About Us

The Story of St. Martin of Tours Church

The story of St. Martin's Parish has been one of almost constant struggle; from its birthing pains throughout its years of growth, to its present uncertain future, the parish has had to face and surmount numerous challenges. This history will concern itself with a brief survey of the varied personalities of the Pastors who have served the Parish over the years and it will highlight the main events or developments during their tenures.

From 1826 'til 1961, London was a very compact city and, until 1912, there were only two Catholic churches in the city - the Cathedral and St. Mary's. So it is not surprising that Bishop Fallon initially rejected a request by Catholics in London South who wanted a church in their area. The bishop wasn't very diplomatic - he said, "They shouldn't be so lazy and should be able to walk to the Cathedral without any problem". However, these folks were a match for the Bishop and finally secured his assent. St. Martin's parishioners threw themselves into the task; Martin O'Sullivan, one of the leaders of the local London South Catholics, donated the land, donated the High Altar and a stained window and apparently, named the church. Men of the Parish excavated the basement and worked on the construction of the church. The black and white picture near the entrance of the church shows the church under construction. One of the workers in the picture was identified by a parishioner as her grandfather. Bishop Fallon laid the cornerstone and donated the stained glass window of the Resurrection on August 20, 1911.

On May 5, 1912, Bishop Fallon officially dedicated and opened St. Martin of Tours Parish church.

Former Pastors

The event was marked by a Mass held at the school under the auspices of the first Pastor Msgr. Francis Xavier Laurendeau, 1911-1918.   On May 5, 1912, Bishop Fallon officially dedicated and opened St. Martin of Tours Parish church.  The first marriage in the new church was conducted on September 18, 1912; John J. Onnby and Anna Smith were the names of that first couple.

 Father Laurendeau served as the inaugural Pastor until 1918. Guy Lombardo’s Orchestra got its start in our Church basement! The Sweetest Sounds This side of Heaven lived at the corner of Horton and Richmond - where Labatt’s Retail store stands now.  A period of instability followed the departure of Father Laurendeau; the second Pastor, Father Tobin, was forced to retire after one year due to illness, while Father Daniel Forster, 1918-1924, his replacement, was suspended from his duties during Palm Sunday devotions in March, 1923, by Bishop Fallon.   This was the culmination of a long standing feud between the two men over matters as diverse as proposed additions to the school and the suitability of candidates for Confirmation.  Father Forster never recovered from his abrupt, public dismissal; he suffered a nervous breakdown and died a short time later.

 The task of healing the Parish fell to Monsignor Peter J. Mckeon, 1924-1938, who left his position as rector of St. Peter’s Cathedral to become St. Martin of Tours fourth pastor. During his long tenure, which ended with his death on September 23, 1938, G. McCann became the first parishioner to enter religious life (with the Ursulines in 1928).  In 1933, John Uyen became the first Priest to come from our parish. On March 6, 1937, disaster in the form of fire, destroyed the altar - a gift of the O’Sullivan family -  and the metal pipes of the organ suffered a lot of damage,  and most of the Sanctuary.  Repairs were not quickly made du to the strain on resources caused by the Great London Flood of the same year.   Msgr. McKeon died in 1938 while serving as the pastor.

            Father W. Phelan, 1938-1950, was appointed administrator following Monsignor McKeon’s death in 1938, and later was installed as St. Martin of Tours fifth Pastor.  He served until 1950, and during his tenure, the present Stations of the Cross were acquired.


Monsignor West T. Flannery, 1950-1968, succeeded Father Phelan and served as St. Martin of Tours for eighteen eventful years. As the city expanded southwards in the 1950’s it became necessary to create two “daughter” Parishes, Holy Rosary in 1951 and St. John the Divine in 1965, shrinking St. Martin of Tours boundaries to an area now known as “Old South”.  Altered circumstances resulted in the return of Holy Rosary to St. Martin of Tours in 2005.  Monsignor Flannery was an evangelizer par excellence.

            He founded and hosted the “School for Christ” radio programme from 1939 until 1954 (CFPL RADIO) and the televised Version from 1954 until 1964 (CFPL TV).  During his tenure at St. Martin of Tours, Monsignor Flannery began to implement the reforms mandated by Vatican II.  The Altar was relocated so as to face the congregation and Lay Readers were introduced.  Under his leadership (1962) the Carthcart addition was completed and the church repainted (beams).


