About our Parish

About Our Parish

The beginnings of our Parish Community (1952 – 1972)

The Capuchin Prelude


As a result of many audiences with His Eminence James Cardinal McGuigan, then Archbishop of Toronto, Br. Thomas Van Laer, Vice-Provincial of the Capuchin Friars of Central Canada was asked to send two Capuchin priests to Toronto to fill vacancies as parish assistants. It was thus that Br. Willibrord Van Eslander was appointed to St. Pauls Church located at Queen Street E. and Power Street, and that Br. Francis McCarroll was appointed to St. Mary’s Church on Adelaide Street in September 1951. Br. Cyrinus Nieuwlandt would later succeed Br. McCarroll in November 1952.

It is of interest to note also that the second Bishop of Toronto was also a Capuchin Friar, Rt. Rev. A.F. Marie de Charbonnel, who came from France and who in 1856 sent for another French Capuchin friar, Br. Louis Lavagna, to minister also in St. Mary’s Parish where his remains are entombed to this day.


The Foundation of St. Philip Neri Parish

In July 1952, His Eminence the Cardinal entrusted a parish district in Beverly Hills (now Downsview) to the Capuchin Friars. This parish was named St. Philip Neri Parish after the joyful saint known as the “Apostle of Rome”. The new parish covered a territory which was 5 miles by 3 miles. When Br. Damas Van Dycke celebrated that first mass on Sunday, November 16, 1952 (in the former farmhouse converted to a Rectory) it was estimated that there were 75 Catholic families residing in the new Parish.

The Parish, like a little mustard seed grows …

Through the cabable leadership and hard work of the then 67 year old first Pastor, and through the admirable and generous cooperation of the first parishioners, parish societies were organized, such as the Holy Name Society, the Catholic Women’s League, the Youth Society and a parish choir. Within a year of its foundation St. Philip Neri Parish had its own Catholic School, the first in the district, and a temporary basement church which seated 250 people and offered a schedule of four Masses by Sept. 13, 1953. A fifth Mass at 7pm was still offered in the rectory where the friar’s lived.

The first “civic” action of the new Parish was to ask for traffic signals at the corner of Wilson Avenue and Jane Street, which North York Township approved on July 16, 1953. To bolster the Church’s finances, Br. Damas organized Bingos, staring November 10, 1953; and a Parish Credit Union began on July 6, 1954.

Br (Henri) VitusVan Olffen
Br (Henri) VitusVan Olffen

When Br. Vitus (Henri) Van Olffen succeeded Br. Damas in September 1954 and made a complete parish visitation, the number of families had grown to 400, and when the first Co-Pastors, Br. Willibrord Van Eslander and Br. Chrysogonus De Busschere joined the Parish staff in January 1957, the count was 625 families. In the meanwhile, the original parish debt of $50,000.00 plus interest was wiped out mainly with the help of the “Cardinal’s Jubilee” campaign. Since this campaign began by the Archbishop was so successful in the Parish, it was “converted” the following year into a new campaign of our own (1956-1959. This brought $41,000.00 into the Building Fund by the end of 1958 just as the construction for the current Church began. This new church building opened on Saturday, August 1, 1959 and was blessed by the Cardinal on October 18, 1959.

During this early period, Scouting and Hockey Teams became an integral part of parish activities along side the St. Vincent de Paul Conference, a Parent-Teachers’ Association, the Legion of Mary and a Third Order (Secular Franciscan) Fraternity. With the approval and support of the well known Paulist Catholic Information Centre, a regional center was established in St. Philip Neri Parish and ran until the early 1960’s. In July 1962, Br. Vitus (Henri) made a place for Br. Mark Nelissen a Pastor, and St. Philips Parish by now had grown to 1,293 Catholic families, who were served by three priests and 7 Sunday Masses.

St. Philip Neri Parish 1962
St. Philip Neri Parish 1962

Astronomical Growth …

It was during the next eight years of Br. Mark Nelissen’s pastoral term that the Parish gre beyond all proportion: from 1,23 families in 1962 to 5,000 families in 1965 or possibly more! It was also during this time that a second Catholic School was opened.

Br Mark Nelissen
Br Mark Nelissen

St. Raphael’s, followed by a third, St. Jerome’s, then a fourth, St. Jane Frances, and finally Madonna High School. With almost 3,000 students in Separate Schools and High School to look after pastorally, and with almost 1,300 children in Saturday religion classes; with eight Masses on regular Sundays and double that number at Christmas and Easter; it became a tough job demanding firm leadership, great talents and hard work from the Pastor of St. Philip Neri Parish. But Br. Mark Nelissen and his assistants possessed these talents and worked hard. The increase of pastoral work, notwithstanding, sports, such as hockey and judo reached their peak during this period.

The highlight of Br. Mark’s pastorate was the realization of a new Rectory and a Parish Recreational Centre (Gym and Parish Hall), a vast and imposing edifice all in one solid black. The preparation towards this new construction was beset with many setbacks. But on November 9, 1969, His Grace Archbishop P.F. Pocock, officially blessed the new building, present were North York Controller, Paul Hunt, the architect R. D’Wonnick, John Muirhead, Mr. & Mrs. Zimmer representing the Construction Company, and Jim Lindsay, one of the original members of the Parish. On the November 13, 1970 an informal dinner was offered to 42 priests, friars and Parish Staff, during which Msgr. P.H. Johnson, Pastor of Our Lady of Peace (and actually first appointed Pastor of St. Philip Neri Parish), spoke words of appreciation for the Capuchin Friars and their work.

