At the Archdiocese of Toronto's 175th anniversary celebration Mass May 30, Cardinal Thomas Collins announced his plan to initiate the cause for canonization of Bishop Michael Power, pictured, Toronto’s first bishop. Photo courtesy Archives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto

Editorial: Bishop Michael Power is a model of hope

  • June 8, 2017

The Church, like the world, needs heroes. We call them saints, people of heroic virtue who walk humbly and faithfully in the footsteps of Jesus.

So we greet with enthusiasm the news that Cardinal Thomas Collins will initiate a cause for the canonization of Michael Power.

One of the blessings to flow from the restoration of St. Michael’s Cathedral and this year’s 175th anniversary of the Archdiocese of Toronto is a rekindling of interest in the life of this remarkable man. Saints are not created by the Church. It merely recognizes those whose extraordinary lives have already placed them beside God as saints. By opening a sainthood cause for Michael Power, the cardinal will propose that Toronto’s first bishop deserves that recognition.

Collins cited Power’s “sacrifice and service” in ministering to Irish famine refugees who, “in the horrible summer of 1847,” were dying in Toronto’s typhus-infected fever sheds. He brought “the experience of Heaven to those who were suffering that hell,” said Collins. Power’s sacrifice led to his own death from the disease.

We think of martyrs as being those brave Christians killed out of hatred of a faith they refused to renounce. But martyrdom requires more than the physical act of being murdered. It is about bearing witness to faith and proclaiming the Gospel in words and actions even in the face of death. Power was not murdered, but by venturing at great risk into disease-ridden fever sheds to bring the sacraments to the sick and dying, by bearing witness through selfless, ultimately fatal, acts of charity, he suffered a martyr’s death.

Saints are models of sacrifice and holiness, but also hope. Power brought hope to Toronto’s fledgling diocese. It was a difficult place to be Catholic, but Power urged the small Catholic community to live its faith proudly in public. Among his first directives to priests was to insist they wear their cassocks in public despite threats of harassment or assault from the Protestant majority.

But cassocks were a minor matter compared to Power’s bold initiative to build what was then Toronto’s largest church, St. Michael’s Cathedral. More than a call to worship, the cathedral’s spire signalled hope and proclaimed in Protestant Upper Canada that Catholics belonged and were here to stay.

That blessing of hope has survived the decades. During recent renovations of the cathedral at least two dozen seriously ill people have clutched pieces of stone collected near Power’s crypt as they prayed for his intercession. The Register has written of two people who attribute otherwise unexplained cures from stage four cancer to these prayers.

No one is declared a saint without a thorough examination of their life. It can be a long journey. For Michael Power, it is an overdue journey that is well worth taking.

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