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Hazel McCallion and Robert Brehl tell the life story of McCallion, who served as mayor of Mississauga, Ont., for decades

Faith helped Hurricane Hazel endure political slings and arrows

By 
  • December 6, 2014

Catholic Register columnist Robert Brehl teamed up with Hazel McCallion to write the life story of the remarkable woman who served Mississauga as mayor for 36 years. In this excerpt from Hurricane Hazel: A Life with Purpose, Brehl and McCallion delve into the important role faith played in her political life.

In this secular day and age, it is not always popular to talk about one’s faith, particularly if you are a politician. But it is impossible for me to tell my story without touching upon it. My faith is that important to me and has been since I was a little girl.

I promise not to go on at length, but feel free to flip to the next chapter if religious matters do not particularly interest you. Atheism seems to be very much in vogue these days, but there is something I have discovered about atheists: though they don’t believe in God, many are open-minded and interested in why others believe in a Creator, whether they be Christian, Jewish, Muslim or any other religious faith.

I am Christian, an Anglican to be precise. But I don’t believe in proselytizing or “getting in your face” with my beliefs. Faith is a very personal thing and I respect that in everyone. I happen to believe that society is better off with people belonging to various religious groups. The fellowship, the discipline and commitment involved, and the humility of knowing there is a God, make for a better world, in my opinion.

And I am not about to get into that age-old, dog-chasing-his-tail argument about one God versus another God. The head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, says it best: “I believe in God, not a Catholic God.” I agree with the Pontiff that God is not Catholic, Anglican, Jewish, Muslim or whatever. He is God. And I believe, like Pope Francis, that Jesus Christ is God’s incarnation.

I was born and raised Anglican and the first church I attended was St. James Anglican Church in Port Daniel, Que. My mother was the church organist, and she and my father both instilled in all their children the importance of having God in our lives and of doing God’s work by helping others.

As a young person, not unlike young people today, I found some of the messages each Sunday would go in one ear and out the other. But the seed was planted. While living in Montreal, I attended church regularly but didn’t get involved in any of its organizations.

By the  time  I was living in Toronto, the  seeds Mom and Dad planted took root and flowered. I was boarding in the home of a lovely couple named Mr. and Mrs. Clark at 523 Oakwood Ave. in Toronto’s west end on the border with the Borough of York. I happened upon the Clarks’ home because their daughter was living at Mrs. Wilson’s boarding house the same time as I was in Montreal. She told me to call her parents because with an empty nest, they would certainly have me stay for a short while. As it turned out, the Clarks became second parents to me and I stayed with them almost 10 years until I was married.

The Clarks were members of the United Church, but knowing I was Anglican they suggested I join St. Michael and All Angels Church on St. Clair Avenue, just west of Bathurst. Here, while still working long hours at Kellogg, I immediately got involved with the Anglican Young People’s Association (AYPA), a dynamic group whose four pillars were “worship, work, fellowship and edification.”

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Over the years, I have often been asked how I reconcile my belief in Christian charity with the slings and arrows of politics. It’s not an easy question, but I honestly believe that without my strong faith, I don’t know where I’d be in politics because it allows me to put things in proper perspective.
I’ve said many times that you can’t be namby-pamby in politics, but that doesn’t mean you have to yell and scream and treat people with disrespect. I believe in telling people the truth. Sometimes they don’t like what I have to say, but they know where I stand. And sometimes they take what I say, go away, come up with a better plan and return with a solution that works better for everyone.

I feel it is spiritually healthy to have one’s faith tested once in a while, whether as a result of life’s trials and tribulations or through interaction with others, like political opponents. If not tested, we run the risk of becoming complacent and taking our faith for granted. It is easy to be a person of faith if our faith is never challenged.

Fortunately, during my entire career I have never had to make  a decision  that  compromised my Christian faith. But I have had my faith tested many times by political enemies. There’s an old saying about laying a strong foundation with the bricks that others throw. Despite this, I encourage people of faith, any and all faiths, to enter politics and use their faith to raise the bar of public service.

Too often in this secular world people of faith feel pressure to hide their faith as if it were something to be ashamed of, but it’s not. Compassion and giving voice to those less fortunate are part of what makes for terrific public service. Truly, I believe my faith helps me deal with real issues. It is why I lend my name and give time to help so many splendid charities, like World Vision in its battle against HIV/AIDS in countries like Tanzania in Africa. Faith helps make me conscious of people’s needs and concerns locally, too. There are a lot of lonely people and you have to give them the opportunity to discuss things with you. You can’t always help them, even as mayor, but at least you can listen and maybe offer suggestions as to how they might find help.

But compassion does not extend to suffering fools or patting folks on the head nicely when they don’t do their homework. That only encourages mediocrity, or worse. Bluntness and truth ultimately lead to better people and better communities.

Each day at 5:30 a.m., after stretching and getting my blood flowing, I open a Joyce Meyer book of inspirational quotes and read one as my daily affirmation. Ms. Meyer is a charismatic Christian from St. Louis, Missouri, who gives me something to ponder each morning before I dig into the newspapers, city reports and other work for the day.

I am also a regular churchgoer and have been a member of the Trinity Anglican Church in Streetsville for more than 60 years. We started at the church even before it had indoor plumbing. Like so many others, I sadly witnessed its destruction in 1998 after a malicious teenager set it ablaze, but I was happily part of the fundraising and rebuilding of the church, too.

Up until his death in 1997, Sam was very active in the church as a lay reader and communion assistant who would also lead services, when needed, not only at Trinity but also at smaller congregations in the surrounding rural areas. Our shared faith was a cornerstone of our marriage.

And speaking of our marriage, our wedding day was Sept. 29, 1951, the feast day of St. Michael and All Angels, with the ceremony at the church in Toronto of the same name. It was a cool day with a high of 13 degrees Celsius, with evening temperatures dipping down near freezing. And after close to a decade, the day also marked the end of my time living in Toronto.

(Excerpt from Hurricane Hazel: A Life with Purpose ©2014 by Hazel McCallion and Robert Brehl. Published by HarperCollins Canada. All rights reserved.)

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