This collection of memories was submitted to the ThoroldNews by Wilfred Slater, Thorold native and former editor of the Globe and Mail:
For about the first 65 years of its existence, the interior of Holy Rosary Church consisted of drab gray walls and poor lighting.
The walls could best be described as the under coating for plaster while small light fixtures were located at the top of wooden columns. At the Christmas midnight mass, arches in the sanctuary would be illuminated by tiny bulbs.
A bequest by a long-time parishioner enabled a refurbishing project that brought about painting of the walls and ceiling, art work in the sanctuary and the installation of decorative lighting fixtures suspended from the ceiling.
Benefactors provided new stations of the cross, vestments and an electric organ, the latter replacing a pump version which required someone to manipulate a pumping device to retain a specific level of air, via a gauge, for it to operate.
The new organ arrived after the death of John Hillman, who had been master of the pump organ for many years. An interesting aspect of his life was where he lived. It was in a small apartment in the fire hall on Albert Street.
All of this occurred shortly after the end of the Second World War during the early years of Father (later Monsignor) A. T. Clancy’s tenure with the parish.He had become pastor in 1943, a few weeks after the death of Father Melville Staley, the second pastor of the parish, who had been appointed in 1922.
Father Staley’s demise occurred on the Wednesday of Holy Week. His body remained in the rectory until after the Easter masses then transferred to the church, lying in state until a funeral Easter Monday.
Under Monsignor Clancy’s stewardship, the parish thrived. An influx of immigrants bolstered the parish membership to such an extent that an auxiliary parish was established in Thorold South with financial assistance from Holy Rosary. It was dedicated to St. Aloysius in honour of the monsignor.
The parish hall in the basement of the church became a chapel and when a rectory was annexed to the church, the priests’ residence across the street was demolished and replaced by Holy Rosary Hall.
An intriguing facet of Monsignor Clancy’s pastoral duties was the Monday morning trip to the Royal Bank toting the previous day’s offerings in a workman’s lunch style bucket.
The refurbishing of the church brought about changes in long standing traditions.
For instance, name plates had been attached to pews which would have been occupied by the designated parishioners, and yet, when that obligation ended, there was a tendency among the faithful to continue occupying those spaces supported for so long.
The end of name paying pews may have precipitated the introduction of a voluntary seating offering at the entrance of the church. Baskets would be located there for that purpose.
Parish personnel included Patrick McGuinness, who served as custodian of the church, Holy Rosary School and the rectory.
The ropes for ringing the bells were located inside the main vestibule. He would invite children to grasp the largest bell’s rope so they could be raised several feet above the floor.
Residing near the church, he was easily available to toll the bells at 7 a.m., noon and 6 p.m.
On Front Street one day he was asked by a church neighbour, a non-Catholic, why the first bell would occasionally ring before the appointed hour, or shortly after. Mr. McGuinness emphatically told the inquisitor that when he activated the bell it was 7 o’clock.
Occupants of the rectory during a stretch of Father Staley’s time included a collie dog and a Persian cat. The dog was named Pat in honour of the custodian. On Saturday afternoons the cat could be found on the pastor’s lap in a confessional. Father Staley vowed that the cat was of a deaf variety. The feline would escort the pastor from the rectory to the church.
All altar servers were expected to attend the Christmas midnight mass regardless of the serving schedule later in the day. In the early hours of Christmas morning, servers would be escorted to the rectory where each received a gift of fruit, biscuits and nuts.
The first mass on Sunday was at 6:30 a.m. Many of those who attended would have been en route to their employment at one of the paper mills, which operated every day.
To allow sufficient travel time for them to reach their jobs, the homily would be delivered after the blessing, and dismissal, for those who remained.
There were two other masses, the last one being high and in Latin. At the consecration, instead of bells, a four-note xylophone-style instrument would be used. With a small wooden mallet, a server would create the tone – one, three, two; two, four, three; three, one, two.
Forty-Hour Devotions were held each year and missions, by various orders, occasionally occurred. In August, in honour of the Assumption, there would be a festival in the school grounds.
