Cardinal Thomas Collins talks with local media April 13 during his two-day visit to Edmonton.

WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER

Cardinal Thomas Collins talks with local media April 13 during his two-day visit to Edmonton.

April 23, 2012
GLEN ARGAN
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Cardinal Thomas Collins' 39 years since his priestly ordination has been a series of being sent to one place or another.

Ordained for the Hamilton Diocese in 1973, he spent 22 of his 24 years as a priest outside the diocese – studying in Rome and teaching at and then leading St. Peter's Seminary in London, Ont.

Since then, his life has been determined by a series of phone calls from the papal nuncio - appointments as bishop of St. Paul, archbishop of Edmonton, archbishop of Toronto and, most recently, to become a cardinal.

"You go where you're sent," he said during a 40-minute interview during his April 13-14 visit to Edmonton. The two-day visit was an opportunity for his former flock to congratulate Collins on receiving his red hat and to share in liturgies and a Scripture reflection led by their former shepherd.

"Wherever I am, I am just totally committed to that and I love it. I'm always sad and teary-eyed when I leave because I'll miss the people and I know I'm not going to see them too frequently.

"I loved being archbishop of Edmonton and I'm very happy being archbishop of Toronto and I loved being bishop of St. Paul."

Asked if he has any inkling of God's purpose in sending him to Alberta for 10 years before he returned to Ontario, he responds simply, "I never thought of that."

Collins' visit to Edmonton was a whirlwind of activities – lunch with Archbishop Richard Smith, supper with the priests and deacons, Mass at St. Joseph's Basilica, a reception afterwards, a morning at the Carmelite monastery near Devon, meetings with individuals and the media, and a session of lectio divina back at the basilica.

A LOT HAPPENING

"It's very intense, you know. There's a lot of things happening," he says matter-of-factly about not just the weekend, but of his life in general.

The move from Edmonton to Toronto five years ago took him from a far-flung diocese of 350,000 Catholics to one of more than 1.8 million in a much smaller geographic area. There are four auxiliary bishops and 700 priests. Mass is celebrated in 37 languages.

The Toronto Archdiocese is opening a new church every year as well as repairing and renovating aging churches such as St. Michael's Cathedral, which was built in 1848.

"It's a whole other world in scope."

Toronto, he says, "is not a monolithic kind of place I've discovered from living there. It's a federation of small places and many communities as is Edmonton. It's not one big thing as it is sometimes seen from a distance."

Still, his ability to lead with a personal touch is not the same as it was in Edmonton. He still announces his phone number – 934-0606 – at every opportunity to encourage calls from men who might be interested in the priesthood.

However, when he was based in Edmonton, he responded to those expressing an interest with a personal handwritten letter; in Toronto, he signs a form letter.

Still, he does hold pancake breakfasts at a downtown restaurant for potential seminarians and hosts a large breakfast prior to priestly ordinations to which anyone who might have an interest in the priesthood is invited.

Collins says the seminary has "very good numbers," but more priests are always needed.

As for the 700 men already ordained, he meets them in groups of 10 to 15 for Mass, a half-hour discussion and lunch. "Feather by feather, the goose is plucked," he says.

The former Edmonton archbishop brought along his red biretta – symbol of being a cardinal – for local Catholics to see.

WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER

The former Edmonton archbishop brought along his red biretta – symbol of being a cardinal – for local Catholics to see.

As for his new red hat, Collins says, "It's quite an amazing thing being a cardinal. It's awesome to be in this position, to be so closely connected to the ministry of the pope.

"It's part of the universal Church but it's also very homey because I am the cardinal-priest for the Church of St. Patrick" in Rome.

APPOINTMENTS COMING

He expects to be appointed to be part of one or two Vatican congregations, but that hasn't happened yet. He's already a member of the Holy See's Congregation for Social Communications. There will be more meetings in Rome, but his main focus will still be on Toronto.

Although he's now an actor in the global Church, Collins remains unaffected.

In St. Paul, he lived across the street from a car dealership. In Toronto, he's on the top floor of the cathedral rectory on the flight path of helicopters headed for the nearby St. Michael's Hospital. "I say a little prayer for who's ever coming over my bedroom."