Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 10, 2007
A Jesuit learns to serve as a bishop
At first, Prendergast wanted to refuse papal appointment
By DEBORAH GYAPONG
"All my growing up was in the Jesuit order."
After he had been an altar server for about five years, one of the parish priests asked him if he had ever though about entering the priesthood.
He admired the Jesuit priests and the young scholastics - those not yet ordained - at his school because not only did they celebrate Mass, hear confessions and preach, but also they taught, coached sports teams, directed people on stage and helped build confidence in young people.
In his last year of high school, he went on a retreat in Alexandria, Ont., a train ride away, to discern whether he had a vocation.
"I prayed the whole weekend for enlightenment, and some insight of what to do and I went away frustrated because I wasn't clear what I wanted to do."
But on his way home, the revelation came. Off the train, he had to take three different buses to get home. On the last bus, between the second to the last stop and home, "It just came to me I'm going to enter the Jesuits this year."
The insight left him feeling peaceful and joyful. The next day he told the high school chaplain, "who just about fell off his chair."
He applied and in a couple of days realized, "I'd better tell my parents." They told him they would not put any pressure on him, but would accept what he decided. He entered the Jesuit order when he was 17, just before the Second Vatican Council started.
Two years later, at the age of 19, he took his vows. "All my growing up was in the Jesuit order." In 1972, he was ordained a priest.
He did experience "crises every now and then," when he asked himself if he had done the right thing. During and after Vatican II, many of his peers were questioning the faith and many left the order.
"Whatever momentary questioning there might have been in my life, it never lasted very long," he said. "I always felt I had given my word I would be there forever and I tried to keep my word."
After four years in Toronto, the pope appointed him archbishop of Halifax. In 2002, he took on the added responsibilities of apostolic administrator of the Yarmouth Diocese in Nova Scotia.
Though he's more comfortable now with his role as bishop, he admitted he is "starting over again in Ottawa" and has to get "the lay of the land."
"I'm going to learn what it's like to be a bishop in Ottawa," he said.
"You don't come and impose on people a particular point of view," he said. "They expect you as the bishop to represent the Church under apostolic succession and make the decisions under the guidance of the Spirit for the good of the Church here."
Prendergast fights the temptation to become so busy that he neglects the prayer life so vital to his episcopal ministry and to consistently choosing Christ over self.
"If you always know that you should be a person of prayer it helps to get back to it," he said. "I don't know how many times I've started over."
"If you weave into your life communion with God, Christ, life in the Spirit, the saints and the angels, you begin to see all reality that way," he said. "God is there everywhere, you see God."
Prendergast admits that the homilies he preaches are as much for himself as for anyone else. He used to listen to CBC Radio in the car, but ever since another bishop told him he prays the rosary, he's been doing the same. "It helps me be calmer and be nicer in traffic."
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