Implementing the Second Vatican Council Decrees…

With Br. Joseph Garzia succeeding Br. Mark Nelissen on May 10, 1970 a new chapter began in our Parish’s history. With the Construction Era of the Parish now over it became of vital importance to consolidate the two debts, the one from the construction of the new Church in 1959 and the one from the construction of the Rectory and Parish Centre from 1969. The new pastor put the two spacious halls to good use for fundraising purposes and realized the payment of these debts by the end of 1973.

In the meantime the Second Vatican Council had come and gone, and with the implementation of the decrees in full swing, Lay readers were appointed for all Sunday Masses, Congregational participation in praying and singing was furthered and a Folk Choir was introduced. At this time a Parish Council was also successfully established which was divided into five committees; Worship, Maintenance, Finance, social and Spiritual Visiting.

Due to the extension of our Parish, two Sunday Masses were introduced at St. Fidelis and St. Raphael Schools, to give better convenience to our parishioners. With the help of Sr. Filomena, then Principal of Madonna High Schooland Mrs. T. Bullock together with a few other parents a pilot project was started to tach catechism after school to the Tumpane Public School children. The then Principal of this school, Mr. Gringan, gave his full support. Br. Joseph MacDonald, chaplain of the “shopper’s Drop-In” downtown made a valuable contribution by organizing the Young People’s Mass on Sunday nights in the Parish Hall, a work continued by Br. Brian Teixeira.

Our Parish boundaries were revised four times over our history and the following parishes have sprung up as “children” of St. Philip Neri Parish.

St. Wilfrid’s Parish (1965)

St. Augustine of Canterbury Parish (1967)

St. Norbert’s Parish (1968)

St. Jane Frances (1970)

Where in 1952 there were no Catholic Schools in the former St. Philip Neri Parish district, there are now 12. At this moment (1972) there are still some 3,500 – 4,000 Catholic families in our Parish, 2,367 pupils in five Catholic Schools (4 English, 1 French) and over 700 attending Saturday Instruction Classes.

The Following Capuchin Friars have Served St. Philip Neri Parish (1952 – 1972)

Br. Damas Van Dyke, Pastor (1952 – 1954)

In residence:      Br. Thomas Van Laer, Vice-Provincial (1952 – 1956)

Br. Vitus (Henri) Van Olffen, Pastor (1954 – 1962)

Br. Cyrinus Nieuwlandt, Provincial Bursar (1954 – 1956)

Br. Willibrord Eslander, Co-Pastor (1957 – 1964; 1966 – )

Br. Chrysogonus De Busschere, Co-Pastor (January – August, 1957)

Br. Michael Bishop, Co-Pastor (1957 – 1959; 1961- 1962)

Br. William Baldesarre, First Italian speaking Co-Pastor (1959-1960)

(Italo-American Capuchin Friars, New York)

Br. Anselm Spacey, Vice-Provincial, (September 1956- September 1958)

Weekend Assistant to the Italian Community)

Br. Sigmund Tommeleyn, Co-Pastor (September 1960 – April 1961)

Br. Carlo di Triggiano, Italian Co-Pastor (December 1960 – January 1962)

(Bari, Italy)

Br. Cyprian Verhulst, Co-Pastor ( April 1961 – September 1963)

In residence: Br. Francis McCarroll, Provincial Director T.O.

(December 1959 – June 1960)

Br. Lazare Effinier (October – November 1962)

Br. Lucidius Pooters (September 1961 – January 1965)

Br. Zeno (Omer) DeRoo (November 1961 – January 1962)

Br. Mark Nelissen, Pastor (1962 – 1970)

Br. Pietro Barbati (Weekend Assistant to the Italian Community)

(1962 – 1964)

Br. Aurele Prefontaine, Co-Pastor (1963 – 1971)

Br. Roger Blondeel, Co-Pastor (1963 – 1971)

Br. Anacletus Mennen (January – July, 1963)

Br. Attilio Durante (Weekend Assistant to the Italian Community)

(1964 – March 1967)

Br. Leo (William) Powell, Co-Pastor (1965 – 1966)

Br. Anthony (George) Pfliger, Co-Pastor (January 1965 – 1966)

Br. Aldo Oreste, Co-Pastor (Venice, Italy) (May 1967 – June 1969)

Br. Ennio Bussan, Co-Pastor (Venice, Italy) (1967 – June 1969

Br. Gugliellmo Corbo, Co-Pastor(Naples, Italy) (October 1969 – )

Br. Oreste De Angelis, Co-Pastor (Naples, Italy) (October 1969 – )

In residence:      Br. Joseph Macdonald, (April 1969 – )

Chaplain for Seaport and Shoppers Drop-In

Br. Sophronius Ruisendaal (January 1965 – )

Br. Rosario (1969 – 1970)

Br. David Connelly, Youth Director (May 1970 – July 1971)

Br. Joseph Garzia, Pastor (May 1970 – )

Br. Henri Van Olffen, Co-Pastor (1970 – )

Br. Willibrord Van Elslander, Co-Pastor (1966 – )

Br. Aurele Prefontaine, Co-Pastor (1963 -1971)

Br. Roger Blondeel, Co-Pastor (1963 – 1971)

Br. Oreste De Angelis, Co-Pastor (Naples, Italy) (October 1969 – 1971)

Br. Gugliellmo Corbo, Co-Pastor(Naples, Italy) (October 1969 – )

Br. Bryan Teixeira, Co-Pastor (September 1972 – )

In residence:      Br. Joseph Macdonald, (April 1969 – )

Chaplain for Shoppers Drop-In

Br. Sophronius Ruisendaal (January 1965 – )

Br. David Connelly, Youth Director (May 1970 – July 1971)

Br. Rosario (1969 – 1970)