A band from an Italian parish in Toronto would be present. In addition to a concert, the band would lead a procession around the block of Sullivan Avenue, Queen, Albert and West streets.
A statue of the Blessed Virgin would be removed from the church and carried shoulder-high in the procession.
The Sisters of St. Joseph were important influences within the parish. Eight of them occupied a convent adjacent to the church and across from Holy Rosary School.
Four were assigned to the school in grades one, six, seven and eight. The latter would be the domain of the principal. There would be a Mother Superior as well as a sacristan and a teacher of music who conducted classes in the convent.
In the 1940s, youth groups were active in the parish. One group catered to mid teens, while another involved late teens.
A building known as Grenville Hall, located at the corner of Pine and Albert streets, belonged to the parish and had been in disuse for many years.
Monsignor Clancy turned it over to the youth, who brought a renewed energy to the three-storey structure. Social events thrived as did theatrical presentations, which attracted enthusiastic audiences. Reciprocal gatherings with similar groups from Niagara parishes and Toronto were popular.
Fire destroyed the building with the site eventually being occupied by the parish credit union, which had outgrown its facilities in the church hall.
The credit union had been spearheaded by multilingual Father Mathias Lu during his priestly tenure in the 1950s. The credit union was instrumental in the formation of a co-operative building program, which resulted in several families helping each other construct housing on Thompson Avenue and Elgin Street
From China, Father Lu had been assigned to Holy Rosary to assist with the infux of Italian-speaking immigrants. A revolution in his native land prevented his return from an educational sojourn in Rome, Canada and the United States.
His early whereabouts had become the responsibility of the Archdiocese of Toronto, of which Holy Rosary was then associated, and his ability to converse in Italian precipitated his appointment to Thorold.
He would occupy a confessional in the glow of a light with a copy of the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, on his lap.
Father Lu departed to teach at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana and eventually at other universities in the United States before settling in California. The translation of teachings by St. Thomas Aquinas into Mandarin was a major research undertaking.
On the occasion of the 65th anniversary of his ordination, he told an interviewer that his time in Thorold had been “the centre of his priestly life to this day.” He died on June 25, 2008 at 89.
Holy Rosary Parish played a strong role in sports. It was associated with the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) which operated throughout the province. A major event was for hockey teams in various age groups to compete in day-long competitions at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. One parish team reached that level, but with an unsuccessful result.
Father James Noonan, a native of Toronto, had been a priest for two years when assigned to Holy Rosary. His interest in sports led to the formation of an industrial softball league, with games played on a sandlot at the corner of Regent and Front streets. It was a highly competitive league with enthusiastic crowds in attendance. Father Noonan acted as coach and occasionally played third base.
Before the first mass, after his arrival, he was introduced to altar servers. He asked Father Staley if the boys could play baseball to which the pastor replied, in jest, that he wished they could improve on their mass serving responsibilities first.
Father Noonan, who had friends in professional sports, launched sport celebrities’ dinners, which were held in the church hall.
His immediate successor did not associate with youth related activities and some programs were sidelined for a year, then another Torontonian, Father William Harding, arrived fresh from the seminary. Youth groups were re-energized and the celebrity dinners resumed. The priest’s interest in tennis led to the installation of an illuminated court in the playground of Holy Rosary School.
Several young men became beneficiaries of Father Harding’s spiritual and temporal leadership by following in his priestly footsteps.
In the late 1940s, the parish bulletin was established. Paper was donated by a paper mill and advertising covered the printing costs. Business owners generously supported the project.
Holy Rosary became one of the earliest parishes authorized to celebrate a mass, with Sunday obligations, on Saturday.
One Sunday mass each month was devoted to the Catholic Women’s League and one for the Holy Name Society. A girls’ choir from the school would perform at the CWL mass, while a boys’ choir occupied the gallery on Holy Name Sunday.
Music for the Sunday high Latin mass would be the domain of an adult choir. An organist and at least one member of the choir would preside at funerals.Anticipated parish events would be Christmas concerts by the school children, dramatic presentations by members of the Sodality, spaghetti suppers, sport celebrity dinners, CWL penny sales and that ubiquitous long-time church undertaking – BINGO!