Archbishop Terrence Prendergast
OTTAWA – Over the years, Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast has come to appreciate the depth of Cardinal-designate Thomas Collins' scholarship, his love for the Scriptures and for sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ, and his courage in sharing his faith in the public square.
Though Prendergast had met Collins several times over the years, it wasn't until the two were in 1999 in Rome to receive their palliums – the symbol of being a metropolitan archbishop – that they began to know each other.
Prendergast, who had about a dozen members of his family with him for that celebration, said he was struck by the fact that Collins brought no one with him to Rome.
"He's a very humble person," Prendergast said, describing Collins as very reserved and modest. So in Rome, they shared a private, common celebration that year.
Collins had just become archbishop of Edmonton and the year before, Prendergast had become archbishop of Halifax.
In Rome, the two discussed their similar circumstances as new archbishops in dioceses where the retired bishop had been there for a long time. They discussed what it was like to be a new bishop when vocal Catholics wanted to ensure the practices of the previous bishop would continue.
"'Why are you considering changing what the previous bishop has done?'" they would ask," said Prendergast. "Every new bishop has that."
They also shared a background as Scripture scholars, though Prendergast considers Collins more widely read in literature and in the culture.
Prendergast said he found that on the challenges the Church was facing, they were "more or less seeing things the same way."
Coincidentally, the two archbishops were both in Rome in 2007 to receive the pallium again after Collins was named archbishop of Toronto and Prendergast was named archbishop of Ottawa.
That second time, Collins brought his sisters to Rome and a priest or two. "He doesn't make a big deal of the fact that he's called to a leadership role," Prendergast said.
This modest, humble approach surprised Torontonians when the new archbishop began riding the subway to the diocesan offices. Prendergast said Collins has a simple, non-flashy style coupled with a great desire to evangelize.
Prendergast also appreciates Collins' subtle sense of humour. "It's a sly humour," he said. "He's a punster. You have to catch it; it sneaks up on you."
Collins will often have a little sly smile on his face as he waits for people to get his joke. "He sometimes teases about solemnity of episcopal things and pokes fun at our pretentiousness."
But underlying that sense of humour is a deep seriousness about the Catholic faith and the courage to proclaim it.
Collins has also made himself available to the news media, recognizing that Toronto is the "media hot spot in Canada," he said. Being in the media spotlight is not something Collins gravitates towards, but he does not avoid the responsibility that comes with his position, Prendergast said.
Collins is also a man of prayer, who when in Edmonton and now in Toronto, keeps a private chapel in his apartment and finds consolation and strength there, said Prendergast.
He also praised Collins practice of lectio divina that does not just bring out the Bible, but reflects upon it in the spirituality of the Catholic tradition. "He links theology to Scripture," he said.
"He's going to bring great wisdom to the counsel of the Holy Father," said Prendergast.
Wherever he serves, he will bring "wisdom and solidity," he said. "He's a solid person."