Wrecking ball spares religious relic

Corpus Christi School's cross saved by Facebook campaign, to be displayed at nearby church

When Joe O’Leary heard that his beloved elementary school was about to be torn down, he thought the notion was downright sacrilegious.

So he went on a crusade to save Corpus Christi’s cross, which once stood at the peak of the building.

Last fall, when Toronto’s Catholic school board began selling off surplus properties in order to expand existing schools and build new ones, Corpus Christi, built in 1920, was put on the chopping block.

Toronto developer Urbancorp purchased the property near Dundas Street East and Kingston Road with plans to build 28 detached and semi-detached houses.

“That school was more than just a brick building, it was our second home and the faculty, they were like our second parents,” said O’Leary of the school he attended from 1979 to 1988.

When demolition of the school began this summer the Facebook group of the school’s former students was bombarded with messages about the building’s destruction.

When word reached O’Leary, the group’s administrator, he said it felt like a punch in the gut.

“And then I realized, ‘oh my God, our cross is still on top of the building’,” O’Leary recalls. “My next thought was, there’s no way they’re going to destroy our cross.”

That evening, O’Leary called up the demolition company to plead that they spare the 500-pound limestone cross.

Short of getting the Pope to tweet about it, O’Leary didn’t think he had a prayer of saving the religious symbol.

Then, an idea struck. He turned to the other good book — Facebook.

O’Leary encouraged his Facebook friends to petition the builder and the demolition company not to destroy the cross.

“When I followed up the next morning, the secretary was practically begging me to stop the calls,” he said.

Urbancorp got the message and promptly halted the demolition and arranged for a crane to remove the cross at a cost of approximately $20,000.

O’Leary, accompanied by a small group of former students, was there to witness the lowering of the cross.

Unfortunately, the base of the cross broke on the way down.

O’Leary is trying to raise money to repair the cross, which is currently being held in storage at the Toronto Catholic District School Board building. Plans are afoot for it to be a feature in the prayer garden at the nearby Corpus Christi Church.

“One day, I will take my two children to the garden and I’ll be able to say ‘that’s daddy’s cross,’ ” O’Leary said.

About this article:

By: Alexandra Bosanac
Posted: Jul 18 2011 5:47 pm
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto