The fifty year history of the St. Andrew the Apostle Catholic Church is a remarkable one.
In reviewing the events of these fifty years, one can see that not only have many served this parish but the parish has also served many. Under the zealous leadership and dedicated work of Reverend Father Anton Botek, the determined need of a Catholic Parish in the north-east Welland/Crowland area was identified at a preliminary meeting (1957) held at the Slovak Hall convened by Father Anton Botek STD, with Monsignor Michael Shuba, Father Joseph Dragos, Father Vincent Danco SJ and the Catholic Slovak Community of Welland.
The formative years of the parish were busy and productive one. Father Botek is affectionately described as “the tall, rather distinguished gentleman priest, who with unassuming dignity walked like a missionary to every home in the Parish to acquaint himself with the parishioners”. His warmth always created excellent responses from his congregation, his friends and clergy.
As primary benefactors, John and Alice Garon bequeathed a large tract of land to the Church. Both St. Andrew’s church and school were built on it. Descendants of the Garon family continue to be members of the St. Andrew’s parish.
In 1957, His Eminence, the Cardinal Archbishop of Toronto, established St. Andrew Svorad Church in Welland. The new parish was designed to serve the growing Catholic population in the city and to afford the Slovak faithful an opportunity for their pastoral ministry in their mother tongue. Their multilingual Pastor was to serve the ministry in english and italian as well. The first Parish Mass and the subsequent Masses, for the next six years, was held in two classrooms of the newly built St. Anne’s School. These temporary accommodations soon proved inadequate and in January 1959, Bishop T.J. McCarthy, Bishop of St. Catharines approved the opening of the St. Andrew Svorad Combined Funds Canvass. Thus, in February 1959, and enthusiastic group of parishioners under the chairmanship of Mr. Patrick Gibbons canvassed all parish wage earners for weekly pledges for the next three years. Campaign canvassers affectionately recall Father Botek’s ability to instill within them a missionary vision as they are sent forth to assist him in the continuing search of each Catholic family in the newly defined parish territory and canvass for the building fund pledges.
In the spring of 1962 the sod was broken and under the continued monitoring of the building committee, the new church was built.
On Sunday, June 16, 1963 in the presence of the pastor, clergy and five hundred parishioners, the newly built and now renamed St. Andrew the Apostle Catholic Church was solemnly blessed by Bishop T.J. McCarthy, Bishop of St. Catharines. Father Botek prepared a special capsule, which contains the list of all of St. Andrew’s founding parishioners. Their names were inscribed in non-biodegradable material and this document is sealed within the church corner stone. This day of thanksgiving was the achievement of the “parishioners” five year dream.
Arthur B. Scott Associates did the architecture of St. Andrew. Incorporating the background and religious life of St. Andrew. Mr. Scott developed the meaning and concept of St. Andrew’s Church design. The structural frame, the ribs of the ship, colouring, interior details - the sea, the net application to St. Andrew’s life. The vertical lines of the altar with its ever rising planking lines resemble the prow of a great ship carrying with it the crucifix. The lighting from the nave appears as bursts of light and the central burst of light is symbolic of the Holy Ghost. At times the nave and sanctuary are flooded with bursts of colour by the natural light through the stained glass windows.
The general exterior form of the Church is Oriental-Slav. True earth colours were chosen and the portrayal of St. Andrew out of the brick background patterned in simplicity and soft colouring bonds the relationship between the building and the pictorial. This exterior brick mosaic of St. Andrew designed by artist Heinz Gaugel is the City of Welland’s first brick mural.
The church has been planned to double its seating capacity. If St. Andrew is expanded to its final architectural stage, the Church will be in the form of a Cross, the apex of which will be the center cross of the present design stage.
The Parish of St. Andrew is privileged to possess the relics of our principal patron saint of St. Andrew the Apostle. Particles of the body of St. Andrew and relics of six other patron saints are buried in the Main Altar. These Patron Saints are : St. Anthony of Padua, St. Cyril Apostle of the Slavs, St. John Vianney, St. Aloysius Gonzaga, St. Agnes and St. Maria Goretti.
