacred Heart Church celebrated the 40th Anniversary of the establishment of the Parish with Mass followed by a dinner in the Parish Hall. The parishioners were delighted to welcome back previous pastors of Sacred Heart and religious from Marylake Monastery Community.
A significant change took place in December 2010. In order to have the priest’s residence closer to the Church the Parish purchased the house and property on the south side of the Church for $611,955.00 and the Pastor moved in. Once again the parishioners gave of their time and expertise to renovate the house.
In June 2011, Fr. Paul O’Brien returned to the Irish Province. An Open House was held in the Parish Centre with many parishioners attending. Presentations were made to Father including the fare to return to the 50th anniversary of the Parish. The Anniversary Celebrations began on the Friday evening November 10th, 2011 with a Mass concelebrated by Archbishop (soon to be Cardinal) Thomas Collins. On Saturday, November 11, 2011, a Gala was organized at which a DVD of the history of the Parish was shown.
In August, 2011 the Parishioners warmly welcomed Father Michael B. Martell, O.S.A., back to Sacred Heart Parish as our Pastor. Father Michael had previously served as Pastor in 1984 – 1987. Sacred Heart Parish continues to grow and flourish under Father Michael’s guidance and is a vibrant Catholic community with a church, which though physically removed from King City, remains at the spiritual heart of the Catholic Community.
LIST OF PRIESTS WHO SERVED SACRED HEART PARISH (From The Order of Saint Augustine)
1960 – 1972 Rev. Reinhard A. Burchhardt, O.S.A.
1972 – 1975 Rev. Frederick A. Brossler, O.S.A.
1975 – 1982 Rev. Reinhard A. Burchardt, O.S.A.
1983 – 1984 Rev. Louis Campbell, O.S.A. (Administrator)
1984 – 1987 Rev. Michael B. Martell, O.S.A.
1987 – 1990 Rev. John Bosworth, O.S.A.
1990 – 1991 Rev. Michael B. Martell, O.S.A. (Administrator)
1991 – 1996 Rev. Louis Campbell, O.S.A.
1996 – 1998 Rev. Leo Cameron, O.S.A.
1998 – 2011 Rev. Paul L. O’Brien, O.S.A. (On Loan from Ireland Province)
2011- Rev. Michael B. Martell, O.S.A.