In the early 1900’s, Catholics in this area were served by visiting priests. One Oblate priest, from St. Augustine’s Parish in Vancouver, would travel each Sunday by interurban train to offer Mass, but chiefly the Oblate Fathers from Mission City across the Fraser River, provided this service. From 1910 to 1912, Mass was celebrated in the home of the De la Giroday family.
In 1912, a building was erected by Hammond & Son, who were local contractors. Mr. De la Giroday and Mr. Bernard McElroy were also credited for their efforts in helping with the construction. On completion, members of the congregation were able to move in to their own church located on the crest of Old Yale Road, between what is now Park Avenue and Campbell Avenue, east of the railroad station which had a seating capacity for about 100 people. At the opening ceremony on Sunday July 7th, 1912, His Grace, Archbishop McNeil of Vancouver, celebrated the Mass, assisted by Father Jan, O.M.I. The children’s choir and band from St. Mary’s School in Mission sang and played for the event. Catholics from the surrounding areas traveled by CPR train to attend the special occasion. The front of the church was decorated with evergreens and flags of both Canada and the United States. The US flag was in honour of Father McCarthy, of St. Ann’s Church in Sumas, Washington, who served the evening Mass, assisted by Father Fohr. The local choir, under the direction of Mrs. Cannonville and Mrs. Gernaey, lead the specially prepared music.
In 1915 the first of two fires caused extensive damage to the church and much hardship to the small community who reconstructed it. Then in 1924 the second disaster occurred and the structure was completely destroyed in an early morning fire. It was thought that the cause was a near by bush fire. In November 1925 Mr. J. Macdonald had the construction of a new church well under way on the same site.
In 1929, by decision of Archbishop W.M. Duke, Saint Ann’s became an official establishment and Father D.A. O’Carrol was the first official parish priest. Long-time parishioners recalled the next major under-taking when in June 1931, braving unsuitable weather conditions and three days of effort, contractor Bryant successfully moved the church down the hill to a more central area on the Mission Highway, at the corner of Hazel Street (now George Ferguson Way), where it remained until its demolition in November 2003. Mrs. DesMaze planted the holly trees, which became a landmark on the Gladys church property and they too remained standing until 2003. It was Father O’Carrol who undertook the building of the Rectory next to the Church in 1931.
In 1934, Father B. Caszki came to serve St. Ann’s parish as it was still very small and very poor. Father Csaki worked in the bush cutting firewood and shingle blocks to help finance their many needs and in 1935 the church was enlarged. After five years in Abbotsford he was assigned to Christ the King Seminary and the remaining time as pastor in Qualicum Beach. There followed a succession of four other pastors; Father T.J. Mulcair, 1939 -1940; Father D.F. White, 1940-1942; Father Maurice Cronin, 1942-1943; and Father Joseph P. Kane, 1943-1946. Many nationalities were beginning to settle in the Fraser Valley, and in 1946 Father Csaki was reassigned back to the St. Ann’s. He spoke six languages, which were of great value to him in ministering to his flock. Two major events demanded dedicated work from Father Csaki, the 1948 Fraser River flood and the 1956 Hungarian revolution. Refugees were brought to the Abbotsford Airport to be temporarily housed. It was during this era that Father J. Michael Bach served for eight years as a most able assistant to Father Csaki.
During these years of the parish, the Hungarian women had an Altar Society, doing all the duties connected with the Altar. They raised money for needed supplies by holding special teas and bazaars and selling their ethnic goodies, which were enjoyed by all. At that time there was no Parish Council, Knights of Columbus Council, or other groups in the Parish except the Catholic Women’s League, which was established and registered in December 1930. A few of these ladies of the parish are still members today. They too worked hard in the service of the church holding bazaars, suppers, and crafts sales. There was quite a challenge in those years between the two organizations but all went to the benefit of the church when it came to raising money.
In 1949 the church was once again enlarged by an addition to the east end of the church. It housed a large sanctuary in the center, a sacristy in the south wing and a small vestry in the north end. Part of the old church area was revamped and this made it possible to seat another 80 people, bringing the total to 200 seats. The basement was also expanded to the full length and cement stairs replaced wooden at the front entrance. A major part of the work was done by volunteer help from the parish.
A new tower was erected to house a 1000 pound bell in 1953. Elevating the bell to the top of the tower was supervised by Joe Vincent. The new bell was a gift to the church from the Hungarian members of St. Ann’s congregation. It was imported from Germany from the Bochum Goose Steel Works.
