Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 24, 2004
Fr. James Holland dead at 98
Teacher, chaplain archivist vice-chancellor, this priest loved his God
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Father James Holland will be remembered as a holy man who had a great love for God and his Church.
A seminary professor, pastor and chaplain for 71 years, Holland died May 15 at Youville Extended Care, where he had spent the last 20 years. He was 12 days short of his 99th birthday.
"He was a very devoted priest who had a great love for the Church, no question about that," said Father Karl Raab, one of his students at St. Joseph Seminary in the mid-1950s. "He was very grateful for his priesthood."
And he took his seminary teaching seriously, according to Raab. "I don't think he had any background preparation to teach in a seminary, but he had the natural ability. He was always very well prepared when it came to his classes. He took his teaching very, very seriously."
Holland taught Scripture, history, liturgy and philosophy at St. Joseph Seminary for 34 years. Archbishop Henry Joseph O'Leary invited him to teach at the seminary because he realized that "he was a brilliant and capable man," Raab said.
In a WCR interview last year, Holland said his happiest years as a priest were the first 35 years, when he taught at the seminary and served as a chaplain for various institutions.
He had been at the Youville Home since 1982, when he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.
"I owe my good health to the goodness of God," he said in the May 2003 interview. "God has been very good to me because I've tried my best to do my duties as a priest."
A year ago, the priests of the Edmonton Archdiocese marked Holland's 70th anniversary of priesthood with a public celebration at St. Andrew's Church, where Holland served as assistant pastor for the last 10 years of his active priesthood. Archbishop Thomas Collins announced the creation of a bursary for seminarians bearing the priest's name at the service.
"He was a very humble, cheerful and prayerful priest," his friend and biographer Sister Cecile Dupuis said May 18. "I think he's a holy man and God will have received him very well. He held his priestly vocation in very high esteem and once he said he considered the priesthood the greatest profession in the world."
Holland was born into an Anglican family in London, England, May 27, 1905. During the First World War he was troubled by the immorality in the world. While studying at the Accountants College, he became a close friend to a Catholic lad whom he admired for living his faith.
Having being raised as an Anglican and considering himself far from being a fervent one, Holland was encouraged by a maternal aunt, a Catholic, and also by his close friend, to study the Catholic faith. He was baptized conditionally in 1922 and confirmed a year later.
From 1923 to 1925, James could be found at St. Benedict's Abbey at Fort Augustus, Scotland, studying the Catholic faith and learning Latin as he planned to enter the seminary of the Benedictine Fathers.
Born an Anglican
Then, an Alberta priest stopped at the abbey to recruit English seminarians who wanted to serve in the Edmonton Archdiocese. Holland decided to take up the challenge and on Sept. 14, 1927 he, along with two other English volunteers, registered at the newly opened St. Joseph Seminary in Edmonton.
According to Dupuis, Holland found the philosophy courses "rather hard and uninspiring, but he toiled seriously and proved himself an industrious student."
He was ordained a priest at St. Joseph's Basilica April 23, 1933 along with seven others. Soon afterwards, O'Leary appointed him a professor in charge of teaching catechetics, liturgy and Church history to the seminarians.
He also made Holland chaplain at the General Hospital. Over the years, Holland also served as chaplain at the Misericordia Hospital and for various religious orders of women.
Dupuis says Holland knew his Church history well, often making his students aware of the divine nature of the Church.
"Had it been a mere human enterprise, the Church would have crumbled and disappeared a long, long time ago," he used to tell them.
"(As a seminary professor) he was a friendly, open-minded person, gentle in manner and speech, with a delightful and unique sense of humour," Dupuis says. "He was well loved for his sincerity, authenticity and devotedness."
To Holland, his teaching days were the most fulfilling because he was helping prepare young men for what he calls "the greatest profession in the world." Five of his former students were ordained bishops, including the late Archbishop James Carney of Vancouver, Bishop emeritus Paul O'Byrne of Calgary and Bishop Eugene Cooney of Nelson.
"One thing that really came true when he taught Scripture was his love for Scripture," recalled Raab, who gave words of remembrance at a prayer vigil for Holland May 18.
"He was a very modest man, a very humble man who never boasted about any achievements, even though five of his students at the seminary went on to be bishops. He never did boast about it. When I asked about it he said they were brilliant men."
In August 1967, after 34 years as a seminary professor, Holland took up residency at St. Andrew's Parish and became the archdiocesan archivist. Soon he was also serving as vice-chancellor.
In December 1971, he resigned from his offices for health reasons. A couple of weeks later, on Jan. 1, 1972, he was appointed associate pastor of St. Andrew's Parish under Father John Hesse.
Nearly 11 years later, on Nov. 26, 1982, Holland, then 77, was diagnosed with Parkinson's and was hospitalized at Youville Nursing Home, where he was very active until about a month or so ago.
Because of his spontaneous acts of charity, visiting the sick residents and responding to the spiritual needs of staff and residents alike, Holland was the unofficial chaplain at Youville Home.
A faithful priest
"It looks as if he was doing his ministry by visiting the Catholics who were sick there," recalls Margaret Toal, a member of the Youville Home's pastoral team. "If a person was dying, he would be there sitting beside him or her and saying prayers."
Toal, a friend of Holland for 20 years, spent the last three days with the dying priest and held his hand before he died. "He just passed away," she said. "It was a beautiful death."
She said he will remember him as "a holy man who was always popping into the chapel and saying his rosary" and praying for others.
"He was a very peaceful type of person and I never, ever heard him criticizing or running somebody down. And he also had a nice sense of humour and I enjoyed his company. He was always cheerful, cracking jokes. He was really loved, you know."
Archbishop Thomas Collins presided at a funeral Mass for Holland at St. Andrew's Church May 19. He was buried at St. Joachim's Cemetery beside Archbishop O'Leary.