During the past fifty years, St. Andrew Church has been witness to the beginning of spiritual life, the manifestation of our faith and the entry into eternal life of many parishioners. Over these years and through the pastoral ministry of its Pastors, namely Father Botek (1957-1966), Father Lacey (1966-1969), father Anthony Vuksininc (1969-1989), Father M.J. Stevens SFM (1989-2000), Father Mitchell Kasza (2000-2005), Father Peter Walton (2005-2007), Father Stanley Pietlock (2007-2009), [Father Manuel Serranilla Jr. (2009-2011), and Father Paul Vellakunnath (2011-present)] with the assistance of Father Michael MacDonald (1971-1973), Father James Mulligan, Father J.A. Warren (1973-1986) and Father Nicholas Deak (1989-2000), St. Andrews has witnessed the events of our Catholic faith.
One thousand eight hundred and seventy nine Baptisms, 2,752 First Holay Communions, 2,889 Confirmations, 711 Marriages and 664 Christian Burials have marked the spiritual life of 600 faithful families in the Parish Community of St. Andrew (Statistics from 1958-Sept 9, 2007)
Since its inception, the Parish life of St. Andrew has also been nurtured by its various Church organizations. These hardworking groups - the Catholic Women’s League, the Holy Name Society, the Parish Choirs, the Sodality, Scouts, Cubs, Girl Guides, Brownies, the Parish Council, the Altar Servers, the Ministers of the Eucharist, the Readers of the Word, Ministers of Hospitality, Sacristans, St. Vincent de Paul Society, Extended Care Prayer Group Leaders, Pre-Cana Resource Leaders, Pasta Dinner Committee along with our Pastoral Assistants, Parish Staff and many others have contributed their zeal, courage and generosity to make this edifice a House of God where the spiritual life is both viable and fulfilling for all men, women and children who participate in its Parish life.
Following months of diligent preparation by a dedicated Anniversary Committee, the Pastor Father Anthony Vuksinic and all the Parishioners joyously marked the Parishes’ 25th Anniversary on Sunday, October 3, 1982. Most Reverend Thomas B. Fulton, Bishop of St. Catharines, was the principal celebrant of the Divine Liturgy for the Mass of Thanksgiving. Greetings were received from the founder of St. Andrew’s Parish, Monsignor Anton Botek STD. Monsignor Botek, who was recalled to Sloval Institute in St. Cyril and Methodius, Rome in 1966 arranged for the Parish of St. Andrew a Papal Blessing from Pope John Paul II for this auspicious occasion. A special 25th Anniversary booklet documents the historic parish event.
A year or so later, another momentous milestone was achieved. With great elation, the parishioners witnessed Father Anthony Vuksinic burn the mortgage at a special parish celebration.
The 40th anniversary of the Parish was celebrated on the occasion of the Feast of Andrew the Apostle on Sunday, November 20,1977. The Divine Liturgy was celebrated by Bishop Thomas Fulton (retired) and assisted by Father M.J. Stevens and Father Anthony Vuksinic. The first Parish directory for St. Andrews Parish is the principal Parish project for the Anniversary. Parish refurbishment was also commenced.
An integral part of our Parish’s life is the educational component of a person’s development. So too, the privelege of receiving a Catholic Education was still another hard earned gift. In 1958, at the invitation of Father Botek, the Vincentian Sisters of Charity arrived from Pittsburgh. St. Anne’s Separate School was officially opened in January 1958. Within a few months following the blessing of the new church in 1963, St. Anne’s Separate School was renamed St. Andrew.
