Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 22, 1999
Our new shepherd
Collins named as Edmonton's next archbishop
By GLEN ARGAN
Bishop Thomas Collins of St. Paul has been named by Pope John Paul to be the next archbishop of Edmonton.
The pope announced Feb. 18 that Collins has been appointed coadjutor archbishop of Edmonton with the right of succession to Archbishop Joseph MacNeil.
On April 15, MacNeil will turn 75, the age at which bishops are required to submit their resignations to the pope. MacNeil said he will submit his resignation "at the appropriate time."
Collins, a 52-year-old Scripture scholar and former dean of theology and rector of St. Peter's Seminary in London, Ont., has been bishop of St. Paul for less than two years.
In that time he has become a popular figure not only in his own diocese, but also in Edmonton where he has given several public lectures, led retreats and taught at Newman Theological College.
His articles on the life of prayer are currently being featured as a Lenten series in the WCR.
Collins told the WCR he expects to move to Edmonton "some time in the next few weeks," but that details of the transition have not been worked out.
He said he was "very honoured" to be asked to serve as coadjutor archbishop and looks forward to his new appointment.
"I've been very glad to be the bishop of St. Paul and very grateful for the warm welcome I've received from the people and the priests and religious."
He said he has "come to know and love" the people of the diocese. "I've found my experience here to be very edifying and I'll miss the people of St. Paul."
Collins was ordained a bishop in Hamilton, Ont., on May 14, 1997, to serve as coadjutor bishop in St. Paul under Bishop Raymond Roy.
Roy then retired and Collins was installed as the fifth bishop of St. Paul on June 30, 1997.
In his homily that evening, he said all Christians have a vocation but that today it is important to think about the ordained ministry.
In each parish, there are "three, four, five, 10" people being called to the priesthood or religious life, Collins said. "There is an abundance of vocations to the priesthood and religious life for our diocese."
He elaborated on that thinking in an interview with the WCR published last week, saying he wanted to find 50 new priests and 50 sisters for his diocese.
That job will now be left to his successor in St. Paul.
In Edmonton, he will take over an archdiocese in the throes of a major realignment of its parishes due to shifting populations and a sharp decline in the number of priests.
Collins told the WCR while he has made many visits to Edmonton and has met many people here, he is not familiar with the archdiocese and its operations.
"The next period of my life will be devoted to getting to know the archdiocese," he said.
When asked if he will pursue a vigourous approach to religious vocations, he responded, "I look forward in the years ahead to encouraging all the different vocations in the Church - active, vibrant lay ministries and vocations to the priesthood and religious life."
Collins said MacNeil has provided him with "tremendous help" while he was bishop of St. Paul and he looks forward to working with him in the months ahead.
MacNeil welcomed Collins' appointment as coadjutor archbishop. "I welcome him warmly with open arms.
"We look forward to his leadership well into the new millennium," MacNeil said in a letter to priests of the archdiocese.
"We get a young , vigourous new archbishop who will grow with the archdiocese," he told the WCR. He'll bring his own ideas and spirituality to Edmonton, but the diocese will have the opportunity to be involved in his growth.
MacNeil said he'll send in his resignation in late March or early April and the pope will decide when Collins will take over. "It won't be a protracted time."
Collins will become the seventh head of the archdiocese which was established as the Diocese of St. Albert in 1871 and elevated to the Archdiocese of Edmonton in 1912.
MacNeil has served as archbishop since 1973, coming to Edmonton after four years as bishop of Saint John, N.B.
Collins is the third of St. Paul's five bishops to have been appointed to another position.
The diocese's first bishop, Maurice Baudoux, became archbishop of St. Boniface, Man., in 1952. Its third bishop, Edouard Gagnon, became head of the Canadian College in Rome and eventually became a cardinal, holding several high-ranking Vatican posts.
Collins was born the youngest of three children in Guelph, Ont., on Jan. 16, 1947. His father, now deceased, was circulation manager for the Guelph Mercury, the city's daily newspaper.
From the time he was a child, Collins looked forward to becoming a priest. However, he completed university before entering St. Peter's Seminary and was ordained a priest for the Hamilton Diocese on May 5, 1973.
For two years, he served in parishes in Hamilton and Burlington and as a high school chaplain.
He studied Scripture and theology in Rome and began teaching at St. Peter's in 1978, becoming rector in 1995.
He did his doctoral thesis on the book of Revelation and also has a master's degree in English literature.
Collins was also part of a Vatican team which visited Edmonton's St. Joseph's Seminary a few years ago.
He is known as a well-rounded individual who listens well, makes good decisions and loves to be with people.
"He was one of the boys, but a real good leader at the same time," said one Ontario priest who studied at St. Peter's while Collins was there.
The new archbishop was a popular and animated teacher at the seminary. He took his interest in education to St. Paul where he has worked hard to promote the John Paul II Bible School in the diocese.
Teaching is in his family's blood. Not only does he enjoy teaching, but his sister Catharine is a retired school principal.
Those who know him say he is also a man of deep prayer and has been one for a long time. In the St. Paul Diocese, he has asked parishes to set aside time for Eucharistic Adoration. He is also known for celebrating the Mass with great reverence.
Father Michael Ryan, a former colleague, once told the WCR, "For whatever labels are worth, I don't think he's liberal or conservative. I would say he's very balanced."
In fact, ask Collins what the Church's greatest need is and you'll get an unexpected answer: "We have a need for a real spirit of excitement. Sometimes Catholics get discouraged. We need to have hope."