Before the church was built, the property on the south side of Earl St was called St John’s Grove. It was the site of the summer residence and an episcopal college established by Archbishop Lynch. The grounds had a grotto honouring Our Lady of Lourdes.
This church was a gift from the Archdiocese clergy to the Most Reverend John Joseph Lynch, C.M., the first Roman Catholic Archbishop of Toronto, in celebration of the 25th anniversary of his consecration.
The Architecture of the Original Church
The Church of Our Lady of Lourdes was built in two phases. The original church, which today is the north portion, was built in 1885/86. Architect Frederick Charles Law designed the church in the Italian Renaissance style and modelled it after Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome.
Our Lady of Lourdes is clad with buff brick, has a slim bell tower and was Toronto’s first church with a dome. Made of wood and clad with Muntz metal (a brass alloy made of mainly copper and zinc), the magnificent dome is pierced with eight windows and topped with a skylight and cross. The main entrance was originally through the door at the southwest corner of Sherbourne St and Earl St. It was covered by a wooden portico held by four columns with the words “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” inscribed above.
Interior architectural elements include friezes, beautiful wood and plasterwork, a coffered barrel-vaulted ceiling, and arches springing from piers that support the immense dome.
The structure cost about $45,000 to construct and accommodated 300 worshippers. The dedication service was held on October 28, 1886.
Our Lady of Lourdes Expansion
As the congregation grew, more space was needed. In 1910, architect James Patrick Hynes beautifully integrated a significant addition on the south side of the existing structure, adding a 900-seat nave and the stone east entrance portico. He continued the original awe-inspiring architectural details throughout the interior of this elegant church.
The original church became the sanctuary. Marble steps lead up to the altar, which features the scene of The Last Supper. The altar is surmounted by a canopy made of creamy-yellow limestone, and it’s directly beneath the dome.
The nave has a coffered barrel-vaulted ceiling that is supported on each side by an arcade of seven arches.
The former archdiocesan residence, which was located to the south of the original church, was incorporated into the church, with parts of it becoming the hall.
The addition to the church was completed in 1911 at the cost of $75,000.
Also built in 1910/11 was the priests’ home at 41 Earl St. It was designed by architect Herbert E Moore. The red-brick house with grey cut stone trimmings initially had green-painted shutters and a green slate roof. Today it continues to house the Jesuit community and is also the church office.
Our Lady of Lourdes Today
The church continues to serve the needs of the community, and along with offering in-person worship, Mass is also live-streamed. The parish is administered by the largest religious order in the Catholic Church, the Society of Jesus, whose members are known as the Jesuits.
Saint Bernadette of Lourdes
Tucked away in the foothills of the Pyrenees in southern France is the picturesque town of Lourdes. In 1858, it was where a 14-year-old peasant girl named Bernadette Soubirous saw a series of apparitions of the Virgin Mary. Dressed in blue and white and making the sign of the cross, Mary was said to have appeared to Bernadette above a rose bush in a grotto.
In 1933, Bernadette was canonized by Pope Pius XI and became Saint Bernadette. Today, Lourdes, France, is one of the most famous healing shrines in the world.
Did You Know?
John Joseph Lynch was born in Ireland in 1816. He was consecrated in 1859, served as Bishop of Toronto from 1860 to 1870 and then as Archbishop of Toronto from 1870 until his passing in 1888.
When the original church’s cornerstone was laid in June 1885, many clergy, guests and onlookers were present. The dedication ceremony included a sermon, blessing the foundation with holy water, and placing a note written on parchment in the cornerstone. Bands from many Catholic societies played sacred music during intervals.
Initially, the church was going to be called the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes and St John the Evangelist.
Upon completion, the Our Lady of Lourdes Church boundaries extended to the Don River on the east, Carlton St on the south, Church St on the west, and approximately Bloor St E on the north.
In June 1933, the church’s dome was struck by lightning, causing it to catch fire. When firefighters arrived to battle the blaze, five of them ascended a ladder to reach the dome’s height; however, the ladder broke, throwing them to the ground. Four firefighters were injured, and one fell to his death. Soon after the accident, the blaze was brought under control.
In the 1960s, the neighbourhood was evolving, bringing many newcomers to the area. This included the Filipino community, who began holding meetings and activities in the church basement. In the early 1970s, the Silayan Community Centre was opened to help with the needs of Filipino immigrants. The organization has since moved to a new location.
Our Lady of Lourdes Church received heritage status from the City of Toronto in 1973. The Rectory was given heritage designation in 1990.