Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
May 7, 2007
A new shepherd brings new directions
The installation of Archbishop Richard Smith as the eighth bishop of St. Albert-Edmonton will surely launch a new era for our local Church. Smith wisely says his first step will be to listen and learn about the needs and aspirations of the Church of Edmonton.
But, eventually, there will come a change of emphasis in pastoral programming. It has ever been thus for this archdiocese and such change has been a good thing.
Bishop Vital Grandin, the saintly Oblate shepherd who led the St. Albert Diocese through its first 30 years, was a missionary bishop who reached out to Aboriginal people and began a Church mainly for the French-speaking settlers.
Bishop Emile Legal, another Oblate, fought for the dream that the West would become francophone and Catholic. The move of the See to Edmonton in 1912 was not his idea but one part of the creation of new dioceses in Alberta and Saskatchewan so that the missionary Church would be transformed into one that ministered to a stable population.
The appointment of Archbishop Henry Joseph O'Leary in 1920 was a shock to the system. Having a non-French bishop of Irish descent was a clear sign that the local Church was going to be mainly English speaking. O'Leary, who had experience as bishop of Charlottetown, set to work creating the institutions and parishes that would make Edmonton a leading diocese in the West. Three of his first creations were St. Joseph Seminary, St. Joseph Cathedral and the Western Catholic, forerunner to today's WCR.
Archbishop Hugh John MacDonald served the local Church over a long period of consolidation, ensuring that O'Leary's beginnings were well implemented and expanded.
Archbishop Anthony Jordan served as MacDonald's coadjutor for several years before officially becoming archbishop during the Second Vatican Council. Jordan reflected the council's reforming zeal, opening doors and windows wherever he could. It was now the era of the laity.
To that end, Jordan launched Newman Theological College, a religious education office and other programs. He transformed the priest-run Western Catholic into the Western Catholic Reporter and brought in lay journalist Douglas Roche to lead it.
Archbishop Joseph MacNeil continued Jordan's reforming work, but gave much responsibility for decision-making to the laity. He gave the Church an outward-looking bent and launched the Social Justice Commission.
MacNeil was primarily the great pastor, one who was close to his people. The affection the people have for him was clearly evident at last year's fundraiser for the Priests Retirement Fund when he was given loud cheers with a standing ovation.
Archbishop Thomas Collins had the shortest term of all of this diocese's bishops. Yet, he was a whirlwind of activity - the teacher, the evangelizer and the builder all rolled into one. He attracted many young men to the seminary, and showed signs of reversing the long, slow decline in the number of priests. Collins loved to teach the faith and took every opportunity to do so. He opened a chapel for perpetual adoration, a chapel in a downtown shopping mall and had the WCR send one issue to 500,000 homes across the archdiocese. He brought the St. Vincent de Paul Society to this area and launched the permanent diaconate.
Now we have a new archbishop, yet again one with enormous talents and a desire to work with the people. The vocations shortage has not yet been solved and the city is growing at a rapid rate with a need for new parishes. Alberta society is bedevilled by the rising tide of relativism and consumerism.
Yet there are many resources among an educated laity and among the Church's institutions. There is enthusiasm for the mission of the Church.
We have confidence in Archbishop Smith and we will pray for his success and for the faithfulness of our local Church. In time, the new pattern will emerge.
- Glen Argan
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