Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 5, 1999
St. Paul says farewell
Collins leaves diocese, but his spirit remembered fondly
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
Parishioners from across the St. Paul Diocese gathered here March 30 to attend the Chrism Mass celebrated by Archbishop Thomas Collins.
It was his last Mass as bishop of St. Paul.
Exactly 21 months ago to the date and the hour, some of these same parishioners gathered to welcome him to the diocese.
"Today we feel sadness at your departure and at the long awaiting we still have until your successor comes," said Msgr. Robert Poulin in a farewell speech following the Mass.
"But there is also joy in our hearts, remembering the gifts of God to us. . . . We have in mind as well, the gift that you were to this diocese.
"You loved us from the beginning, and this diocese will remain in your heart, I am sure, as your first diocese, your first love in that line of thought."
Like his entrance into St. Paul in the spring of 1997, Collins, who was appointed to succeed Edmonton's Archbishop Joseph MacNeil, bid farewell to the diocese with the prayer of St. Francis Xavier.
"It's my favourite prayer," said Collins. "It focuses on Christ and on the Holy Week which we are celebrating. The spirit of St. Francis was so alive and full of wild abandonment."
This is the spirit Collins has enthused on the diocese. It's also the spirit the Diocese of St. Paul will remember about him.
"In less than two years, you visited every parish several times each," Poulin said to Collins.
"You taught as much as humanly possible to groups of all ages, you developed a keen interest in adult education. . . . You became very much involved in the young people and sought to help them in promising ways, knowing that there are great talents and great generosity often hidden in their lives."
The annual Chrism Mass is a blessing of the holy oils and consecration of the oil of Chrism to be used in sacramental celebrations in parishes throughout the year. It is also a time for the diocese's clergy to renew their commitment to the priestly service.
"We as priestly people, . . . we are to be a bridge over troubled waters between God and the people," Collins said.
The archbishop not only encouraged priests, but all Christians "to be disciples of our faith, to be fully engaged in our lives, to be active in our parishes."
During his time in St. Paul, Collins set out to recruit 50 men and 50 women for religious vocations. His short stay may have hindered the goal, but Collins was not ready to let it die.
"I want to hammer this home," he said. "Some people say, 'Oh, he's not serious about finding all those people for vocations.' But I'm dead serious. I think every parish should have three priests. One to maintain, one to expand, one for the missions.
"We must pray for vocations."
At least one parishioner is trying to fulfill Collins' vocations goal.
Andrew Schoenberger, is heading to St. Peter's Seminary in London, Ont., in the fall. The 17-year-old Bonnyville resident had considered the priesthood since meeting Collins at a youth camp a year ago.
Collins had been advising the youngster on the seminary where he was the rector before coming to St. Paul.
"He knows how to reach out to people, he has a unique way of doing that," Schoenberger said. "He really reaches out to the youth. Sometimes they have trouble fitting in, when someone like (Collins) reaches out to them, it makes them feel like a part of something."
In his homily, Collins urged parishioners to celebrate their faith as a family.
"In this Holy Week, we get in touch with who we are as Christians. We do so not as individuals, but as a family of faith."
St. Paul was Collins' family for almost two years. His family of parishioners, both young and old, will remember him with fondness. People use terms like "great orator" and "dynamic" to describe him.
"He uses concrete examples that are easy to understand," said Marnie Lunty, who has attended the cathedral for six years.
She recalls one of her favourite homilies that Collins gave during his time here.
"There was one talking about the salt of the earth. (Collins) talked about going out for dinner.
"He ordered spaghetti and was expecting this great meal with lots of sauce. When he got it, it was just noodles sitting on this plate, plain noodles with nothing on it.
"He said that while growing up his mother always said to finish everything on his plate, so he gathered the courage to eat it. The salt of the earth message was very clear after that."
The Chrism Mass also celebrated the 35th anniversary of Father John Adamyk's ordination, Father Kazimieri Bukowski's 40th, Poulin's 45th, and retired Bishop Raymond Roy's 80th birthday.
Collins also announced the election of Father Walter Laliberty of St. Anne's Parish in Thorhild as diocesan administrator until a new bishop is appointed.
After the Mass, as he shook hands with parishioners from as far as Morinville and Fort McMurray, Collins asked them to keep him in their prayers.
"I will miss working with the priests and people here," he said. "There's such a great dymanic spirit here. But as I had followed the Father to come here, I have followed him to Edmonton."