The Parishioners of Corpus Christi, Toronto

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Does anyone remember Bill Kurelek being a parishioner at Corpus Christi? Kurelek painted the mural that is in the East Chapel at our parish church. This is the fortieth anniversary of his death at age 50. It may be important for us to remember him and to bear in mind specific memories of how our parishioners related to him. For example, the father of a friend of mine knew Kurelek well, and when the artist was in need of money, he would buy a small painting  for a few hundred dollars, giving encouragement and practical help to a friend. Of course his generosity has been rewarded many times over. 
Beach Metro for Tuesday March 21 tells a good part of Kurelek's story, but it is written from the point of view of a neighbour and tells little about his parish life. It does say that he attributed his recovery from acute depression and schizophrenia to “finding God”. He became a Roman Catholic. He lived in Corpus Christ Parish on Balsam Ave. Did he  attend Corpus Christi? Were our parishioners helpful to him? How? He made his way courageously through the centre of the pain of his mental illness and persevered in developing the great gift that came to him through that.
If so, we had best remember and share that we have been that kind of parish. Is this an important and relevant part of our history, our tradition as parishioners at Corpus Christi? What can you tell us about our parish culture in this regard?
Peter Nightingale.

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Peter, a great deal of William Kurelek's life and faith journey is painstakingly documented at this website: http://kurelek.ca/biography

There is even a (too brief) mention of Corpus Christi and the completion of the mural in the year of his death - 1977.

But several parishioners have spoken to me about Kurelek - Edith Gerrard in particular, who has been a marvelous store of information in all the years I have known her, for the church and the Triangle. It may also be worth asking Frank and Anna Sydney, Vi White and Gerdy and Hugh Doherty - all parishioners for over 50 years. I will see what else I can dig up. 

Sorry I meant Edythe! Spelled the name wrong.

Linda and I were at Corpus when the painting was being done. We actually even attended the mass at the park that the painting depicts. Kurelek also had a lady that helped do the background painting.

I know that William Kurelek was a parishioner of Corpus Christi, I knew his wife, Jean better than I knew Bill. The mural he painted was from one of our parish activities, a picnic in Kew Gardens. Fr. Fournier was the pastor at the time & we had a yearly picnic in the park. Mass was said in the park prior to our festivities. Bill was there & captured the spirit of the day in that mural. After Bill's death, Jean was an active member of St. John's but always came to Corpus Christi mass Tuesday to Friday because at that time Fr. Henry was our pastor and daily mass was at noon and that timing suited Jean better.

How wonderful Linda and Tony! How lucky to have known him in person. I just collaborated on a book in 2016, about Canadian Outsider Artists and Art Brut artists, and he receives a very special mention in the foreword for his position one of the 2 foremost among these.

Thanks for the responses, Anthony, Linda and Tony. So now, as a relative newcomer to the parish, I know that Kurelek was supported by his neighbours, by organizations intended to support artists in their profession, and I know how they d Could we persist with the conversation for a while and see ifid it. I also know that Kurelek was a member of Corpus Christi parish and continued to attend the parish and participate. We still know very little about what the parish did for him or how they did it, or about how he responded to the parish. In building our parish again, any and every detail will help.

Kurelek's out of print autobiography Someone With Me is available second-hand on Amazon. I am sure it is a treasure trove of information. https://www.amazon.ca/Someone-Me-Autobiography-William-Kurelek/dp/B...

I am hopeful that it is likely to contain more information about Corpus Christi, in his own words.

Convivium Magazine published an article about Kurelek by John O'Brien, s.j. that looks at his life, art and faith but does not specifically mention his parish life at Corpus Christi.

https://www.convivium.ca/articles/the-resurrection-of-william-kurelek

A picture of Bill Kurelek, Canadian author and artist, conducting a program at Beaches Branch, Toronto Public Library.

And another useful link.

http://spacing.ca/toronto/2014/04/29/apocalypse-beaches-william-kur...

I have read the book Someone With Me a couple of times and there is no reference to Corpus Christi parish at all. Maybe his mural tells us more about his attitude to the parish than anything in print. More about that later.

Have any of us recently looked closely at the mural in our East Chapel painted by William Kurelek? I went in this morning to remind myself of what Kurelek, our genius parish artist, said to us abut our own parish before he died.

He looks at the parish from the point of view of someone approaching us from the city. He has come  down from Kew Garden Park towards the boardwalk and he sees us kneeling on the turf surrounding the clergy of the parish who stand in the middle of an oval-shaped ring that we form around them. The parish has no walls. Everyone can see us. They see the clergy through us, the laity, but since we are praying, on our knees, with heads bent, they can see the clergy seeming to rise above us.

We are close knit, undivided, in a double or triple formation, closely backing up the one in front of us, shoulder to shoulder. Our attention is not on our neighbour, but on what is happening at the centre. On the right there is one priest and one deacon, and the same on the left. It is 1977, the year before Pope John Paul II was elected Pope. All the work on the Vatican II documents is finished and the changes of Vatican II are being implemented. There is quite a distance between the clergy on the left, who might be the reformers or liberals, and the clergy on the right who might be the conservatives or traditionalists.

In the centre, between them, is a figure that seems to be Christ, the tallest of all. He stands facing, not the clergy or the parishioners, but us, the painter, Kurelek, and each of us, the on-lookers, who go to see the painting. The eyes of Christ work like the eyes in an icon. They engage the eyes of the viewer and draw us into prayer. He is holding a basket full of wrapped gifts. We cannot see what any of the gifts might be, but they are many. So while the clergy are offering us the sacrament of communion, Christ is offering us the gifts, but what is going to happen next?

Christ is looking at me, who stand outside the circle of communion. He knows what gift is contained and concealed in each small parcel. Is he asking me to choose blindly? Is he deciding which gift to choose for me? Will I accept it if he does? Is he looking to see what gifts I already have? Is he choosing which gift to give me so that I can make a contribution to the gap at the centre of the church or parish, where he stands?

I think this painting of Christ is one of the great ones. There is such an urgency in the way he is looking at us parishioners of Corpus Christi.

Am I going too far in interpreting the painting? Go and look again for yourself. What is Kurelek saying to you today?

Peter.

What lovely reflective observations Peter. It very much makes me want to rush to church to look at it and see what you describe. In provoking these thoughts and even this conversation between us, I feel the mural is very much working as Kurelek intended, to lift our faith community as one body. Would you mind if I also shared your thoughts in our parish Facebook group? I am sure many others would greatly enjoy it.

Gavin

p.s. I share for easy reference, a photograph I took of a detail of the mural a few years ago. It is a poor substitute for the real thing, mind you.

Dear Gavin,

Thanks for your generous reply. Of course you can use it for the Facebook group. I also appreciate your adding the photo you took. Actually, my leaky old patched- up eyes had made a mistake. In trying to get close enough to see what is in the basket, the gifts I talk about in the reflection, I thought I was looking at Christ as the one who was bearing them, but it was the priest who held them although it might be Christ who chooses for each of us. Anyway, your picture is now easier for me to see than the mural itself.

Thanks, Gavin.

Peace, 
Peter

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