On hearing that Montreal Bishop Frank Leo would succeed him as Archbishop of Toronto, Cardinal Thomas Collins immediately thought of Toronto’s first bishop, Michael Power. At a parish feast day Mass in Our Lady of Lourdes, downtown Toronto, Collins reminded the congregation how Toronto’s first bishop also came from Montreal and was also, as a priest, vicar of English-speaking Montrealers.
Collins did not mention Power’s early death from typhus ministering to Irish refugees on Toronto’s waterfront. Presumably, Collins hopes his 51-year-old replacement outlasts Power, who died at the age of 42, just five years after being ordained a bishop.
Come what may, the new archbishop has an agenda.
“The Gospel of Jesus Christ is our most treasured gift,” Leo wrote in a letter to Toronto Catholics. “The Kingdom we seek is one of justice and peace; the path is that of holiness and fidelity.”
Friend and co-worker at the Archdiocese of Montreal, Corey Jolly, is certain Leo can handle yet another transition after just a year in the position of vicar and only being ordained a bishop last September.
“He’s authentic, that’s who he is. He’s affable, personable, very warm,” said Jolly, a lay evangelist in the Office for English Pastoral Services in Montreal. “If anybody can transition, it’s him. He’s used to it.
Three months shy of 15 years of service to the Archdiocese of Toronto, Cardinal Thomas Collins is full of warmth and affection for Toronto as he moves on into retirement. Before celebrating Mass and preaching a feast day homily at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Collins spoke to The Catholic Register of his love for the multicultural reality of Toronto with “so many people from all over the world.” He said they are what makes it a great city.
“It’s just been a joy to be Archbishop here,” he said. “Ever since I came here, the people have been so kind, so generous. So many good people have stepped forward to help. Some people say it must be a heavy burden. I’ve never found it so. I love everything about (Toronto).”
In an early Saturday morning press release announcing his retirement, Collins was quick to praise his successor.
“(Leo’s) knowledge of the Church, both in Canada and around the world, as well as his unfailing service over many years, demonstrates his commitment to serve joyfully and faithfully,” the retiring archbishop’s statement said.
In referring to Leo’s knowledge of the Church around the world, Cardinal Collins is referencing Leo’s six years in the diplomatic service of the Holy See. His knowledge of the Church across Canada comes from his six years as General Secretary of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2015 to the fall of 2021.
Leo’s experience in pastoral ministry includes time spent working in various parishes from 1996 to 2006. At that point he was selected to study for the diplomatic service at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy in Rome. In 2012 Pope Benedict gave him the title of Monsignor as a Chaplain of His Holiness.
The new Toronto archbishop has a doctorate in systematic theology, a graduate certificate in spiritual direction, a licentiate in philosophy and a diploma in classical studies. He speaks English, French, Italian and Spanish.
But Leo introduced himself to Torontonians as “the son of immigrant parents.”
“I truly believe that I stand to learn much from you: the very people I will strive to love and to serve, to empower and to inspire, to guide and to lead,” Leo said in his Feb. 11 letter of introduction.
On a feast day dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Leo also spoke of his calling to lead the Archdiocese of Toronto in the context of the Annunciation.
“I thought of the Blessed Mother, her amazement and questioning, her trust and her availability to join forces with the Holy Spirit in bringing about the Incarnation; in accepting to play her unique role in the Lord’s loving and saving plan; to be a humble instrument in the hands of our loving and saving God. Upon learning of the Holy Father’s decision to appoint me, I too was asked to utter my own personal and ecclesial Fiat – and I have done so with all my heart,” he said.
Rather than a bishop only to convinced and engaged Catholics, Leo also introduced himself “to those who are more distant or struggle to choose her as their spiritual home.”
Collins will remain a Cardinal and will also be Archbishop Emeritus of Toronto. He may continue to serve as a cardinal until he turns 80 in four years.
Leo will now lead Canada’s largest archdiocese of about two million Catholics with almost 400 priests serving 225 parishes where more than 30 languages are spoken. He will be stepping into the shoes of the much-loved Collins, whose admiration by Catholic Torontonians was most publicly evidenced in his annual Cardinal’s Dinner that attracted a record 1,300 people last year.
“I invite the Catholic community in the archdiocese to join me in giving thanks to God as we pray for our new shepherd,” Collins said in his retirement statement to the faithful.