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The Croatian Canadian Community of Ottawa

A Brief History of Pastoral Care

© Ivan Zuger, 2009

The arrival of Croatians in the Ottawa region does not mirror the immigration pattern of Croatians to Canada. The first significant influx began immediately after the Second World War. Most of the immigrants came from various parts of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Many of them arrived here after spending a few years in crowded displaced persons camps in Austria, Italy or other parts of Europe. Immigration remained steady for the next 20 years, but dropped sharply after 1977. Unlike the Italians, for example, the Croatians did not settle in any particular part of the city.


Since the 1970s, the community has been largely sustained by a modest birthrate, family reunification, refugees, and by Croatian Canadians from other parts of Canada who are attracted to the capital by jobs in the government, university and high-tech sector. While some have been transient to the region, enough have settled here permanently to keep the community slowly growing. It took thirty years of hope, dedication and prayer before Croatian Canadians of Ottawa could attend religious services in their own Parish Church of St. Leopold Mandic.


The first formal Croatian association in Ottawa, the Croatian Canadian Club, was established in 1957. Besides various cultural and sports activities, the Club also organized the participation of Croatian Catholics in the Slovak Eucharist celebrations led by Reverend Jozef Vavrovic. Over the next decade, the Club facilitated occasional visits by the following Croatian priests serving in Canada and the United States: The Right Reverend Monsignor Stjepan Lackovic, Reverend Serafin Vistica, Reverend Eterovic, Reverend Hrascanec, and Reverend Vilim Primorac.


Early Croatian immigrants with Rev. Jozef Vavrovic after Sunday mass, Ottawa, 1957. (Courtesy Ivan Zuger Research Collection)

In 1969, Reverend Marijan Jurcevic, a Dominican priest from Croatia, enrolled in doctoral degree program at the Dominican College of Philosophy and Theology in Ottawa. He combined his efforts with those of three young Croatian theology students, Marinko Zadro, Jure Kristo, and Jozo Jelinic, and offered regular Sunday Mass for Croatians in the Chapel of St. Jean-Baptiste Parish at 96 Empress Avenue. During this period, religious and social life blossomed with a significant influx of new Croatian immigrants. In 1971, during the visit of His Eminence, Cardinal Franjo Kuharic, Archbishop of Zagreb, The Right Reverend Monsignor Vladimir Stankovic, and Reverend Zivko Kustic from Zagreb, some 300 Croatian Canadians attended a meeting requesting the establishment of a Croatian Catholic mission in Ottawa. But the community was deemed insufficiently strong for such an undertaking, and was left to its own devices following the return of the Croatian Dominican priests to Croatia.


On November 4, 1973, at a gathering of over sixty Croatian Canadians, a proposal by Mr. Petar Culumovic resulted in the founding of the Croatian Catholic Community (CCC) which looked after the religious needs of Croatian Catholics until the formation of the Croatian Parish. The CCC trained several Dominican priests to offer Sunday Mass in the Croatian language. For the next four years religious services were offered by Reverend J.M. Tillard, Reverend Denis Dion, Reverend Brian Francis Beeching, and on special occasions by Croatian priests Reverend Josip Djuran, Reverend Ivan Golec, Reverend Ivan Kecerin, Reverend Jurica Jezerinac, The Right Reverend Monsignor Stjepan Sprajc, Reverend Ivan Bradvica, and Reverend Vlatko Poljicak.


In 1975, the community was visited by The Most Reverend Mijo Skvorc, Bishop of Zagreb, and The Right Reverend Monsignor Vladimir Stankovic, Director of pastoral care for the Croatian Diaspora. Once again, the CCC expressed the need to have a Croatian priest. Two years later, His Excellency Joseph A. Plourde, Archbishop of Ottawa, accredited Reverend Tadija Pavlovic from the Diocese of Mostar to serve the Community. However, Reverend Pavlovic unexpectedly returned to Mostar in 1979. What followed was truly a blessing. A very devoted and passionate priest from St. Jean-Baptiste Convent, Reverend Martin Skinner, for seven years helped the Community experience remarkable growth and paved the way for the establishment of the Croatian Parish. Fluent in the Croatian language and culture after twice visiting Croatia, he was embraced by the Community.


In 1986, a Croatian priest well known for his dynamic managerial abilities, Reverend Vinko Delinac, from the Diocese of Djakovo, Croatia, arrived to serve the Community. Later that year, His Excellency, Joseph A. Plourde, Archbishop of Ottawa, established the regional Croatian ethnic Parish of St. Leopold Mandic, and assigned to it the church facilities of Notre Dame Des Anges Parish located on 170 Hinchey Avenue in Ottawa. Also, the Archbishop accredited Reverend Delinac to serve as the Parish priest. In 1993, he was succeeded by Reverend Anto Pavlovic, and in 2000 by Reverend Adam Tabak, both from Djakovo Diocese (Archdiocese of Djakovo-Osijek).

[In October 2015, Reverend Tabak was diagnosed with a sudden and galloping illness that tragically took his life in December. On September 1, 2016, Reverend Dinko Kalmar (Djakovo Diocese) was appointed the new pastor of St. Leopold Mandić by Auxiliary Bishop of Ottawa, Christian Riesbeck. On June 2, 2022, Archbishop Marcel Damphousse (Archdiocese of Ottawa-Cornwall) re-appointed Reverend Kalmar, who continues to serve parishioners to this day.]*


The Parish of St. Leopold Mandic continues to be a vibrant religious and cultural centre for Croatian Canadians living in the National Capital Region.

*An update to the original text was made by Nicholas Žuger with permission from the author

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