The Redemptorists

January 10, 2011 § 2 Comments

I went to mass on Christmas Day, I’m not Catholic, but I kind of like the tradition. This year we were in Keene, NH, where my sister-in-law lives. The priest had as the theme of his Christmas morning sermon “redemption,” noting that that was the true meaning of the season. I like to think that is one of the good points of Catholicism, that redemption is granted through the fallibility of humanity, God’s forgiveness for our sins, in part through the sacrifice of Jesus, in part through confession.  I presume that this is where the Redemptorist Brothers got their name, their job being to redeem the souls of both their parishioners, as well as their converts (they are a missionary brotherhood).

Anyway, all of this is by way of introduction of my destination tomorrow in Toronto: the archives of the Redemptorists. The Redemptorists were the parish priests in Griffintown from 1885 until the destruction of St. Ann’s Church in 1970, and the ultimate closing of the parish a dozen or so years later. So far as I know, no one has actually gone in and looked at the brothers’ records from Griffintown. I was told about them years ago by Rosalyn Trigger, who was at the time doing her PhD at McGill, but I never found the time to get to Toronto to look at them when I was researching my PhD. Funny: last time I saw my supervisor, Ron Rudin, a few months ago, I was telling him about my plans to go take a look as I finished off the research for the book. He wondered if he could take back my PhD for keeping knowledge of this archive from him. ‘Fraid not, Ron.

Anyway, I’m rather excited to be heading to the archive tomorrow morning to see what I can find, to deepen our general knowledge of Irish-Catholic Griffintown, it will also add something to my book that is not in other histories of the neighbourhood, including my own dissertation.

That the Redemptorist priests were popular in their parish of St. Ann’s is not in doubt. In 1885, when the Sulpicians were stripped of their parish of St. Ann’s, the Irish-Catholics of Griffintown were furious, to the point where they remonstrated with the Bishop of Montréal. However, the Redemptorists, upon their arrival, were able to almost instantly win the hearts and minds of their parishioners, by investing money in the church and parish. By the time that Father Strubbe, the “Belgian Irishman,” was recalled to Belgium, the Irish-Catholics were loudly remonstrating with the powers-that-be over this decision. All the former Griffintowners that I have done oral histories with fondly recall the priests of St. Ann’s, in particular Fr. Kearney.

So I’m hoping here to find out how the priests saw their impoverished parishioners, what they felt they could do for them, whether they enjoyed being in Griffintown, their impressions of the neighbourhood. I’m also interested in the question of faith. All of the former Griffintowners I’ve talked to, as well as all other evidence I’ve seen, shows a very Catholic community, one where people took the ceremonies and rituals of their faith. But what has always interested me is whether this was just that: familiar ritual. One thing the Church is very good at is giving its faithful ritual and ceremony that are both familiar and reassuring. But I’ve always wondered how deep the idea of faith goes, not just with respect to Griffintown, but the Catholic Church in general.

Then there’s the question of Irishness. One of the reasons the Griffintowners protested the removal of the Sulpicians in 1885 was because the Sulpicians were very good about ensuring the parish priests at St. Ann’s were Irish. The Redemptorists who arrived in Griffintown that year were all Belgian. Of course, Fr. Strubbe was able to win over his parishioners and even gain status as an Irishman by the time of his recall.  And by the mid-20th century, the priests, like Fr. Kearney, were Irish once more. Was this a conscious decision by the Redemptorists and the Bishop to represent the faithful? What did the priests make of the Irishness of their parishioners?

So here’s hoping I can begin to find some answers to these questions in the archive.

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§ 2 Responses to The Redemptorists

  • Sharon Doyle Driedger says:

    Hi Matthew,

    Thought I’d mention that I scoured the Redemptorists’ archives in Toronto on numerous visits in 2004 and 2005 while I was researching An Irish Heart, my book about Griffintown. I found much useful material there and I’m sure you, too, will find, or perhaps, by now have found, that it is a valuable resource.

    Sharon Doyle Driedger

  • John Matthew Barlow says:

    Sharon,
    Yeah, when I got there, I realised I was following in your footsteps at the Redemptorist Archives in Toronto. And, yes, there was some amazing material in there. Good stuff there, so we remain the only two people to have gone through those archives, so we’re trailblazers./

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