The Making of St. George's Parish
St. George’s Church, a landmark in the neighbourhood of Island Park Drive and Richmond Road, celebrated its 90th anniversary in 2013. When established in 1923, the parish’s boundaries extended east/west from Holland Avenue to Britannia and north/south from the Ottawa River to Manotick. Though large in territory, there were already 160 families in the parish. St. Mary’s Church, founded in 1891, had previously served the entire Catholic population from Booth Street to Britannia.
Msgr. George Prudhomme, pastor of the new parish, celebrated the first masses on September 30, 1923 at the Sisters of the Visitation Convent on Richmond Road. The architectural firm of Nofke, Morin and Sylvester drew up the plans for the new church and work began almost immediately. The parish rented the convent chapel until the completion of the church one year later at a cost of $63,000. The first church wardens were J. F. McNally, Thomas Bowman, and Joseph G. McGuire, elected at a parish meeting on October 14, 1923.
The church’s location near the Ottawa West station of the Britannia streetcar line meant convenient public transportation for parishioners in the western outskirts of the city. The parish school operated out of the lower part of the church. In 1932, an extension at the back of the church made space below the new sacristy for the first kindergarten class in the Ottawa Catholic school system. In 1926, The Grey Sisters of the Immaculate Conception began teaching in the parish and at that time, they travelled by streetcar to Ottawa West from their residence in Sandy Hill. In 1941, the Grey Sisters took up permanent residence in the parish.
In 1933, Fr. Michael O’Neil succeeded Msgr. Prudhomme, who became pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish and later, rector of St. Patrick’s Parish downtown. Under Father O’Neil’s direction, a new school opened in 1939. Parishioners could reflect on a period of enormous growth in October 1948 when Archbishop Vachon celebrated a special mass at St. George’s to mark the 25th anniversary. Our Lady of Fatima Parish was established in 1947 and other parishes would open over the course of the next 25 years to serve the growing population in the west end, including St. Augustine’s, St. Elizabeth’s, St. Basil’s, St. John the Apostle, St. Maurice’s, and St. Monica’s.
Father O’Neil had reduced the parish debt from $112,000 to $52,000 by the time of his death in 1951. His funeral was held at St. George’s and his remains were returned to his home town of Eganville. He had been ill during his last several years and his assistant pastors assumed many of his duties. Father O’Neil’s predecessor, Msgr. George Prudhomme, died in 1958 at the age of 87 and is buried in Cantley, Quebec.
In 1950, the city of Ottawa annexed Ottawa West, the district that included St. George’s Church. In 1951, Msgr. Ernest F. Bambrick was appointed pastor. During the 1950’s, there were about 1000 families in the parish and the school had an enrolment of 500 to 600 pupils. The parish was very much part of the social life of the neighbourhood. St. George’s had an adult bowling league and a huge youth group called ‘The Solidarity’. Amateur plays were produced on the large stage that existed in the hall until the 1968 renovations. This was also the site of many school Christmas concerts.
Msgr. Bambrick died in April, 1969, at the age of 72, two years after following his retirement. His funeral was held at St. George’s with interment in the Notre Dame Cemetery.
Msgr. John Macdonald, Vicar-General and founder of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish, succeeded Msgr. Bambrick as pastor in 1967. In 1968, he directed renovations to the church interior to reflect the standards of Vatican II. The original tabernacle was moved to the left side of the church.
The altar was replaced by a free standing one and the altar rail was removed, leaving the sanctuary open. To the right of the altar, a new baptistery was built with a donation from the Catholic Women’s League. The tabernacle and the baptistery are made of mosaic.
Msgr. Macdonald established a parish council and surveyed the parish on the liturgical changes of Vatican II. He revived the tennis club, which had a membership of up to 240 during the 1970’s. Msgr. Macdonald also arranged for the installation of one of the first church elevators in the city. He presided over the 50th anniversary of the parish in 1973 and noted at the time that the years of struggling to pay off the parish debt were in the past. Retiring in November 1985, he was succeeded by Msgr. Gerald Donegan. Msgr. Macdonald died in February 1986, only three months after his retirement. His funeral was held at St. George’s with interment at Notre Dame Cemetery.
One notable even in the history of the parish was the ordination of Reverend Brendan O’Brien as bishop in 1987. Bishop O’Brien grew up at St. George’s and was assistant pastor under Msgr. Macdonald. After serving as an auxiliary bishop of Ottawa, he was appointed Bishop of Pembroke in 1993. In 1997, he was named Chaplain for the Ontario Knights of Columbus.
Msgr. Gerald Donegan was the pastor having the longest association with St. George’s. He had been an assistant to Msgr. Bambrick from 1950 to 1961 and served as pastor from 1985 to 1995. During the earlier period, he forged a strong association with the youth of the parish. He was also the spiritual director of the Catholic Women’s League – a position he retained almost 25 years.
