The impressive church building was constructed of brick not stone as she’d first imagined and it rose hundreds of feet in the air where it stood crowding the street corner at its front entrance, while the rear entrance was barely visible on the opposite corner one block away. Thirty stone steps lead straight up to two massive wooden doors at the front entrance. Immediately above the entrance was a beautiful circular stained glass window in a glorious sun burst design. Her eyes traveled further. High above encased in an immense tower a black iron bell hung suspended from heavy chains and pulleys. Like cathedrals in Europe, this church supported a hearty growth of dark green ivy, but it lacked the black soot of age of its European counterparts; for this building was relatively new.
She slowly climbed the steps up to the solid front doors and pushed against one with her hip and shoulder. It swung open easily for its size revealing a voluminous room, whose only adornment was a beautiful marble floor and two solid wooden benches.
She entered the vestibule slowly and quietly placed her belongings on the floor beside one of the benches. An eerie silence permeated the building and as she walked further into the sanctuary of the church, the quiet and peace of her surroundings soothed her troubled mind and tormented soul.
Astounding beauty surrounded her. High ceilings, boned with massive beams interlaced together like a giant carcass; rows and rows of dark wooden benches evenly spaced from front to back, sat empty, waiting for a time when they would be filled to overflowing. Statues smiled to her from their places of rest high within the walls; and candles – many small-lit candles flickered from their votives, illuminating the entire front of the church.
“Welcome to St. Mary’s Church”.
Emily startled and spun around quickly to find a small man clothed in a long black gown with a high white collar attached at the neck, standing directly behind her. His hands were folded serenely at his waist and he smiled warmly at her as he continued, “Is this your first visit to our church?”
“Yes it is,” she answered softly, not wishing to disturb the atmosphere of peace that permeated the place. “It is beautiful.” she said, glancing around her surroundings one more time.
”It is that, all right. This is one of the largest and most beautiful churches in the city. I am Father Richard, the priest of this parish. Please - you are welcome to sit and rest,” he gestured to a bench close by and directed her to sit down.
“Danke . . .thank you,” Emilie gratefully took a seat and watched as he lowered himself to sit down beside her.
“Are you new to our city?” Her broken English told him she was a new immigrant, but the bleak expression that entered her eyes at his question told him much more.
“My brother and I came to Canada three months ago, from Germany.”
“And do you like it here in Canada?”
Emilie crumbled. Months of denying how much she missed her homeland and the sorrow of the recent loss of her brother, plowed into her heart all at once.
“I . . .I, oh I’m so sorry!” She erupted into tears; her slender young body trembled with misery.
“There, there now - what could be so bad?” The priest asked, surprised at her sudden outburst. He reached across the distance between them and grasped her small hands that were chilled through to the bone.
“My Bruder . . . brother, he . . . he is dead. All my family are . . . are gone!”
“Merciful Heavens, child!” Father Richard tightened his grip on her hands for a moment and then released them completely. “Will you tell me what happened to your family?”
Emilie nodded and fumbled in her pocket to find a handkerchief. When she had located one, she blew her nose daintily and told him her story.
“Six months ago, my Mutter . . . Mother and Father and two little brothers were killed in a fire that destroyed our family home. It was night when the fire broke out and they were asleep. They never even had the chance to escape.”
“Wilhelm - that’s my oldest brother - and I were in the country at my Uncle’s home. Wilhelm was doing some work for my Uncle and I went along to visit my cousin Marie, who is my age.”
“Your brother Wilhelm . . . was he the only family you had left?”
“Yes. After the fire we had no place to go, so we stayed with my Uncle’s family for a while, but Wilhelm wanted to come to Canada.” Her smile was sad, “He had been talking about coming here for over a year and after our loss it just seemed like a good time to leave.”
“So you immigrated to Canada.”
“Yes. My Uncle had lived here for a few years some time before and had an acquaintance, Mr. Robert Tober. He wrote to Mr. Tober and asked him if he could help us.”
“And this Mr. Tober . . . did he help you?”
“Oh Ja . . .Yes!” Emilie’s eyes brightened momentarily, “He sponsored Wilhelm and me to come to Canada. We had little after the fire, so he paid for our journey here. When we arrived, he hired Wilhelm to work at his construction company.”
“What kind of work did your brother do?”
Her eyes brightened again; this time a small smile accompanied her words. “Wilhelm was an excellent mason. He trained with one of the best masons in the city where we lived in Germany.”
“What happened to Wilhelm; how did he die?”
“He fell from scaffolding and he broke his neck . . .”
“Oh my dear . . . I am so sorry.”
“We were going to find a place of our own. Wilhelm had saved some money, but . . .”
“But now he’s gone.”
“Yes.” Emilie dropped her chin and stared at her hands which nervously worked her forgotten handkerchief.
“You have told me all about yourself, but I don’t even know your name!”
“Where are you staying, Emilie?”
She sighed loudly, “Until today, I was staying with the Tober’s; but I moved out this morning.”
“Why?” He wondered why someone so obviously alone would leave the security of a home where friendship prevailed. Obviously this Mr. Tober cared about the girl, having gone to the trouble to sponsor her here in the first place.
“Mrs. Tober wished me gone . . .”
“I see.” In fact he did not see any reason for this unfortunate woman to be wandering the streets at all. While he wondered at the reason the so called Mrs. Tober could possibly have for turning this young lady away, his mind was already running through an inventory of parishioners he knew who would be more than willing to take Emilie into their home.
“Do you know where German town is?” She asked the priest so quietly that he barely heard her question.
“Is that where you are going, Emilie? Do you have friends there?”
“Nine – I have no one. I was just told of such a place, that’s all.”
Father Richard knew very well where German town was, he also knew that it was severely overcrowded with immigrant people such as Emilie, some who would even undoubtedly take this young woman in. Unfortunately aside from the ability to communicate with the people there, he feared it was not the best place to direct a young single woman to go.
He sat quietly for a few moments, “German town is in the north end of the city. It is a very small area but there are hundreds of families living there. Unless you know someone there, I wouldn’t advise you to go there, Emilie. If you let me, I’d like to help you find a place to stay.” His rubbed his chin so deep in thought that Emilie wondered if he had fallen asleep. “Tell me, do you like children?”
“Oh yes, I do!” Her eyes lit and for the first time he witnessed a sample of her beautiful smile. “But I am not your problem, I don’t even belong here,” her eyes scanned the beautiful sanctuary with longing before returning to his kindly face.
“My dear child,” he sighed and smiled at her young innocence, “Helping people is what I do. It’s a priests job, whether you belong to my parish, or not. What would God think of a priest who turned people away from the church’s door?” He patted her folded hands and rose from the bench. “You just leave everything to me, my dear. I know a woman who might just be in the need of some help with her children in exchange for room and board. What would you think of that kind of arrangement?”
“I think that I am happy I came to St. Mary’s today!” She smiled warmly as he moved from the bench and hurried to the front of the church. Promising to return shortly, he disappeared through a hidden door somewhere near the altar.
Emilie felt like an intruder. She was sitting in a church not of her faith and was waiting for a man she had just met to change her life. As she waited, she wondered what these people who needed her help would be like. Would they welcome a German woman into their home, or would they resent Father Richard’s interference? Maybe she should not have come here at all, maybe she would be better off in German town with her own kind. She was scared; so much of this country’s customs remained unfamiliar to her. Sometimes she thought she would never understand this Canadian way of life.
A few minutes later Father Richard returned, “Well Emilie, it’s all been arranged. I am to take you over to the Brown’s home immediately. Come; gather your belongings and we’ll be on our way!”