On Thursday evening last, Fr. Eugenio, pastor of the St. Francis of Assisi parish in Grandview, very kindly invited a group of GHG members and friends to the Church on Napier Street where he took us on a tour of both the church and the rectory where he lives.
In the early 1920s, Franciscan monks took over the mansion called Wilga on the corner of Napier and Semlin that William Miller had had built for himself in 1909. It became a monastery and at one point, there were sixteen friars living in the house. In 1939, the Catholic diocese decided to move the parish church from it’s original location at Broadway and Victoria and they built the church that now stands next to the monastery. The monks left the house in 1990 and it became the rectory for the parish priest of St. Francis.
The church is a modest Romanesque building that fits rather well into the streetscape. Being of a comparatively young age, there is little of historic value to the building itself but it has an inestimable value as the community centre for Catholic and especially Italian life in the neighbourhood. The stained glass windows were installed in the 1990s as were the new pews. It has to be noted that the pews are Gothic (rather than Romanesque) and their light coloured wood jars somewhat with the rest of the interior. That being said, the “feel” of the church is neighbourly and warm. It is no surprise to learn that the parish is seeing a revival of young families.
One piece of church furniture that has an historical connection is the baptismal font which began life as a flowerpot owned by the Tsar of Russia.
Fr. Eugenio noted that when he took over three years ago, the fabric of the church was in sorry disrepair and he had spent much of his time simply fixing what needed to be be repaired. He has done a marvelous job.
Next door to the church stands the former Wilga, a classic Grandview mansion from 1909, built for the Australian immigrant William Miller who, with his brother, John J. Miller, made a fortune in the BC Interior land market at the beginning of the twentieth century
The exterior of the building is still of classic proportions and the gardens that take up the balance of the lots between Napier and Parker give it a scale and grandeur that is missing from most of our local mansions. The interior is still full of original woodwork and fascinating touches, though the upstairs has been remodeled over the years — primarily to create bedrooms for the 16 monks, I would think.
The building is set at almost the peak of Grandview Hill and from the bedroom on the third floor and the sitting room on the second, there is still a magnificent and unobstructed view across the Inlet to North Vancouver and Grouse Mountain. I suspect that originally, before the development of the neighbourhood, William Miller would have had an equally fine view of the city from the front porch.
These old mansions are a precious part of our neighbourhood and it is a joy to see the interiors. This is Fr. Eugenio’s home, of course, and he was most gracious in allowing us to amble over the whole place. We also want to thank several ladies of the parish who prepared a groaning table of seasonal goodies for us. We are grateful indeed.