St. Cecilia Church 161 Annette St., Toronto, Ontario, Canada

The Story of Saint Cecilia

Saint Cecilia is the patroness of musicians and Church music.  It was said that she sang to God as she was dying.

Saint Cecilia was an only child.

Her feast day, which is on November 22, is celebrated not only by the Roman Catholic Church but also by the Anglican, Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches.  Excluding the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint Cecilia is one of seven women commemorated by name in the Canon of the Mass.

Saint Cecilia perished in Sicily under Emperor Marcus Aurelius between 176 and 180.  A church in her honor exists in Rome from about  the 5th century, was rebuilt with much splendor by Pope Paschal I around the year 820, and again by cardinal Paolo Emilio Sfondrati in 1599.  It is situated in Trastevere, near the Ripa Grande quay, where in earlier days the ghetto was located, and is the titulus of a Cardinal Priest, currently Carlo Maria Martini.

The martyrdom of Cecilia is said to have followed that of her husband and his brother by the prefect Turcius Almachius.  The officers of the prefect then sought to have Cecilia killed as well. She arranged to have her home preserved as a church before she was arrested. At that time, the officials attempted to kill her by smothering her by steam. However, the attempt failed, and she was to have her head chopped off. But they were unsuccessful three times, and she would not die until she received the sacrament of Holy Communion.

Cecilia survived another three days before succumbing. In the last three days of her life, she opened her eyes, gazed at her family and friends who crowded around her cell, closed them, and never opened them again. The people by her cell knew immediately that she was to become a saint in heaven.  When her incorruptible body was found long after her death, it was found that on one hand she had three fingers outstretched and on the other hand just one finger, denoting her belief in the Holy Trinity.

 

A Brief History of Saint Cecilia Parish Church

 In March of 1895 His Grace, Archbishop John Walsh established the Parish of St. Cecilia.  Thanks to the generosity of the new and growing Catholic population, Father Bergin was able to purchase a Presbyterian church located on the south west corner of Pacific Avenue and Annette Street to serve as an interim place of worship until a new church could be built. The parish took possession of the church on April 28, 1895 and it was promptly converted for Catholic worship.

In September of 1901, Father Bergin was replaced by Father Eugene Gallagher. It was Father Gallagher’s hard work and fundraising efforts which built St. Cecilia’s Church in which we worship today.  In 1909, architectural plans were drawn up based on a recently constructed Catholic Church in Pickering. Albert McGovern quoted Father Gallagher as saying during the planning stages: “We’ll never fill a church that size in 100 years.” Because of the size of the planned church, it was necessary to buy adjoining lots. This caused some delay since one lot owner, Mr. Greenwood, was living there and was reluctant to sell. Eventually he and his neighbour did sell and the two lots were acquired.

The cornerstone of the church was laid on November 14, 1909. Much of the labour was provided by the local parishioners. The church was completed in two years. It was opened and blessed but Monsignor McCann on September 10, 1911.  Architecturally, St. Cecilia’s Church compliments the area and other buildings even today; at the same time, its bulk and high steeples make it a definite landmark. Archdiocese records describe the building as a plain symmetrical version of Gothic style. For better visibility from the aisles there are no pillars, the ceiling of pointed arches is a classic feature of Gothic design symbolizing fingers rising upwards to God.

Over the past 100 years, St. Cecilia’s Parish has become both a demographic and spiritual cornerstone of our community. In its early years, it was a place of worship as well as a meeting place for many Irish descendants and immigrants. Today, the Parish is home to a large Vietnamese congregation as well as a cross-section of Toronto’s multicultural descendants and new immigrants.