Monsignor Flannery was also responsible for rebuilding the narthex area of the church in 1962.  Dramatic changes continued under Father Albert Spencer, 1968-1978, who was the seventh Pastor at St. Martin of Tours.  The pulpit and communion rail were removed, the marble sanctuary floor was carpeted and when the dome was repainted, the image of the Transfiguration and other decorative motifs were covered up.  He claimed parishioners were distracted by them.  These controversial changes were only a part of Father Spencer’s legacy.   He established the first Parish Council, served as National Director of the C.W.L., welcomed the Korean Community into our Parish in 1975, and oversaw the creation of our third, and final “daughter” parish, St. Justin in 1977. 

In the years following Father Spencer’s departure, successive pastors, Father Brian Hunter (1978-1984)*.  He tried to promote celebrations honouring St. Martin and established a shrine to the Saint at the back of the Church.  He ordered new vestments and had the windows releaded.  He also helped revise the school system’s Religious Education Programs.   


In our first 72 years, we had 8 Pastors/Administrators; in the last 23, we have had 7-partly due to a change in the length of appointments. Ill health forced the resignation of Fr. Marentette (1984 - 1986) our 9th Pastor.  He saw the need for major repairs but was not able to get anything concrete started before he had to resign for health reason.


Father Clare Coleman (1984-1990), fresh from missionary work in Peru, became our 10th Pastor.  At his first Mass, he began in Spanish and reached “Lord Have Mercy before he caught himself.  It was a wonderful introduction to a warm and friendly man.  He is presently Priests’ Personnel Director for the diocese.  He is responsible for restoring our Rose Window and for the gardens on Cathcart St.   Our first Pastoral Minister was appointed during his all to brief ternure.  He later went to serve as Rector of St. Peter’s Cathedral.


Father John Sharp (1990-1993), And Fr. Bellefeuille (1993 - 1994) had plans to renovate the Church, but was transferred before anything got off the ground.  Fr. Sharp was interested in developing closer ties with the Schools.  Now a days, Fr. Sharp  occupies himself as a  Vicar General in our Diocese and the Chair of the Sexual Abuse Committee.


Father Thomas Mooney (1994-2001) He had served as a curate at St. Martin’s years before.  Not only tended to the aging physical house of worship, but also engaged the Parishioners in Social Justice Issues.  In addition to the Korean Community, the Hispanic Community have also found a home at St. Martin of Tours and celebrate Mass regularly here.  The Slovenian Community was also here until 2006.  In recent years, a Breakfast and Dinner programme have been established to reach out to the increasing number of marginalized citizens in our community.  Ill  health forced his retirement in 2001.


In the new millennium, Father David Rankin, s.j. (2001-2003), our leader from Down Under (Australia, that is!) initiated minor renovations like the repainting of the Way of the Cross images.


Father Fred Howard-Smith (2003 - 2008)  have continued to develop new initiatives and outreach programmes to meet the challenges of an increasingly harsh world. He was instrumental in the welcoming reintegration of our former daughter Parish members when Holy Rosary was closed; he has revitalized the music ministry, both traditional and contemporary choirs, and he has helped us develop a survival blueprint which will allow St. Martin’s reach its Centennial year, and to enter its second century as a welcoming beacon. Fr. Fred has initiated a lot of renovations in the Rectory.  From the beginning of 2006 to present time, the Rectory is no longer residence for the Pastor; it has been converted into office space and for the Christian Education Ministry to utilize for Sunday School and Year Round Vacation Bible School Programs for the children of our Parish.  Under his tenure, the Narthex (the carpeted area) has been renovated.

            Now, in June 2008, St. Martin’s said farewell to Fr. Fred as he embarked on a new odyssey with a new Parish - Mary Immaculate, London.  Fr. Fred left behind enduring memories; his passion for social justice and his steadfast defence of our Parish in the face of threatened closure. Although, the Church renovations, well advanced though they are, must be completed by his successor.


Fr. Francis Thekkumkattil, CST ( July 2008 - Present).   Under his leadership and the support of the parish community, a lot of the renovations that were planned out under Fr. Fred, came to completion with the change of the roof for the church and the rectory; the carpeting and flooring of the church and sacristy; the replacement of all the kneelers and hardware of all the pews in the church; the side entrance on Cathcart St. was redone by putting tile flooring; and, a couples of rooms had the carpet changed.  Also, St. Martin of Tours has been under the financial watch of the diocese, but thanks to the financial support of the congregation, we have been able to be in a better position in 2011.  Now, we are moving forward with the next phase: a spiritual program called: ARISE Together with Christ, a new initiative by our diocese as we also celebrate St. Martin’s Parish 100th Anniversary in 2012… And our faith journey...continues…