Santa Cruz Mission
Portuguese School, Seniors’ Residences
60 Rue Rachel Ouest, Montreal
We are at the heart of the community, its geographic heart and its actual heart. Because the community has a special love for this place. And I believe that derives from the fact that it is place that was acquired by us, with lots of work and sacrifice – José Maria Cardoso.
Since its founding in 1964, the Santa Cruz Mission has congregated Montreal’s Portuguese Catholics. Located in the heart of the Portuguese neighbourhood in Le Plateau-Mont-Royal since 1986, the mission, which includes a community centre, a Portuguese language school, and a seniors’ residence, has been one of the main hubs the community’s religious and civic activity.
One of the first preoccupations of Portuguese immigrants in Canada was the celebration of their faith and religious traditions, around which they organized much of their family functions and community calendars. Initially served by French-Canadian priests who spoke some Portuguese, laymen in Montreal – originally gathered at the Notre-Dame Basilica – organized themselves into the União Católica Portuguesa (1959-62) and advocated with the Catholic prelate in Quebec and Portugal – with the help of diplomatic officials – to bring missionaries from Portugal who could tend to their spiritual and social needs in their own language. They also advocated for the creation of Portuguese national churches. Led by the French-Canadian Fr. Thomas Leblanc, in August 1964, they convinced the Archbishop Paul-Émile Léger to purchase a former Jewish gymnasium on 440 rue Clark and create the the Santa Cruz Mission. In the first year of the Mission, Leblanc launched a St. Vincent de Paul Society branch, a Sunday school, and various youth programs.
While pleased with the work of the French-Canadian priest, Estado Novo officials worked to replace him with the Portuguese mainlander priest Fr. Frederico Fatela, whose views aligned with the dictatorship. Starting in August 1965, Fatela became the Mission’s director, a role that he held for several years. During his tenure, he launched a boy scout group, and introduced the Azorean religious traditions, the Senhor Santo Cristo procession and the Feast of the Holy Ghost in 1979. Fatela also led the creation of the largest Portuguese-language elementary school in Canada, with support from the governments of Lisbon and Ottawa. The school opened in 1971 with nearly 500 students and 15 teachers. Its student body grew to nearly 900 in the early 1980s and remained above 400 until the end of the century.
As the community grew around it, the Mission’s original location became small. In 1984, the Santa Cruz community, now directed by Fr. José Manuel de Freitas, bought the old Catholic school Our Lady of Mont Royal on the corner of rue Clark and Rachel. There it built a community centre that housed two Portuguese schools – including the private high school Lusitania, founded by João Barros in 1975 – a community kitchen, hall, library, and various social and cultural programs. That same year, Freitas, who was from Madeira, also introduced the Nossa Senhora do Monte procession typical of that island. Two years later, 1986, the new Santa Cruz church, with seating room for 750 people, was built beside the community centre.
Since 1989, the Santa Cruz Mission has had three directors: Fr. José Pimenta, Fr. José Maria Cardoso, and Fr. Adam Laskarzewski. They were supported by several deacons from Portugal, Brazil, Germany, Indian, Indonesia, Philippines, and other backgrounds. Under their direction, the Mission has continued to grow its services and programs, including a residence for low-income seniors with 32 apartments in 1989; a Universidade dos Tempos Livres (Leisure Time University) and academic tuna in 2004; and a rancho folclórico (folk dance troupe).
Hora dos Portugueses