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February 6, 2012

On Feb. 18, Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins will become the first former archbishop of Edmonton to be installed as a cardinal. Collins is no longer "our man," nor is he the "man" of the St. Paul Diocese where his episcopal career began. Nevertheless, we feel some stake in the man and are glad to experience a little of the reflected glory of his appointment.

A little known fact, however, is that Collins will not be the first priest from this archdiocese to wear the red hat. That honour belongs to Cardinal James Charles MacGuigan, archbishop of Toronto from 1934 to 1971, who in 1946 became the first-ever English-speaking Canadian cardinal.

MacGuigan was a native of Prince Edward Island who was no doubt recruited to Edmonton by his fellow islander, Edmonton Archbishop Henry Joseph O'Leary. O'Leary ordained MacGuigan in 1918 and he became chancellor and vicar-general of the archdiocese as well as the first rector of St. Joseph's Seminary.

Pope Pius XI snatched MacGuigan in 1930 at the ripe old age of 35 to become archbishop of Regina where he served until his appointment to Toronto. He was obviously a man of exceptional ability.

The Edmonton Archdiocese has been greatly blessed by the quality of its shepherds over the years, Collins being but one of the blessings.

In the past, Canadian cardinals have not been seriously considered when the time comes to choose a new pope. Some thought Montreal's Cardinal Paul-Emile Leger would be a worthy successor to Pope John XXIII. It was not to be and Leger, having undergone a profound conversion at Vatican II, retired early as archbishop to work in a leper colony.

Now, some have put Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for Bishops and another man with strong Edmonton ties, on the short list of those who might succeed Pope Benedict.

However, Collins himself may well be a worthy choice if the next conclave is not for a few years. The Toronto archbishop is a first-rate homilist, an apologist whose message and delivery might make even the most-hardened anti-Catholic develop a love for Rome.

An argument can be made that this is exactly the type of pope the Church needs for the coming years - a man in love with the Church, its teachings and its history and who can communicate that love to the average person.

Few, if any, cardinals can do that with as much enthusiasm and flair as Collins. Should the other cardinals ever hear him preach, they may decide to replace his red hat with a white one.

None of this should be construed as a campaign pitch for a Pope Thomas Collins. The cardinals, inspired by the Holy Spirit, will choose whomever they choose when the time comes. The reality is, however, that Collins is gifted in ways that may well make him a suitable, even the best, choice.