Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 1, 1999
St. Paul laments Collins' leaving
'But we knew it would happen,' say local Church officials
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Bishop Thomas Collins gave new life to the Diocese of St. Paul and his collaborators are sad and disappointed to see him leave.
However, the announcement that Collins would leave the diocese only 19 months after coming to St. Paul came as no surprise to most of them.
"It's sad to realize he is leaving us so soon but it was not a surprise," confirmed St. Paul's chancellor Msgr. Jean-Luc Pigeon. "We knew that this would happen."
Collins, a 52-year-old Rome educated Scripture scholar and former dean of theology and rector of St. Peter's Seminary in London, Ont., will replace MacNeil as archbishop of Edmonton as soon as MacNeil's resignation is accepted by Pope John Paul.
On April 15, MacNeil will turn 75, the age at which bishops are required to submit their resignations to the pope. The archbishop said he will submit his resignation to the pope "at the appropriate time." Collins will move to Edmonton sometime this month.
Pigeon said he realized Collins would not last long as bishop of St. Paul soon after he moved to St. Paul in 1997.
"I found that he was capable to handle bigger dioceses than St. Paul and knowing the age of Archbishop Joseph MacNeil I thought Bishop Collins was probably the guy (to replace him)."
Collins' stay in St. Paul may have been short but it was productive, Pigeon said.
Among other things, he hired a coordinator for the Diocesan Pastoral Council, straightened out the diocese's finances, got heavily involved with Radway's John Paul II Bible School, spoke on vocations, supported lay formation and involvement, began the search for a diocesan youth director and launched other youth programs.
Collins was a "travelling bishop" who visited every parish in the diocese, some more than once, Pigeon noted. "His agenda was very long and very tight. If you wanted to have him you had to make an appointment a year ahead. He was very, very dedicated to helping out in any way possible."
As Pigeon put it, Collins is a vibrant, energetic bishop who "set up a new way of acting" in the diocese.
Father Walter Laliberty, one of Collins' advisors and associate judicial vicar at Edmonton's Marriage Tribunal, said priests "always kind of knew" that Collins wouldn't stay long in St. Paul.
Still, the announcement came as a shock because "we never expected it so soon," he told the WCR.
"It was really a shock in that he's been so good for the Diocese of St. Paul," he said. "We hoped he would have stayed with us longer."
Collins gave the St. Paul Diocese a "sense of peace and made us very Christ-like as a church," noted the priest. "He gave us an appreciation for Sacred Scripture."
Laliberty is not surprised Collins was moved to Edmonton. After all, he said, Collins is an educator and Edmonton has major teaching facilities.
For the faithful of St. Paul, however, the next few months will be tough. They'll go through a grieving process before they finally accept they lost their bishop so suddenly and so soon after his appointment, Laliberty said.
Ernie Chauvet, director of the Bible School in Radway, is both "sad" and "glad" the bishop is leaving.
"I'm sad because St. Paul is losing a fine person and a good bishop," he said. "(But) I'm glad for him and the people of Edmonton; they are getting a good bishop."
Chauvet worked closely with Collins and became his friend. In the process, he gained a "very deep appreciation of him as a man and as a bishop."
Collins taught at the Bible school three weeks a year and knew every student. "His support of the school has been tremendous."
In his short tenure Collins was able not only to gain the confidence of the people and the priests of the diocese but also to provide St. Paul with the capability to create a vision, Chauvet observed. "We are losing a man we love very much."
Hans VanLeeuwen, director of the Emmaus lay ministry formation program, is disappointed at Rome's decision to move their bishop so soon after his appointment.
"I think it's unfair to the people of this diocese. We are waiting for a bishop for three years, then we had a bishop for a year and a half and all of a sudden he's moved over."
VanLeeuwen said St. Paul "desperately" needs a bishop with Collins' energy and vision. Now he is worried about the future. "The Diocese of Grouard McLennan has been without a bishop for seven months. So what's our future. We do not know. Nobody tells us," he said.
"I'm disappointed at the system of appointing bishops. It doesn't provide continuity."
VanLeeuwen described Collins as a "good bishop" who "firmed things up a bit" and gave the diocese "more life."
"He is outspoken in many areas, he is forthright in setting directions; people really liked him here. He is a very good speaker and he organizes things well."
Collins improved communications in the diocese by setting up a diocesan newspaper, which will begin publication this spring.
The people of St. Paul appreciated Collins' energy and enthusiasm, VanLeeuwen said. "We welcomed him into this diocese; he went into his task with a lot of enthusiasm, we were happy. (But) now she's all over," he lamented.
"We will miss him as a bishop," said Odette Plamondom of the diocesan renewal centre. "He is a very devoted person. In his short time he made it a priority to meet the needs of his parishes."
People loved Collins but "we knew he was going to leave us," Plamondon said. His move to Edmonton means St. Paul will have to go through "another adjustment."
But Plamondon said the diocese will continue to move forward. "We have no choice but to go on."
Paul Butler, the new director of the Diocesan Pastoral Council, lamented Collins' transfer. "He is a very compassionate and sincere man and I'm sorry to see him leave."