Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 18, 2006
Archbishop opts for simple Christmas
Even in childhood, religious celebrations always took first place
- WCR photo by
"We would have some quite dramatic celebrations of midnight Mass."
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Archbishop Thomas Collins likes his Christmas simple and spiritual and that's the way it has been since he was a child growing up in Guelph, Ont.
"We would get together when I was a child but I don't have any special memories," the archbishop said in an interview.
"My father's sisters, my aunts, would come over and we would have a big gathering of some of the more extended family or we would go to their place."
On Christmas Eve, the whole Collins family - mom, dad, young Thomas and his sisters Catharine and Patricia - would go to midnight Mass at the nearby church, the Church of Our Lady, where young Thomas served as an altar server.
"In my home parish we would have some quite dramatic celebrations of midnight Mass," the archbishop recalled.
"We had this situation where the church was sort of darkened and the choir would come out with candles and then we would carry this little child down the centre aisle with the baby Jesus seated on a chair and that would be placed within the crib by the pastors."
Collins served as an altar server from Grade 1 or 2 right up to high school.
The Christmas Eve midnight Mass was a family tradition, although in the latter years the future archbishop's dad became quite ill following a stroke and was not able to attend. He died in 1967.
"I just remember the midnight Mass; we would always go to that," Collins recalled.
"We have this big church in Guelph built in 1888 and called Church of Our Lady; it is big like a gothic cathedral. It's on the top of a hill overlooking the whole city and we lived behind it, on the bottom of the hill, about three or four blocks away."
Young Thomas would meet the other altar servers in the church's basement to help prepare the big celebration.
"We would have a beautiful big celebration of Mass and then afterwards I think the pastor would have little presents for the servers like hockey sticks or things like that."
After the Mass, the Collins would go home and have "a little celebration together." They would munch on sweets and cookies and open presents.
On Christmas Day, they would all attend Mass again before getting together for a traditional turkey dinner either at the Collins' home or at one of the archbishop's aunties.
"Generally we would have a kind of a gathering together and then sometimes on Christmas Day we would go to visit my father's sisters who would sometimes have a family gathering at their place," Collins recalled.
"My aunts Kate, Marie and Clare were wonderful people, very loving and gentle, and they always did things in a beautiful way. My aunt Kate was like an artist and she always had things at the table very beautifully done; everything very carefully done with the colours all just right.
"They were very good cooks and they did very elegant and beautiful meals, very creative."
Today Collins continues the midnight Mass tradition, the difference being that as archbishop he now presides at the Mass at St. Joseph's Basilica.
His sisters Catharine and Patricia visit him every year for Christmas and the three of them "have a quiet little family meal together" at the archbishop's house.
"We don't get together that often because of the distance so I really appreciate the chance to be together with my sisters when they come out for Christmas and Easter," he said.
"My sisters cook. Usually it's a turkey dinner, sort of the usual typical stuff, nothing special. We just follow normal customs, usually kind of Canadian style. We just have a great time together."