Written by Rev. Glenn Dion, founding pastor:
It was a thrill to receive Archbishop Carney's phone call on Aug. 10th of 1983, when I was stationed in Powell River, appointing me as pastor of a new parish somewhere in Surrey. I quickly travelled to my new place and was greeted with a piece of land that was basically bush and overgrown field, with an older home occupied by a rental family, and an empty split level house with a barn-type workshop behind it. It was this house and barn that I could begin to call home and parish center.
Next to our parish site we were fortunate to have the new Holy Cross High School, which had opened its doors the very day I moved into my new place. It was the gym of the school that became the Sunday church for my new parish, as well as the social center for the parishioners as we began to have dinners and dances and fundraisers of all kinds. The school also provided space for meetings and teaching catechism to our children.
We began as a small but very enthusiastic congregation. One of the things we decided upon at the beginning was our name. We wanted one that was not duplicated in the diocese, would be strong and well known, and of all the suggestions, St. Matthew was chosen. We often joke among ourselves that his occupation as a tax collector gave certain character to the life of our parish.
We were quick to understand the need for a solid fundraising effort in order to plan for our future, and the idea of an annual car raffle was taken up. We had our first Christmas dinner and dance in 1983, catered by our own people, and thought that would be the best setting for the car raffle to conclude. So in the summer of 1984 we arranged with Carter Pontiac in Burnaby for a new Firebird, arranged with the malls in our region to display it, and with our parishioners to "sit the car". Every year since then we have had a very successful fundraiser, with a new car being given away at our annual Christmas party.
Along with our own efforts at raising extra money for the parish, the Archbishop had his own strategy for doing the same for the needs of the diocese. And so the new parish began to take part in the annual Project Advance Campaign, raising funds for the larger Church, while at the same time doing the same for ourselves by piggybacking onto this campaign in the spring our own hopes for the future. We had committed and very capable volunteers, and the parish's building fund grew year by year.
One of the happy events that began in our first spring, back in early 1984, was the renovation of the barn type workshop at the back of my house. It was large, basically sound in structure, and with a little added help could be turned into something really useful. Over a period of about 4 months we raised the roof of the building, added stairs, deck, windows and doors, and made two offices and a garage on the bottom, and a nice meeting room on the top. We now had a Parish Center, and were we ever pleased about that! It became the hub of parish life and activity.
In early 1984 the Archbishop asked me to take in a refugee student who wanted to go to the seminary. So Joseph Hieu Nguyen came to us, learned to speak English, and learned to use a shovel and wheelbarrow. We worked hard to turn the swampy yard area and the overgrown field area into lawn and garden, and the parishioners helped in all kinds of ways. Joseph stayed for about a year and a half, and then went to the seminary.
Our parish site began to be used as a picnic-bonfire-hotdog kind of gathering place. Over the years we have had many happy times in our big backyard, and a season doesn't pass without some kind of celebration for the parish. We also began to mark Canada Day as our very own parish picnic day. Rain or shine we have barbecued chicken for hundreds of happy families, played softball, soccer, volleyball and other games, had our faces painted or splattered with the egg-toss competition, and generally enjoyed the company of the parish on July the 1st, using our neighbouring Bothwell Park as our annual location. And a special day each year for us is Sept. 21st, when we celebrate the feast of St. Matthew.
Our parish grew, at the rate of about 100 families each year, and various organizations were formed. The Catholic Women's League started in the spring of 1985, and the Knights of Columbus in the spring of 1987. The youth program of the Knights prompted the beginning of a Squires Circle, and the Seniors of the parish began to function as an organized group. The St. Vincent de Paul Society established a parish group, and some of the women of the parish began meeting in small "circles" with a patron saint as their special guide. Our parish center was being well used.
St. Matthew’s Catholic Women’s League was instituted on April 30, 1985. Seventy-eight women attended the first meeting with Father Glenn Dion as our founding Spiritual Director and Jeanne Faessler as the founding President. Seventeen of those Charter Members are still members today.
As we came into the '90's our young parish was growing with the rapid development of the area surrounding us. Holy Cross had been expanded, and we continued to improve the school site with track and field, tennis courts, and portable classrooms. The hope of the parish to build our own facilities was gaining momentum, and the vision of our own church was being dreamed of by everyone. Finances, and the need for site development, became a major focus of attention, and to help with these concerns we planned our first Festival weekend in the Fall of 1992. We had three nights of dinner and dancing, a full weekend of funfair for the children, and booths for baking, crafts, silent auction, raffles, bingo, and food, for all to enjoy. And again, another big success, which has been repeated each year since then.
