History of the Shrine of Our Lady of Peace
Niagara Falls, Ontario
In l678, Father Hennepin, the chaplain of La Salle's second expedition to
the Mississippi, first beheld the mighty "Falls of the Niagara". In gratitude to God, Father Hennepin selected a suitable spot overlooking the thundering cataract and there, on the morning of
December 11, l678, celebrated mass.
For more than a century and a half after this event, the few Catholic settlers who
inhabited the area of the Falls were served by missionaries from Niagara on the Lake. In 1835, Father Edward Gordon built St. Vincent de Paul Church in Niagara-on-the Lake which was the first Catholic
church building on the Niagara Peninsula. To serve the needs of the growing Catholic population, Father Edward Gordon deemed it necessary to found a second church at Falls View. On July 13, l837 he
laid the cornerstone of the church named in honor of his patron, St. Edward the Confessor, on the traditional site where Father Hennepin had offered the first Mass. It is this same little church
overlooking the falls which today continues to serve the spiritual needs of the Catholics in Falls View.
In June of the Year 1858, the Bishop of Toronto decided to separate the daughter
church of St. Edward's from St. Vincent de Paul and establish it as an independent parish. He appointed Father Victor Juhel as its first pastor. Father Juhel was born in Normandy, France, and was
only 24 years old at the time of his assignment.
In 1861, "The Little Church above the Falls", as it was affectionately
called, rose to international prominence. As the threat of civil war between the states become greater, Archbishop Lynch of Toronto petitioned Pope Pius IX regarding the importance of peace and requested
the Holy Father to elevate the church of St. Edward's to the title and dignity of a pilgrimage shrine, dedicated to Our Lady of Peace.
Pope Pius agreed and issued a papal decree to this effect on March 1, 1861, (only a
month before the beginning of the Civil War) thus making this the first time in the history of the Catholic Church in North America that by direct mandate the Holy See had erected a place of pilgrimage without
any local tradition or devotion. Bishop Lynch personally inaugurated a pilgrimage on August 18, 1861. He formally changed the name of St. Edward and reconsecrated it as the pilgrim shrine of Our Lady
of Peace. He himself donated the beautiful statue of Our Lady of Peace and the church bell. The church is one of the oldest shrines dedicated to Our Lady in Canada. Fr. Juhel did not live long
after the rededication. At the early age of 28, he died on January 10, 1862 and was buried near the church. The parishioners erected a large stone plaque which was placed on the north wall of the
shrine soon after his death.
In October 1875 the Carmelites came to Falls View and erected a monastery on land
also made available by Archbishop Lynch. This is the site of present Mount Carmel Spiritual Centre. The Carmelite fathers have served the parish of Our Lady of Peace since that time.
The May 23rd, 1998 issue of the Niagara Falls Review contains the
following excerpt by Mr. Sherman Zavitz, a local historian.
During the Mexican Revolution the United States, fearing for its interest in the
Gulf of Mexico, captured the port of Vera Cruz during April, 1914. This act placed the two countries at the brink of war, creating a considerable amount of international tension. Agentina, Brazil and
Chile offered to mediate the dispute and their offer was accepted by the Mexican and American governments. Niagara Falls was selected as the location for the peace conference, with the meetings taking place at
the Clifton House Hotel, now the site of Oakes Garden Theatre. The talks began on May 20. After about a month, an agreement was reached that averted a war between Mexico and the United States.
However, Mexico's internal strife continued. On Sunday, May 24, shortly after the conference had opened, all the delegates and their families, along with many local residents and members of the press,
attended a special peace mass at Our Lady of Peace. It was a proud and significant day for Our Lady of Peace.
In 1958 the Church was expanded with the addition of exits in the north and south
wings, and a new sacristy and front vestibule. The interior has since undergone some modifications to comply with the Post Vatican II guidelines for church architecture.
In May of 1996 a delegation from Japan came to Ottawa, the capitol of
Canada. Their purpose was to pray for world peace and to present our country with a symbol of peace. They were told that they should come to the pilgrimage Shrine of Our Lady of Peace in Niagara
Falls. A prayer service was held and the peace symbol, also known as "The Peace Poll" is on display in the vestibule of the Shrine.
Two years later, October 19th, 1998 The Canadian Conference of Catholic
Bishops held their annual meeting in Our Lady of Peace Parish Hall. The Bishops concluded their meetings by celebrating a Mass for "World Peace" in this international Shrine of Peace.
Visitors and those who wish to make a pilgrimage to Our
Lady of Peace Shrine are most welcome. Arrangements can be made to visit to The Shrine by writing to: Our Lady of Peace, 6944 Stanley Avenue, Niagara Falls, Ontario, L2G 7B7 or by phone
905-358-3791 or fax 905-358-1872.