In the years that followed 1960, the parish almost doubled in number of families, going from 450 in 1966 to 725 in 1976. At the newly acquired site, the turning of the sod took place on April 2, 1966 and the official opening of the new Church was held November 19, 1966. Archbishop Martin M. Johnson was on hand to give his Solemn Blessing and to say the first Mass. Father Paul Foran, who had replaced Father Csaki, worked diligently with a planning committee on the design and financing of the new church.
“The church shall be the meeting tent of the Lord”. With this beautiful concept in mind, the church, designed by Reno C. Negrin & Associates, was also intended to emphasize the renewal of worship called for by the Second Vatican Council. An accent is on the worshipping parish family gathered about the altar of Sacrifice. The church is square in design; the main entrance at the southeast corner, the main altar diagonally opposite. Seating for approximately 400, fans out in a quarter circle from the altar. A skylight, hidden in the peak above the sanctuary, added emphasis to the area. Basic structural materials were; steel beam roof, reinforced concrete columns and brick walls. The church was finished with a plaster ceiling, recessed lights and clay tile floors for the price tag of $166,000.
The main altar has a molded concrete base supporting the Oxford gray granite top. The altar itself was consecrated on November 16, 1966. At the same time, relics of Saint Irenaeus, a Christian Martyr of apostolic times, and of Japanese Martyrs who died from the Faith in the early seventeenth century following the missionary efforts of Saint Francis Xavier, were enclosed in the altar. The baptismal font was placed at the entrance to the church. Stations of the Cross, donated by various families, are beautifully crafted in wood and ceramic are on the south and west wall.
The Statue of the Madonna artistically carved from Linden wood in Italy was given by Mrs. A. Walsh, and the Vigil Stand, Pascal Candle Stand and the Sanctuary Lights were all designed and crafted by Mr. A. Allinott. The Rectory adjoined the church and was finished with cedar siding. Two items linked the new church with the old. The bell, purchased in 1953 from Germany, had been moved to a new tower in the entrance plaza and the tabernacle, constructed and installed by parishioners from the old church, was moved to the north wall of the new sanctuary.
By 1980 there were 1,114 families on the parish list. Typical Sunday attendance for Mass was about 1,250 persons. That year 58 persons received baptism; four were adults, 34 children and 1 adult were confirmed, 37 children made First Holy Communion, there were 19 marriages and 24 funerals. A formal request was sent to Archbishop Carney, to obtain his approval, in principal, to build a parish centre which would provide the parish an environment in which its faith and education could further grow.
Following Father Boomars as pastor was Father William F. Ashley, 1982-1985. In September 1984, Pope John Paul II made his visit to Canada which was especially significant for St. Ann’s parishioners; the Pope celebrated Mass with over 250,000 Catholics at the Abbotsford Airport. Many parishioners participated in the Mass choir and volunteer duties.
Father Jensen served as pastor at Saint Ann’s from 1985 to1995. St. Ann’s school was built in 1985 on seventeen acres of land in Clearbrook, at Townline Road, marking a new era in Catholic education.
In late 1994 about 200 of St. Ann’s families would leave our parish to attend the newly developed St. James parish on the west side of Abbotsford. We were happy for those who would be attending a parish closer to their home, but sad because it divided some family members who now had children and grandchildren who would no longer be with them at Sunday Mass and other regular gatherings.
From 1995-1997 Father William Mendenhall became our parish priest. In 1996, he made changes to the office area. Renovations were made to the entrance by closing it in to provide more office space and at the same time a ramp was built outside the entrance, enabling easier accessibility for the handicapped. At the altar, a communion rail was installed with carpeting for kneeling, tiles replaced carpeting in the surrounding area, wood paneling covered the wall behind the altar, sanctuary lighting was changed, and a marble altar was consecrated as the new high altar.
In 1997, Fr. Tien Tran became the pastor of St. Ann’s. During his time of pastor, the new Parish Centre would be built and blessed by Archbishop Adam Exner in 1999. This new facility will house seven classrooms; to be used as a school in the future, a seniors lounge, library/meeting room, and a large auditorium,(approximately 400 seats), for a total size of almost 26,000 square feet. The space will be used to foster growth, spiritually and socially, by the various groups of the church.
Fr. Glenn Dion came in 2003 to be pastor for one year. In 2004, the parish celebrated its 75th Anniversary as Fr. Robert Wong was administrator. In 2006, Fr. James Hughes became the parish’s fifteenth pastor in its history. In 2009, the parish celebrated its 80th Anniversary with many festivities throughout the year including putting a time capsule in the Parish Centre to be opened at the 100th Anniversary in 2029.
St. Ann, pray for us!