A Brief History of the Church of St Francis of Assisi
Kitchener, Ontario 1959 – present
St. Francis parish was the third suburban parish formed in Kitchener after WWII. It is situated on the west side of the city of Kitchener and comprises the Forest Hill area.
From its establishment, the parish has been staffed by priests from the Congregation of the Resurrection.
Bishop Joseph F. Ryan established St. Francis of Assisi Parish in 1959, and appointed Father Anthony Mayer, C.R. as its first pastor. Since there was no rectory or church at the time, Father lived at St. Mary’s rectory and used a double classroom at St. Francis Elementary School for Masses. The school had been built in 1957 with Sister Patricia Jackman, SSND as principal. The name for the school and parish was suggested to the Bishop by Frank Voisin who developed much of the area. (see History of our Name)
In January of 1960 , a Parish Building Committee consisting of Father Mayer, Gerald Corlett, Dr. Vincent Corrigan, J. Joseph Kelly, John Norris, Ted Nowak, Ted Pawlowski, Robert Pugsley, Vincent Scherer, and Frank Voisin was formed. By July 17, 1960, a sod turning ceremony and blessing by Rt. Rev. R. M. Haller, a pastor of St. Joseph’s Church and Dean of the area, initiated the construction of St. Francis Church. On October 9, 1960 Monsignor Haller returned and along with Very Rev. Hubert Gehl, Provincial Superior of the Congregation of Resurrection, blessed the cornerstone.
Fundraising for the new Church began in earnest and was highlighted by special Gala Nights which were held at the Concordia Club. The evenings were outstandingly successful in raising money and creating a strong parish community.
In December 1960, Fr. Tony Mayer moved from St. Mary’s Rectory into a house at 30 Blueridge Ave., across the street from the church. The new church (which now seats 450 people), was blessed May 14, 1961. As the parish grew so did the demands on Fr. Tony. In 1963 Fr. Walter Bildstein, C.R. was assigned as assistant pastor. A year later the priests moved into the new rectory adjoining the church which had been built by Ted Pawlowski Construction.
As the population of the area rapidly grew it was necessary to celebrate a Sunday Mass at Monsignor Haller School beginning in the early 1970’s. In 1977, Blessed Sacrament Parish was established and the number of families at St. Francis gradually dropped from 2400 to 1700. St. Francis donated a total of $80,000 to the new parish over several years.
Even with the splitting of the parish there was a wide range of activities which demanded improved facilities. In 1977 Fr. John Miles, C.R., with Frank Voisin and Don Pfeffer, began planning additional meeting space. As a result, in 1977, the basement area of the church was enlarged toward Gatewood Road to accommodate new washrooms and a large meeting room. The addition was named the “Assisi Room”.
In June 1982, because of the growth in the Forest Heights Area, Bishop Reding gave permission for the establishment of a new mission. Father Gene Tyson, C.R. was responsible for the organization and operation of the St. Mark’s Community in the school gym on Autumn Hill Crescent. The first Masses were celebrated on September 19, 1982. This mission continued until 1988 when Bishop Tonnos established St. Mark’s as a parish with Father Dan Hinsperger as pastor. Their new parish complex located on Driftwood Drive was blessed on November 24, 1991. The size of St. Francis parish was again diminished over several years from 1700 registered families to 1100.
Over the next dozen years the parish continued to improve its facilities: a Baldwin electronic organ in 1980, Church painting and re-carpeting in 1984, air conditioning in 1990, and a new entrance and elevator in 1993. The new entrance and elevator cost $230,000. It was made possible through a generous bequest from Grace Baird, a government grant and the generous support of parishioners.
The Finance and Parish Councils assisted with these projects. Some of the members were Lorne Reitzel, Frank Voisin, Tom McCauley, Steve Lubczuk, Karin Manley and Colin Westman.
By the late 1990’s further upgrading of the facilities was required. In 1997 a Facility Review Committee was formed which included David Cornwall, Fr. Kroetsch, Mary Kuntz, Paul Lattner and Helen Van Osch. After surveying parish groups and studying needs, it was decided to replace the organ, update the interior of the church, redo the offices and add meeting rooms over the Assisi Room. In 1998 a Walcker tracker pipe organ was purchased from Middlebury College in Vermont. Next the parish hired Mr. Paul Bolland, an architect and sculptor, to suggest changes to the church and offices. A fundraising committee was formed and was chaired by Karin Voisin, co-ordinated by Arnold Reed with secretarial assistance from Joan Kroetch. Nearly 100 volunteers were organized by Flavio DaSilva, Karin Manley, Christina Cornwall and Lynn and Steve Lubczuk to deliver and pick up an information and pledge package to the nearly 1100 homes in the parish. Their dedication and hard work resulted in donations and pledges of over $650,000 to be given over four years. The project was given the green light.
In 1999 the roof of the church was shingled; the ceiling was insulated and drywalled; the sanctuary floor was raised and ceramic tile installed; the wall behind the tabernacle was refinished in Venetian stucco; the statues were lowered and placed in pillared alcoves; the aisles were covered with new carpeting. The renovations included a first floor over the Assisi Room to provide space for two offices and two meeting rooms named Resurrection and Emmaus. The old office area was reconfigured to provide a walk-in lobby and a workroom for machines and storage. A small parking lot was located in front of the rectory for the convenience of people coming to the office.
On Saturday, December 4, 1999, Bishop Anthony Tonnos celebrated Mass and blessed the renovations. A large crowd attended the banquet which followed the Mass.
Pastor Fr. Paul Voisin, C.R., and former Associate Pastor Fr. Daniel Lobsinger, C.R., were instrumental in attending to the many complex issues of this parish, seeing the Funding of past renovations come to success, and keeping this Church in the forefront of the needs of its parishioners.
Our present pastor is Fr. Joseph de Viveiros C.R., who has brought a new spirit, and zeal to our parish, and has continued to recognize, and uphold the important traditions of our church, combined with the new directions necessary for the future.
The thoughts presented above were taken from the article “Celebrating 40 years…” found in the St Francis of Assisi Parish Directory 1959 – 1999. It is not the complete article.