A History of St. Alfred Parish
As far back as 1876, our neighbourhood had a Church. Dean Patrick Mulligan built a Chapel, dedicated to St. Joseph, at the corner of the present Niagara and Garnet Streets, to serverve the many families living in the area under the auspices of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. In 1951, a new basement Church was completed on Garnet Street to serve the Polish-speaking Catholics of the district.
At about the same time, the English-speaking Catholics of the area wanted to attend Mass here, because the streetcar service to the Church of St. Catherine did not meet their needs, due to the infrequency of the service. People did not rely on the automobile as they do today. Consequently, Mrs. A Pettifer and Mrs. A. Violante circulated a petition among about 40 families for permission to begin a local organization of English-speaking Catholics, called “Our Lady of Perpetual Help Society”. Under the care and guidance of Father Golecki, the Pastor of the Polish Parish, dinners, dances and socials were held in order to raise funds to build a new church for the English-speaking Catholics in the area.
In 1951, Cardinal McGuigan appointed Father Clement Schwalm to establish the new parish of St. Alfred. Church services and Parish activities were held in the hall attached to the Polish Church. These were days of joy, enthusiasm and ingenuity; socials on Saturday night, were followed by the clean up and arrangement of the altar and chairs for Sunday Mass. After Mass, preparations were made for a Sunday evening of movies and other activities. Many still remember the pail to catch the rain as it dripped from the ceiling and the skunks that dwelled under the floor, despite the cans and bottles thrown at them. The Sunday atmosphere in the Chapel was not always that of incense! When the Polish Parish moved to their new Church on Garnet Street, St. Alfred Parish formally took over the old Chapel for Divine Services until a new building could be built.
More space was needed, and so in 1952 land was purchased from the Presto family at the corner of Vine and Carlton Streets. A concrete basement, that was built to serve as a hall, was used as temporary quarters for the new St. Alfred School, which opened in September of 1952. Cardinal McGuigan blessed a prefabricated Church, erected on the foundation by the parishioners, on November 30, 1952.
In September of 1953, a new St. Alfred school was built on Vine Street, where Our Lady of Fatima School is located today. In 1954, Canadian Martyrs School opened on Scott Street and in 1955, Our Lady of the Assumption School was built at the corner of Niagara and Parnell Streets. Then in 1956, the present St. Alfred school was opened to the church. This building was enlarged in 1957, to the status of a junior high school, with classes to the end of grade ten. The Felician Sisters worked tirelessly and made many sacrifices to ensure the children of the Parish received a Catholic education.
The new Diocese of St. Catharines was formed on November 9, 1958. The first Bishop, the Most Reverend Thomas Joseph McCarthy arrived from Nelson, British Colombia.
In 1959 Fr. Schwalm pointed out the need for larger facilities for sports and social activities and so, the Saint Alfred Sports and Community center was built. Funds were raised and Bishop McCarthy blessed the gymnasium on his first formal visit to the parish.
These were active and growing years in St. Alfred parish. Everyone must admire the dedicated men and women who gave unselfishly of their time and skills, to raise large sums of money towards the many projects in the new parish.
In April 1960, Father Alphonse McNicholl was appointed pastor. After he arrived, steps were taken to begin plans for a new and larger church. At this point, simultaneous masses were being held upstairs and downstairs in the wooden church. One of the priests had to live in the basement. Everything was bursting at the seams. A group of parishioners formed a building committee and consequently plans for a new church were drawn up.
The parish had plenty of land, which had been acquired at the corner of Vine and Carlton Streets; so, in 1966 a contract was awarded to construct a new Parish Church and rectory. The new rectory was occupied first, in April of 1967 and a month later, May 21, 1967 the first services were held in the new Church. Bishop McCarthy blessed the new Church on June 18, and as part of the celebrations, an open house was held, to give the faithful a chance to see what had been accomplished. The old Church was renovated for use as the Italian Catholic Center.
Other pastors worked tirelessly in the Parish. Msgr. Anthony Tonnos, during his tenure, continued to develop the infrastructure required to serve the needs of a growing congregation. He constructed a crying room, built the large vestibule at the west entrance to the Church and had the leaking roof repaired. Msgr. Tonnos was appointed as the Bishop of Hamilton Diocese and was consecrated as Bishop in our church.
He was replaced by Msgr. Vincent O’Donohue, who renovated the sanctuary, replaced the Stations of the Cross, added air conditioning, and replaced the organ. Father Steve Collins, the next pastor, continued the good works of his predecessors and was instrumental in encouraging the faithful to actively participate in the many parish ministries taking place in the parish.
As the parish continued to grow, more meeting space was required for the many parish organizations, and the gymnasium was found to be unsuitable for these purposes. Consequently, a new Parish Pastoral Centre was constructed at the east side of the church complex during the tenure of Fr. Richard Grecco. On September 7, 1997 Bishop John a. O’Mara officially blessed and opened the Pastoral Centre. During the same year, the gymnasium was torn down and the land was sold to a life lease, non- profit corporation. An apartment building was erected to serve the housing needs of the senior population in the area.
In 1998 Fr. Grecco was succeeded by Fr. Raymond Fenech Gonzi, Fr. Fenech Gonzi was succeeded by Msgr. Leo Clutterbuck in 2003 and our current Pastor, Fr. Hugh Gibson succeeded Msgr. Clutterbuck, in 2012.
There are currently 3780 families and it t continues to be an active and growing community. What a tremendous accomplishment and testimonial to the vision of our forefathers!