The History of St. Anthony’s Parish, West Vancouver
By Patrick Raynard
The Roman Catholic presence on the North Shore began almost 150 years ago when the Oblate Missionaries and Chief Snatt of the Squamish Band built a mission chapel in what is now North Vancouver. The 1866 building was renovated in 1909 and renamed St. Paul’s in honour of Vancouver Bishop Paul Durieu.
West Vancouver was born from a cluster of summer cabins that were built at Ambleside Beach in the 1880s. The population grew after a ferry connected Vancouver to the foot of Lonsdale in 1890 and Ambleside in 1910. West Vancouver became a municipality in 1912 but Catholic residents had to travel to North Vancouver until one of the Oblates started celebrating Mass in the Ambleside cabins in 1915.
As West Vancouver’s Catholics grew in number, their need for larger Mass locations took them from Ambleside Hall to a Dundarave building later known as Sager’s Maple Shop and from there to the Clachan Hotel at the foot of 25th Street (which became Peppi’s Restaurant and is now the Beach House.) Catholic children took the Pacific Great Eastern (PGE) train to North Vancouver and walked up to St. Edmund’s parish where the Sisters of the Child Jesus taught them Catechism and prepared them for the Sacraments.
In 1920, West Vancouver’s 20 Catholic families petitioned Bishop Timothy Casey for a church of their own. He responded by sending an Oblate from St. Paul’s, Father W. Brabender, to establish a mission parish and to start plans for a building at the confluence of Inglewood and Haywood Avenues (where the present church stands); the far-sighted Archdiocese had purchased a property there in 1912. An anonymous wealthy donor from Eastern Canada asked that the parish be named after St. Anthony of Padua.
Father Brabender celebrated the first Mass in the new church on June 21, 1921. The building, which held 150 people, was not completed until 1924, after the Squamish Band donated most of the furniture, the sacred vessels, and the bell that still stands in front of the present-day church. A year later Bishop Timothy Casey elevated the mission to the status of a full parish, thanked the Oblates for their services, and appointed Father Alex McDonald as the first official pastor. There being no rectory, Father McDonald roomed in the Clachan Hotel.
The next pastor was Father John Kelley, on loan from a diocese in New Mexico, who operated from his sister’s home on Haywood Avenue. His greatest challenge was heating the entire church from one wood-burning stove; he never succeeded and delivered his winter homilies wrapped in a woollen blanket. Because of the Archdiocese’s shortage of priests during the Depression, the Irish-born Father Daniel Carey was brought in from missionary work in China in 1930 to minister to St. Anthony’s parish. Father Carey motivated the 18 members of the Ladies Altar Society to form themselves into the new parish chapter of the Catholic Women’s League.
During the Depression and Second World War, four pastors served the growing parish. Father James Flanagan had the basement finished in 1933; Father W. J. Millay of the Order of the Premonstratensians (known as the Norbertines) bought the next-door house which still serves as the Rectory; and Father A. B. Van de Grevel, a committed educator and also a Norbertine, had the Sisters of the Child Jesus driven over from North Vancouver to teach Catechism between Sunday Masses. He also started work towards establishing a Catholic elementary school. Father N.J. Windt (St. Anthony’s last Norbertine) further sharpened the parish’s focus on education.
The arrival of Monsignor Leo Hobson in 1947 launched the post-war era at St. Anthony’s parish. Canada’s unprecedented boom was reflected in West Vancouver’s burgeoning population of Catholics who were anxious to see their children educated in the faith. In 1952 Monsignor Hobson hired contractor Gerald Hanssen, Vini Fitzgerald’s father, to oversee the dismantling of the old church and the building of the new one. During the construction Monsignor Hobson held Masses in the Optimist Hall beside Sager’s Maple Shop.
Monsignor Hobson’s considerable work toward the building of a Catholic elementary school was taken up by Father Dermot McInerney in 1956. The original St. Anthony’s School, in its present location on Keith Road, began classes in September 1958 for 110 pupils from Grades 1 to 5. Acting as principal, Father McInerny brought the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peterborough from Ontario in 1959 to help the lay teachers and to administer the school. In 1961 the facility was expanded and a convent for the Sisters was built on the property.
