St. Patrick’s Parish celebrates centenary

Oak Bay Roman Catholic church has deep roots in community

The recent centenary mass at St. Patrick’s Parish was a milestone in a rich history that began in January 1911 when a small group of Franciscan nuns arrived in the District of Oak Bay.

The nuns were known as the Poor Clares, and although their mother house was located in New Orleans, they travelled all the way to Oak Bay to continue their work. Their arrival on the South Island seemed the perfect time to found a new Catholic parish.

The work of the Poor Clares was supported by a prominent contractor of the day Michael Carlin, who donated four lots of land in Oak Bay to the sisters.

The parish was established and originally encompassed all of the District of Oak Bay and a significant portion of the City of Victoria.

A new parish priest, Father Adrien Vullinghs, arrived and being an enterprising sort, he not only drew up the plans for the monastery and church, but also acted as the main contractor and foreman for the job.

The buildings rose in the midst of what was then wide open country, and Our Lady of Lourdes Church was consecrated and opened for worship on Haultain Street in Oak Bay on Dec. 15, 1912.

The next major development in the history of the church occurred in 1954, when the parish came under the leadership of Father Michael McNamara. He opened St. Patrick’s elementary school that year and oversaw the construction of the new church in 1960.

Rev. Father William MacDonald, the current pastor of St. Patrick’s, laughs when asked about the renaming of the church in 1960.

“Father Mac had the new church renamed St. Patrick’s, although I suppose there’s a fair chance of a connection between that name and Father Macs’ Irish heritage, I’m sure it was all done within ecclesiastic tradition.”

Regardless of the motivation for the renaming, the new church, now known as St. Patrick’s, was consecrated on Christmas Eve 1960.

That enterprising spirit has never left St. Patrick’s. Some 800 families now make up the congregation of the parish. Their work, through the parish itself and related organizations like the Knights of Columbus, the Catholic Women’s League, the St. Vincent de Paul Society and a variety of community outreach groups, has continued to contribute to the community.

The parochial school at St. Patrick’s continues to operate and thrive as well. It has an enrolment of 330 children and a teaching staff of 29, a considerable growth from the two teachers and 35 students that started the school some 60 years ago.

The church is also the home to a parallel congregation of Vietnamese parishioners who use St. Patrick’s to celebrate mass every Sunday. That mass is led by Rev. Peter Ho, a former clergy of St. Patrick’s. It has an additional 50 families who contribute their energies to St. Patrick’s.

“Our work in the community is life affirming,” said MacDonald.

“You can see it through the building initiatives, in the school programs, through our fundraising for a host of causes. … We’re here to care for the spiritual needs of our community, and we contribute strong citizens to that community. There’s so much that doesn’t work out there – this does.”

St. Patrick’s celebrated its Centenary Mass on Sept. 15, and MacDonald said that the event was  joyous, an opportunity to give thanks for the successes of the past and to set  goals for a bright future.