Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 21, 1999
Collins a friend of youth
St. Paul diocese grateful for his 19-month stay
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
Who better to talk to about the teachings of the Scriptures than the man who wears the bishop's hat?
And when it came to St. Paul's former Bishop Thomas Collins, now archbishop of Edmonton, no advance appointment was necessary for such theological rap sessions.
"There was a time I got to sit down with (Collins) at lunchtime and we got talking about (the book of) Revelations," said Colin Doyle, a 21-year-old student at John Paul II Bible School in Radway. "There were things I didn't agree with him on, and he listened to what I had to say. We had this great discussion.
"It didn't seem like he was some super superior type. He makes you feel so at ease around him."
It's surprising that at 21, an age which doesn't readily accept Church dogma or leaders, Doyle speaks so fondly of the archbishop. But during Collins' 19-month stay in St. Paul, he developed a youth-friendly reputation among the young adults of the diocese, Doyle included.
"He saw youth as a priority," said Mike St. Germain, a Fort McMurray youth minister. "Youth are the future of the Church and he saw that. He saw the need in helping our young people along. He was a real advocate for youth ministry."
Collins became known as an orator, energetic, youth oriented and a promoter of vocations. When he stepped onto Alberta soil in the spring of 1997, some of that reputation had preceded him.
Edmonton's Archbishop Joseph MacNeil had known Collins previous to his appointment in St. Paul and referred to him as a friendly and pleasant person.
Father Marc Ouellet, then-rector at St, Joseph's Seminary called Collins' appointment "good news" for St. Paul, referring to him as personable and easygoing. These are characteristics so important for a religious man vying for the attention of the diocese's young adult crowd.
"He is close to everyone, young and old," said Sister Gisele Carrier, pastoral assistant at St. Eugene Parish in Fishing Lake. "He is so dynamic in expressing his faith. He is a man who brings us to feel the same way for our faith that he does. The fact that he is young and full of life attracts everyone."
The St. Paul post was Collins' first assignment as bishop. Prior to it, he had been rector of St. Peter's Seminary in London, Ont. Even as bishop, he could not escape his desire to teach.
His stay in St. Paul included week-long visits to the Bible school, talks with local school teachers and students, the hiring of an adult education director and even teaching a class at Edmonton's Newman Theological College.
"Being a teacher by profession, he had a way of entertaining the kids," said Father Gerard Gauthier, who heads the diocese's youth ministry. "But when they were not listening, he would walk over to them and give them a stern look. It was the teacher in him."
For those who worked with Collins, it was not hard to pinpoint his talents.
"He certainly is a teacher and that's where his great gift is, whether he's working with kids or adults, he's shone," Gauthier said.
"He knows his stuff and he can put it to the level of the audience. Some teachers are great teachers, but you'd need a doctorate to understand what they're talking about. He's able to present it so that everyone across the spectrum knows what he's talking about."
The pastor of Morinville's St. Jean Baptiste Church, Msgr. Robert Poulin added, "His strengths were mainly in the line of education where he really worked hard for education in the faith.
"He has a good sense of administration. He is a prayerful man. While he was aware of what he could do, he was not afraid of the challenges. That's why I believe he is a good bishop."
As bishop, Collins was chief shepherd of the diocese. But to some, he was simply Thomas Collins, friend.
"He is very approachable," St. Germain said. "His energy, sense of humour, very down to earth. He's a theologian who is really down to earth."
Ernie Chauvet, director of the Bible school, said, "He's always been more of a friend to me. He was always available. He really has an attentive ear, and he takes the time to think things out, then makes the decision. He's always wanting to seek out solutions, always moving ahead."
Prior to Collins' appointment, Chauvet said the school had struggled financially and in its attempt to maintain a respectable standing.
It was hard to enhance these qualities without asking its already underpaid staff to take on additional responsibilities, he said. Collins improved the financial stability of the school.
"He's worked very closely with us here to make sure that the school is above critique," Chauvet said. "Everything is well documented, clearing up things that were not clear.
"He hired someone as an advisor to oversee and develop a business plan for the school. Before that we basically did our own (financial planning). It made a lot of difference.
"He's really shown his support for the school."
With Collins moving to Edmonton, there is a void in St. Paul. Father Walter Laliberty of Thorhild will be diocesan administrator until a new bishop is named. But he cannot initiate the programs and administrative actions that a bishop can.
"There will be a lack of guidance and leadership here," said Poulin.
But the leadership Collins gave to St. Paul in his short time as its bishop carries on. Ideas and programs which he inspired remain. And the people in them continue to maintain the effort.
"He had great goals and he was really clear about these goals," Carrier said. "I think everyone will try to continue with the (goals) he started."