One of his first initiatives as pastor was the construction of a link between the church and rectory. A long time chaplain of the Ottawa police, Msgr. Donegan undertook the police prayer campaign where individual parishioners were matched with a police officer. He also instituted an annual Lenten project in aid of Mother Theresa’s worldwide charities. Over the years, this activity raised thousands of dollars. He retired as pastor in 1995. Msgr Donegan’s first assistant was Fr. Michael Gillissie, a native son of the parish who was ordained in 1987.
Msgr. Robert Latour, a former pastor of Our Lady of Fatima, and St. Augustine’s parishes, was appointed to St. George’s in 1995. Msgr. Latour’s interest in music and ceremony led to a period of liturgical renewal. In the 1997 capital campaign for the Archdiocese, the parish raised some $351,000. He was assisted by Deacon David Apperly. Sister Kathleen Donnelly, GSIC, a retired school principal and administrator, faithfully assisted Msgr Latour for the ten years of his tenure.
Fr Leonard St. John was appointed pastor in 2003. He encouraged the Finance Council in its drive to update and upgrade the church hall. In 2012/2013 a new addition on the south side of the church was built to house new washrooms, a kitchen, storage rooms and an inside staircase to the church. An upstairs washroom was also added. The hall itself was slightly enlarged by removal of the old kitchen.
With the retirement of Fr Leonard in 2013, Msgr Hans Feichtinger was appointed administrator to the parish. He brings youth and vitality to the parish. His first move was to establish a parish logo showing St. George and the dragon. He encouraged the renewal of a youth group, Mass servers and a faith study group. Perhaps his biggest task is to handle the parish loan made for the parish renovations.
Many groups have been active at St. George’s over the years. The Council of the Catholic Women’s League (CWL) was one of these. . The CWL raised funds for the church bell in 1924 and its work over the years has included donations of $1800 towards the new convent in 1960 and $1500 for the baptistery in 1968. The CWL’s annual strawberry social started almost with the blessing of the new church and continues today even though the CWL is no longer active.
Through the years, other organizations such as the St. Vincent de Paul Society, the League of the Sacred Heart, and the Legion of Mary have also shaped the parish. With strong encouragement from Msgr. Latour, the Knights of Columbus set up a new council at St. George’s. Parent-teacher associations and school councils have linked the parish with St. George’s School, initially located next to the church on Piccadilly Avenue but moved in 2002 to Keyworth Avenue. Dedicated parents over the years have undertaken religious instruction for their children during the school year. The Scouting and Guide movements have a long partnership with the parish. For many years the annual mission bazaar assisted mission activities in Canada and abroad. An annual Christmas dinner has been held for decades. Initiatives such as the parish library and scripture study sessions have promoted greater faith development, a form of “continuing education for the soul.” In 1993, the parish set up pastoral and finance councils according to new diocesan norms.
The Story of St. George & the Dragon
The legend “Saint George and the Dragon”, Eastern in origin was brought back with the Crusaders. The earliest known depictions of the motif are from tenth or eleventh-century Cappadocia and eleventh century Georgia. In the iconography of the Eastern Orthodoxy, Saint George had been depicted as a soldier since at least the seventh century. The earliest known surviving narrative of the dragon episode is an eleventh century Georgian text. According to the Golden Legend, the narrative episode of Saint George and the Dragon took place in a place he called “Silene”, in Libya; the Golden Legend is the first to place this legend in Libya as a sufficiently exotic locale, where a dragon might be found. In the tenth-century Georgian narrative, the place is the fictional city of Lasia, and the idolatrous emperor who rules the city is called Selinus. The town had a pond, as large as a lake, where a dragon dwelled that envenomed all the countryside. To appease the dragon, the people of Silene used to feed it two sheep every day, and when the sheep failed, they fed it their children, chosen by lottery. It happened that the lot fell on the king’s daughter, who is called Sabra in some versions of the story. The king, distraught with grief, told the people they could have all his gold and silver and half of his kingdom if his daughter were spared; the people refused. The daughter was sent out to the lake, dressed as a bride, to be fed to the dragon.Saint George by chance rode past the lake. The princess, trembling, sought to send him away, but George vowed to remain. The dragon reared out of the lake while they were conversing. Saint George fortified himself with the Sign of the Cross, charged it on horseback with his lance, and gave it a grievous wound. He then called to the princess to throw him her girdle, and he put it around the dragon’s neck. When she did so, the dragon followed the girl like a meek beast on a leash. The princess and Saint George led the dragon back to the city of Silene, where it terrified the people at its approach. But Saint George called out to them, saying that if they consented to become Christians and be baptized, he would slay the dragon before them. The king and the people of Silene converted to Christianity, George slew the dragon, and the body was carted out of the city on four ox-carts. “Fifteen thousand men baptized, not counting women and children.” On the site where the dragon died, the king built a church to the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint George, and from its altar a spring arose whose waters cured all disease.