In the spring of 1992 we decided to take a big step in the preparations for our new church. We lifted up the existing parish center and rectory buildings and moved them back on the property so that the place for our church would now be ready. At first the offices moved into my dining room and living room, as the parish center was stripped and re-located. Then when it came time for my house to be moved, we re-located the parish offices to a rented trailer on the side of the property, and I borrowed a recreational fifth wheel to live in while the house was up on stilts. A large frame was built over this recreational vehicle and draped with a huge tarp, which then covered my outdoor kitchen and dining room. We strung long lines for telephone, cable, water, and electricity, and I began to camp out for the remainder of the year.
The experience of "making do" was certainly a remarkable one, with the constant and cheerful assistance of my secretary, Mrs. Angela Huguet, as a daily gift. When the water froze and the snow came, and we had to go over to the school for the facilities, Angie was a wonderful camper. And so were all the parishioners who were working at this relocation and renovation site. The spirit of fellowship was inspiring, and the ladies that brought hot lunch for close to six months were saints in action. I moved back into the rectory on Dec. 22, the day they hooked up the plumbing and turned the heat on, but it would not be finished for another couple of months. We moved into our new parish center in April of 1993, gladly waving goodbye to the little trailer we had used for almost nine months.
As we happily adjusted to our new settings, the office was busy with the plans for the church. Our approvals from the bishop's office were in place, we had gone through the re-zoning process, and the plans were being finalized by the firm that we had engaged. The architect was one of our own charter parishioners, Daniel Kim, and his firm, Pacific Rim Architecture, was designing our building. We went to tender in the fall, and on Dec. 24th the contract was signed with Gauvin Construction Ltd. Our Christmas Masses were especially joyful at the announcement that on Jan. 3, 1994, we would have the ground breaking ceremony and the beginning of construction at our site for the new church we had been long dreaming of.
The entire year of 1994 was dedicated to the project of building our church. From our humble beginnings of 1983 we have danced and dined together; we have cooked hot dogs, chicken, and corn-on-the-cob; we have worked the Festival, played on the field, taught catechism, sat the car, and baptized, married and buried many of our loved ones; and we have come to Mass every Sunday since Oct. 2, 1983. And for Christmas of 1994 we stepped into our new church and have been thanking the Good Lord every day since.
We have held an annual Parish Festival every year since 1992. We just never stop! We are so happy to be a strong and vibrant community, with a church that presents a dramatic visible presence on 88th avenue in Surrey.
In 1999, we had the happy appointment of a new assistant priest in the person of Fr. Joseph Nguyen. He is the “prodigal seminarian” who finally returned to the parish to be ordained and then assigned, 15 years after he had first come to us as a refugee student from Vietnam. The parish welcomed him with open arms. With Fr. Joseph with us, the Archbishop also established our parish as the permanent home for the Vietnamese people of Surrey and the surrounding area, designating them as “parishioners” rather than visitors. And that has made a very happy difference to the makeup of our parish family.
The special project for this Jubilee Year – the addition of a new modular building on the grass next to our church, which will be another 5600 sq. ft. of meeting and gathering space for the needs of our large parish. It was called the Jubilee Hall and provided much needed space for our groups and programs, while at the same time we save for the permanent phase two of our parish plant which we hope would be started in the year 2006. And that would be an elementary school and gymnasium-hall. But in the meantime, we have our new, but temporary facilities, to look forward to.
Fr. Augustine Obiwumma was appointed Pastor of St. Matthew’s Parish in 2003.
For the 100th Anniversary of the Archdiocese of Vancouver in May, 2008, the Chancery invited all the parishes to create a banner which would identify their parish and to participate in the Eucharistic Celebration that would be held in Abbotsford on Sunday, May 18, 2008. The banner for St. Matthew's was commissioned by Fr. Augustine and it was ready in time for the celebration.
Chris Kielesinski was the Artist & Designer. Ivana Percival and Marsha Keech, two very talented seamstresses, stitched and sewed the banner.
On November 1, 2010 Archbishop J. Michael Miller joined Pastor, Father Augustine Obiwumma, Parish Council Chairperson, Bill Bouwman, Contractor, Dennis Bralic, Architect, Daniel Kim, and Project Coordinator, Lorne Ward. In the sunshine happy parishioners looked on as the ground was broken and construction began!
The first day of classes at St. Matthew’s Elementary was on September 5, 2012.
Fr. Tien Tran was appointed Pastor of St. Matthew’s Parish in 2015.