During the early years of Parish life, the Vincentian Sisters dedicated their time and efforts to compliment the extension of the Christian Family Life of their parishioners by establishing and providing the formal Catholic education in the newly built school. Through their concerted teaching efforts and dedication of their life to God’s works. St. Andrew’s parishioners witnessed the progress of their work. The children’s choirs and church music were initially provided through the varied talents of the Vincentian sisters.
St. Andrew Separate School has had many annual graduations since its first eleven graduates completed Grade 8 in 1960. True to its Christian philosophy and holistic approach in educating its students, St. Andrew Separate school has maintained its aspirational qualities of a Catholic education by its countless achievements.
The preparation of the children for Communion, Confirmation, Divine Liturgy and the traditions of our Catholic Faith are done through the many hours of dedicated perseverance of the God loving teachers of St. Andrew. Their dedication is gratifyingly observed in the committed responsibility of the new generation of adults who continue to perpetuate the heritage of Christianity.
In 1960, sister Victorine joined St. Andrew School in the capacity of teacher and principal. She taught three generations of children in the school. After her retirement from education in 1984, Sister Victorine continued in her service to God as Pastoral assistant at St. Andrew’s Church. It can be said that Sister Victorine continued to hold an integral and constant role in St. Andrew's parish that she served continuously since her arrival in Canada until her retirement in 2000 and her return to her Mother House in Pittsburgh.
The increasing school population of the 1960’s within the Parish’s territorial boundaries necessitated the structure of a second Separate Elementary School. During Canada’s Centennial Year, St. Joseph’s Separate School was built. St. Joseph’s School always looked to St. Andrew’s parish and our Pastor for the spiritual direction of Catholic Schools. In 1966, St. Joseph’s School was closed and these students were transferred to St. Andrew’s School.
In August 2005 to 2006, Father Mitchell Kasza was Pastor to St. Andrew. This highly energetic priest, with his strong administrative skills and independent working style quickly re-organized the parish’s administration and the parish’s financial management. During his pastoral term, he commenced some urgent major maintenance projects in the Parish.
Father Peter Walton (2005-2007) assumed his pastoral responsibilities with ease, quickly establishing a sound rapport with all the Parishioners. He assumed the responsibility to continue in refurbishing and restoring the church. The most evident project is the new altar crucifix that immediately draws the eyes of the faithful to it and the Divine Liturgy. The removal of the deteriorated netting and the improved lighting has greatly enhanced the beauty of the church’s interior.
Sister Beatrice VSC was the pastoral assistant during Father Walton’s term as Pastor. Sister Beatrice quickly acquainted herself with the Parishioners. having retired from teaching at Notre Dame College School, her coming to St. Andrews Parish was a reunion with many of her former students.
Father Stanley Pietlock was appointed the new Pastor of St. Andrew in August 2007. He has assumed the challenge of St. Andrew’s Parish preparing for its fiftieth anniversary to be celebrated on the Feast Day of St. Andrew on November 30, 2007, as well as continuation of the major renovation projects and the restructure of the Parish activities.
The Parish family demonstrates a multicultural profile that is unified as one in the House of God united by the sacred bonds of fellowship and brotherhood in Christ. From 1990 to 2000, the Latin American refugees that form the Spanish speaking community in Welland received continual pastoral ministry at St. Andrew through the ministerial services of Father Stevens and Sister Mary Victorine Deley, VSC and the occasional visits of a Spanish speaking Priest.
The extension of the parish family exists within its associated school. Even though such opportunities and privileges of associated schools with the parish are declining, St. Andrew remains to be blessed with the presence of a school located adjacent to the Church.
The viability of St. Andrew Parish is the consequence of the committed and dedicated Pastors and faithful Parishioners who treasure the gift of our Spiritual Heritage - our Catholic way of life. The occasion of the fiftieth anniversary bonds the dedicated work of our past with the committed work of the present towards the continual building of our future life in Christ.
A Historical Perspective (1957 - 2007) Article was taken from the 50th Anniversary booklet written in 2007
By: Margaret T. Hudak, MEd.OSJ