NASR, MACARIOS, Melkite priest and Basilian of the Holy Saviour; b. 25 Jan. 1831 in Zahleh (Zahlah, Lebanon); d. 6 Sept. 1908 in Toronto.
Macarios Nasr entered the Melkite monastic order of St Basil of the Holy Saviour in his native Syria. He was ordained priest in 1861, and in 1883 he was superior general of the order. The Melkites are Eastern Christians in union with the Holy See and are grouped under their own patriarch, whose title is patriarch of Antioch. The Melkites in Canada came from Syria (including modern Lebanon) in the 1880s and settled mainly in Montreal and Toronto. In the early days most of them were poor, and they possessed a strong sense of identification with their family, village, and religion. Since initially they received little help from Latin-rite bishops in establishing Melkite churches in their new homeland, many were absorbed into Western-rite Roman Catholicism, joined Protestant churches, or abandoned all religious affiliation. Father Nasr, their first pastor in Toronto, was instrumental in building a Syrian Catholic community and preserving the Melkite identity in that city.
While serving as an assistant to the patriarch in Damascus, Father Nasr volunteered for the Canadian mission, and in 1896 he was appointed apostolic missionary to the Syrian Melkites in Toronto and western Ontario. The first official documentation of his presence in Toronto occurs in a letter to Archbishop John Walsh* from the prefect of the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda, Miecislaus Cardinal Ledóchowsky, dated 19 Feb. 1897. Nasr had submitted a request to Rome, along with a written approbation from Archbishop Walsh, for the power to conduct his ministry among his Toronto compatriots. The request was denied because Father Nasr, as an adherent of an Oriental rite living outside his own diocese, had failed to obtain the necessary prior authorization from Rome. The Melkite residents in Toronto then submitted a petition to Cardinal Ledóchowsky through the apostolic delegate, Monsignor Rafael Merry del Val. In forwarding it, del Val included an expression of concern about the sad condition of Toronto’s Syrian population, which was deprived of religious assistance. As a result, the prefect reversed his decision and, acknowledging urgent needs of the Syrian community, gave Archbishop Walsh the power to authorize Father Nasr to exercise his priestly faculties in the diocese. The archbishop’s intervention on his behalf with Rome had been precipitated by Father Nasr’s appeal on 6 Jan. 1897 for the use of a church or house. For some time he had been saying mass at St Patrick’s Church, near the Melkite community around Chestnut Street where he lived, but the pastor had apparently revoked his right to do so on the pretext that the Melkite presence was very costly.
The Melkite community had three difficult years. By the turn of the century, however, Father Nasr had obtained the use of the St Vincent de Paul Hall at 25 Shuter Street, and the Society of St Vincent de Paul had donated money to furnish an altar and other requisites. This positive action cemented the relationship between the Eastern- and Latin-rite Catholics in Toronto. Certainly the presence of the Syrian community had come to be more widely recognized: an article on foreigners in Toronto, written by William Lyon Mackenzie King*, that appeared in the Daily Mail and Empire in October 1897 reported that there were 60 Syrians in the city and that they had their own Catholic priest.
The St Vincent de Paul Hall became the centre of Syrian religious activity and came to be known as the Syrian church. Having asked permission of Archbishop Denis O’Connor* in 1902 to collect funds to build a Melkite church, Father Nasr first had to supply a list of members in Toronto. By that time they numbered 140, including Nasr’s mother and a nephew, and another 300 were scattered throughout Ontario. Nasr was certain that any Melkite priest who succeeded him would be able to live on what his parishioners could contribute.
Father Nasr would not see the completion of Toronto’s Melkite Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, opened in 1913. He died in September 1908 and was buried in Mount Hope Cemetery. A Maronite priest was appointed to replace him, but after 119 parishioners petitioned the archbishop to remove him, Father Paul Kattini Malouf, who had come from Montreal to assist Nasr, took charge of the Melkite parish. Thanks in part to the pastoral work of priests such as Father Nasr, there are today about 50,000 Melkites in Canada, making up the Melkite Catholic Eparchy of St Sauveur based in Montreal.
Arch. of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto, Clergy files, Nasr to O’Connor, 4 July 1902; OC 20 (Syrian congregation file), Nasr to Walsh, 6 Jan. 1897; WR 80 (Walsh papers, Roman corr.), WRC 8001, WRC 8005. Catholic Register, 10 Sept. 1908. Daily Mail and Empire, 2 Oct. 1897. Baha Abu-Laban, An olive branch on the family tree: the Arabs in Canada (Toronto, 1980). Canadian Catholic Church directory (Montreal), 1986: 253, 542. Canadian Catholic directory and ecclesiastical register (Toronto), 1905. Catholic almanac and clergy list of Ontario (Toronto), 1900, 1920. Sean Gadon, “The Syrian religious experience in Toronto, 1896–1920s,” Polyphony (Toronto), 6 (1984), no.1: 65–67. M. W. Nicolson, “The Catholic Church and the Irish in Victorian Toronto” (phd thesis, Univ. of Guelph, Ont., 1981), 242.