In the late 1950s Father McInerny and parishioners also helped establish St. Thomas Aquinas Regional Secondary School, located beside the Sisters of the Child Jesus convent in North Vancouver.
When Father John Stewart arrived at St. Anthony’s parish in 1963, there were more than 2,000 parishioners plus 250 students at St. Anthony’s School, which now included Grade 8. Masses had to be held at the school, the church and a rented hall in Horseshoe Bay. Father Stewart’s larger responsibilities in the archdiocese required the installation of assistant pastors for the first time. Father William Fletcher was followed by Father John Tritschler and Father P. Kenny.
In 1971 Father Stewart was replaced by Monsignor J.E. Brown, whose many challenges included an enormous debt, Mass celebrations as far west as Lions Bay, and the departure of the Sisters of St. Joseph. Monsignor Brown invited the Sisters of St. Ann to help run the school for a time but he had to sell the convent to help pay the debt. His involvement with the archdiocesan Bingo program and Project Advance finally turned the finances around and enabled the parish to begin a capital fund. Monsignor Brown also enjoyed the assistance of Fathers Terry Larkin and William Ashley, plus deacon Kazimir Chomko.
In 1982, Monsignor Peter Mallon came from Holy Rosary Cathedral to take on his first parish. His heavy duties with the archdiocese required the parish assistance of Fathers Craig Scott,Stanley Galvon, and Alan Boisclair, and deacons John McCarthy, Gary Franken and Eric McKechnie.
Monsignor Mallon richly enjoyed his six-year pastorate at St. Anthony’s. His quiet wisdom and nurturing strength generated enormous growth in the spiritual life of the parish and school. He was also a man of vision who motivated the planning of Christ the Redeemer parish, a project he would not see to completion because he was appointed Bishop of Nelson in 1989 (then served as Archbishop of Regina from 1995 until 2005.)
The next pastor, Father Timothy McCarthy, took on the complicated task of pastoring St. Anthony’s parish, completing Christ the Redeemer church and Rectory on the St. Anthony’s School property, and supervising assistants Father Larry Holland, Father Vincent Hawkswell, and deacon Paul Chu. Father McCarthy also organized the Knights of Columbus at St. Anthony’s parish. In November 1993, Father McCarthy became the pastor of Christ the Redeemer. Father Hawkswell replaced him as pastor of St. Anthony’s parish while serving as editor of The B.C. Catholic. Father Raymond Campeau of the White Fathers assisted Father Hawkswell.
Father John McCarthy, who had been ordained in 1987, returned to the parish as pastor in 1997. He worked very successfully to draw the congregation into the spiritual and administrative life of the parish. He also presided over the biggest renovation in 50 years: a large addition to the western end of the building; a complete overhaul of the parish hall; and an updating of the Rectory.
By this time, St. Anthony’s School had become the shared responsibility of both parishes, which together raised funds for a state-of-the-art $5-million school that began operations in September 2004. One month earlier, however, Father John McCarthy was assigned to another parish and was replaced by Father Ian Stuart.
In the nine years since then, three more priests have been active in the parish. Father Stuart was replaced for a short term by Father John Barry from St. Edmund`s parish in North Vancouver.
Father Joseph Le, who had become resident in the parish while serving as Defender of the Bond at the archdiocesan marriage tribunal, administered the parish until the arrival of the new pastor, Father Gary Franken, in the summer of 2011. Father Franken has put together a comprehensive plan for the future of the parish, with the help of a professional facilitator and many enthusiastic parishioners.
The parish continues to attract a broad demographic of Roman Catholics; as St. Anthony’s approaches its 90th anniversary, 3,000 souls in 90 families are making this parish their spiritual home. Also, the parish currently sends 25 students to St. Anthony’s elementary school and 15 students to St. Thomas Aquinas secondary school.
Patrick Raynard is a lifelong member of St. Anthony’s Parish