WCR FILE PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

Archbishop Collins speaks at a forum on same-sex marriage in Edmonton in 2004.

January 16, 2012
CHRIS MILLER
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

The priest who worked most closely with Archbishop Thomas Collins during his seven years in Edmonton says speaking with the new cardinal was "like opening up a treasure chest."

Father Greg Bittman, archdiocesan chancellor, said Collins was always full of valuable insights and wisdom.

Yet, despite his tremendous knowledge, he was a modest, unpretentious man, Bittman told reporters Jan. 6.

"Archbishop Collins is a man who's full of compassion," said the chancellor.

"He cares for people greatly and he's a tremendous worker, prolific reader, and has this great knowledge of theology, Scripture and literature, yet at the same time he is humble. He never shows that off."

Now that Collins will receive the red hat, it is possible he could someday be elected pope. Bittman did not rule out that possibility.

"Cardinal is a title of honour. Cardinals are able to participate, should the pope die, in the election of a new pope," he said.

POTENTIAL POPE

"In the case of Archbishop Collins, like Cardinal Marc Ouellet, they are both young enough that they are potential candidates for the papacy."

Those in the Edmonton Archdiocese who knew Collins or worked with him during the period from 1999 to 2007 when he was archbishop here are elated he has been elevated to the College of Cardinals.

The announcement that Collins, now archbishop of Toronto, will be a cardinal was made in the Vatican Jan. 6.

After serving as archbishop in St. Paul, Collins was the archbishop in Edmonton from June 1999 to January 2007.

Archbishop Richard Smith, Collins' successor here, said he is thrilled with the announcement.

"As a brother bishop I know him very well and rejoice that the pope has bestowed upon him this great honour," Smith said in a prepared statement.

"With many others I look forward to the wonderful gifts he will bring to the universal Church by his participation in the College of Cardinals."

Rita Strauss was hired as Collins' executive secretary in 2005.

"He was very caring, very competent. We were lucky to have him here because he had a great vision for the overall care of the archdiocese," said Strauss.

Working for him, she felt confident that the archdiocese was in good hands. "He was not demanding at all, a very gentle man, and easy to work for. He always showed appreciation for everything I did," said Strauss.

Deacon Ken Noster is director and president of Living Water College of the Arts in Derwent. When he approached Collins about the possibility of opening such a college, Collins was agreeable.

"He really understood how important good literature and good art is to the development of the human person, to the expression of the truth about humanity at a visceral level," said Noster. "He strongly encouraged the development of Living Water."

Noster was among the first group ordained in the permanent diaconate program that Collins launched. Collins was actively involved in the program, teaching, answering questions and demonstrating hands-on leadership.

Noster recalled that at a conference for Catholic homeschoolers, Collins spoke to parents about incorporating faith and reason. After his presentation, he was given a light sabre, and the toy brought out his sense of humour and playful side.

PLAYFUL NATURE

"In semi-darkness you couldn't tell he was holding more than a handle, but when you push a button the light comes on. He went around the stage using his light sabre. It was so neat to see our bishop playing," said Noster.

"Apparently he went up and down the halls of the chancery with his light sabre too."

Joan Carr, superintendent of Edmonton Catholic Schools, said Collins had a strong connection with the school district while in Edmonton.

"He always wanted to be sure that Catholic education was front and centre," said Carr. "In terms of our children, whether it was with the sacraments or special events in the district, Faith Development Day, Archbishop Collins was very much a part of our family and our community."

Catholic education was of utmost importance to him, and Edmonton Catholic Schools always felt his support directly. Visiting the schools, he was always amiable and welcoming with parents, teachers and students.

"It was his presence, just the comfortableness that he had with people. You always wanted to be sure that you had a moment of his time or a moment to say something to him," said Carr.

Among Collins' contributions in the archdiocese were the establishment of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, archdiocesan stewardship committee, permanent diaconate, Greater Edmonton Alliance, Corpus Christi downtown procession and Phoenix Multi-Faith Society.

He also launched a program of perpetual Eucharistic adoration and established St. Benedict Chapel in a downtown shopping centre.

In 2002, he attended World Youth Day in Toronto with about 1,000 young people from the archdiocese.