Holy Cross Parish History
by Rosalind Lerman 
(updated by Karin Doumouras)
The pioneers of Holy Cross Parish were a growing Catholic community living on the outskirts of Holy Name’s parish boundaries. These men and women recognized their need and petitioned the archbishop of Toronto, Neil McNeil, for a parish that they could call their own. Mr. John F. Garvin represented their cause in his letter of May 22nd, 1928 to Archbishop Neil McNeil.
Archbishop Neil McNeil acknowledged that a new parish was needed in the eastern Toronto region, and so on September 1, 1928, the archbishop established the first Catholic parish in the Township of East York. He assigned Father Robert S. Miller as Pastor of the parish, and the parish boundaries were laid out. The north and west boundaries followed the Don River, Coxwell Avenue formed the eastern boundary, and the southern boundary followed Nealon and Sammon Avenues. Father Miller was given the honour of naming his new parish of thirty-five families, and he christened it Holy Cross.
Father Miller was born in Toronto, and originally studied for the priesthood at Le Grand Séminaire in Montreal. He transferred to St. Augustine’s Seminary in Scarborough when it first opened. Completing his philosophy and theology courses, he was ordained at St. Michael’s Cathedral on June 17th, 1916. After ordination, Father Miller served as assistant at the Church of the Holy Rosary in Thorold and at St. Joseph’s and St. Paul’s Parishes in Toronto. In 1923 he was named Pastor of St. Joseph’s in Grimsby, where he remained until his appointment as Pastor of Holy Cross Parish in 1928.
Father Miller stayed in a rented house at 288 Cosburn Avenue, across the street from the church site, from 1928 to the early 1930s, when another house at 25 Lesmount was rented for the rectory. The church site was purchased on June 27th, 1928 from Parkside Realty Company Limited. Plans for the construction of Holy Cross School advanced more quickly than the church construction. The school opened in September of 1928 for the school year while the church building was not completed until November of 1928. The first Mass was offered on September 23rd, 1928 in the one-classroom school building, and Sunday Masses continued to be held in the “Little Red Schoolhouse” as it came to be known, until the church was made ready.
The cost of erecting the church amounted to approximately $5,000, while the cost of purchasing the land for the church site was approximately $13,500. Father Miller kept bills; that was his way. They sound like invoices from another world. An $11 bill for bricks. Thirty dollars to E. Beavis for roofing.Fifty dollars to wire the church. A $22.50 bill was for 32 kneelers at 70 cents each. Two big stoves went into the main room of the church to heat it. The seats, of which Father Miller was so proud, were comfortable; they were from a move theatre. (Additional information provided by Jack Brehl )
These combined costs put the parish into debt. The burden of debt became heavier in 1929, the year which ushered in the Depression. Unemployment, hunger, and suffering were not strangers to the people of Holy Cross, but balancing these weights were the exceptional qualities of self-sacrifice, courage and determination which the pioneering parishioners and founding Pastor possessed. Father Miller said that these pioneering parishioners were “the instruments that made Holy Cross”.
The Depression passed, and the quality of life began to improve. New homes were built in the area attracting new families. As the number of parishioners of Holy Cross grew, a second Sunday Mass was added to accommodate everyone. Increasing economic prosperity and growth of the church body inspired hopes of building a permanent church to replace the “old tin church” that served for many years, but the church debt was still outstanding. Energies were turned toward wiping out that debt with the creation of a building fund in March of 1942. Archbishop James C. McGuigan made the first contribution in the amount of $175 to start off the campaign. By September of 1942 a total of $2,600 had been pledged by parishioners. Archbishop McGuigan had generously consented to relieve Holy Cross of $9,000 from their debt, enabling the parish to finally clear the debt in October of 1942.
In June of 1945 Father Miller was forced to move the rectory from 25 Lesmount Avenue since the owners had sold the house. The house at 3 Lesmount Avenue had been purchased at a cost of $4,800 the preceding year for the new rectory.
With the debt cleared, the way was paved for the building of a permanent church. The turning of the sod for the new church took place on September 10, 1947, but wartime restrictions on construction materials delayed the building of the new church until November 2nd, 1947, when the laying of the cornerstone took place.
In April of 1948 Holy Cross launched a new campaign to raise money for the erection of the new church. The goal of $10,000 was set, and all parishioners were encouraged to donate their fair share. The first Mass and blessing of the newly completed church took place on December 12th, 1948 with Cardinal McGuigan as celebrant. The old church site became the site of the current church rectory at 291 Cosburn Avenue in 1958.
As Father Miller grew older, he suffered ill health and was frequently in hospital. The responsibility of running the parish fell on the able shoulders of Father Clare Tipping, the curate assisting Father Miller from 1962 to 1968. Father Tipping was well liked by parishioners young and old. He set up the 15-20 Club, the first youth group in the parish. Father Tipping was reassigned to St. Margaret’s Parish, Toronto in 1968.
In 1968 Father Joh Bolger became the new Pastor of Holy Cross, replacing Father Miller who remained in residence at Holy Cross as Pastor Emeritus until his death on September 20th, 1980. Father Bolger was ordained at St. Michael’s Cathedral on May 31st, 1947 and was first assigned curate at St. Monica’s Parish. He later served at St. Leo’s in Mimico and St. Ann’s in Toronto. He became Pastor of St. Louis’ Parish in Mount St. Louis and was stationed at St. Paul’s in Alliston before coming to Holy Cross for twelve years. Father Bolger took on additional work outside the parish as spiritual director for the diocesan Catholic Women’s League for six-and-a-half years. When asked to describe Father Bolger for an article in the parish bulletin, parishioners agreed that he was a man everyone could call a friend:
… he is a humble, selfless man, a person singularly without pretension and unimpressed with the “big” things in life … his goodness and spirituality show through in all his endeavours … he’s patience personified.
In 1980 Father Bolger left Holy Cross Parish to fulfil his new assignment as Pastor of St. Francis de Sales in Pickering.
Holy Cross’ third Pastor, Bishop Aloysius Ambrozic, served the parish for eight years from 1979 to 1986. He was ordained a priest to the Archdiocese of Toronto by Cardinal McGuigan on June 4th, 1955 and was assigned to serve as curate at St. Teresa’s Parish during his first year of priesthood. He spent the next year teaching Latin and Old Testament at St. Augustine’s Seminary in Scarborough. From 1957 to 1960 Bishop Ambrozic completed postgraduate studies in Theology and Scripture in Rome. Returning to Toronto, he taught Scripture at St. Augustine’s Seminary from 1960 to 1967. He then furthered his studies receiving a doctorate of theology at the University of Würzburg, Germany in 1970 and returned to become a professor at the Toronto School of Theology as well as Dean of Studies at St. Augustine’s Seminary from 1971 to 1976. He was ordained an Auxiliary Bishop of Toronto on May 27th, 1976 and during his stay as Pastor of Holy Cross, he was responsible for the central region of the archdiocese and ethnic communities. Holy Cross Parish is representative of the multicultural cross-section of Toronto. The people of Holy Cross were proud to have Bishop Ambrozic as Pastor and celebrated his appointment to position of Coadjutor Archbishop of Toronto on May 22nd, 1986, and duly succeeded to the position of Archbishop of Toronto on 17 March 1990. In 1998 he was created cardinal by Pope John Paul II, was one of the cardinal electors who participated in the 2005 papal conclave that selected Pope Benedict XVI. He retired on 16 December 2006 and died on 26 August 2011 after a lengthy illness.
Cardinal Ambrozic was succeeded as Pastor of Holy Cross Parish by Father John Pilkauskas in September of 1986. He was ordained a priest on June 3rd, 1967. After ordination he served at St. Ann’s in Toronto, St. John the Evangelist Parish in Whitby and St. Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto before coming to serve at Holy Cross as Rector and then Pastor. Father Pilkauskas is currently retired.
Since the time that this history was written, Holy Cross has been blessed with a succession of caring pastors and parish staff:
Father John Coppinger [deceased October 22, 2018]; (Father Jeremiah Kelliher [deceased Sept. 20, 1993]; [Franciscan Friars of the Atonement]; Father Albert Love [deceased July 22, 2012]
Father John Kiesling [deceased November 23, 2017]; Father Brian Terry [The V. Rev. Brian F. Terry, SA, Minister General of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement, was elected President-Elect of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men (CMSM) at their annual assembly held from August 5–8, 2015, in Charlotte, North Carolina]; Brother Kevin Goss [deceased February 22, 2011]; Sister Patricia McCallion [deceased April 25, 2005]; Father Bede McEachen [deceased]) [Franciscan Friars of the Atonement]
Father Jose Kuriedath [Prior, Sacred Heart Monastery, Thevara,Cochin,India]; Father Isaac Chackalaparampil [currently pastor of Holy Redeemer Church in Charlottetown, PEI] ; Father Cletus Plackal [Provincial, Sacred Heart Provincial House, Kalamassery, Cochin, India]; Father Joy Ureth [Prefect, Sacred Heart Provincial House, Kalamassery, Cochin, India] [Carmelites of Mary Immaculate]
Father William Swift – retired
Father Laurence Clark [deceased February 17, 2011]; Father Christian Emeka Obiezu; [Order of St. Augustine]
Father Augustine Chan – currently Chaplain to the Chinese University Students in the Archdiocese of Toronto
Father Roselle Azares – currently Pastor at St. Margaret's, Midland, Ontario
Father Godofredo Claudio - current Pastor; Deacon Albert Dacanay