Bishop McGrattan a visionary leader coming to Toronto

By 
  • January 15, 2010
{mosimage}LONDON, Ont. - Toronto’s newest bishop from London has been a chemical engineer, a parish pastor, a professor, a seminary rector and now begins his journey as auxiliary bishop.

But to those who know him well, Bishop William McGrattan is a good friend, a systematic teacher and a creative leader who knows how to incorporate the laity into the church.

“He’s got a great concern for the people with whom he works and he’s not afraid to take on challenges,” said Dr. John Dool of McGrattan, who was Dool’s boss as rector at St. Peter’s Seminary since 1997.

Fr. Murray Watson, a professor of biblical studies at St. Peter’s, was a student of McGrattan’s before becoming his colleague.

“He’s been a wonderful, very visionary leader for us here, both in the seminary and in the diocese,” Watson said. “If it wasn’t for his leadership, St. Peter’s Seminary probably wouldn’t be here today.”

McGrattan successfully led the seminary through tough times. He expanded the work of the seminary, brought it up to international theological accreditation standards and set up programs for lay formation.

“He has just been involved in so many things in our diocese. Really, he has been right at the steering wheel of the seminary for the past 12 years and if it hadn’t been for him I don’t know where we’d be,” said Watson.

McGrattan says his appointment as auxiliary bishop is in one sense a continuation of the work he has done with the laity, but it will also be a return to the work that drove his passion as a young priest. After his ordination in 1987, McGrattan was assigned to St. Joseph’s parish in Chatham, Ont., where he loved teaching sacramental preparation but also RCIA, helping people to come into the church and explain the teachings of the faith.

“When I look to the future, I am encouraged and have a great sense of excitement about being, not back in a parish, but very much visible and present in parishes, working with, I understand, the newer communities in Toronto, ethnic communities that are trying to establish themselves to have a presence in parishes, to allow their faith and the celebration of the sacraments, something that’s important.”

McGrattan will be responsible for ethnic parishes and lay movements in the archdiocese after spending nearly 20 years teaching at St. Peter’s Seminary and leading staff and students as its rector.

“I am going to miss the seminary and I am going to miss formation,” he said.

The young, inquisitive, students and seminarians kept him on his toes, and being at the seminary benefitted him personally and spiritually, he said.

“I look at the seminarians and can honestly say they have inspired me about trying to live my priesthood with integrity.”

McGrattan has wondered how leaving all that behind will affect him, but likens the experience to his first lesson in obedience. At St. Joseph’s in Chatham, where he lived and worked with the church pastor and a retired priest, he had made up his mind to take over after the pastor took a sabbatical. He wanted to stay and do parish ministry in this downtown parish even though the bishop of London  had asked if he would like to go back to school and teach at the seminary.

“I went to the retired priest that day and told him what I was going to tell the bishop,” McGrattan said. “I vividly remember him going up one side of me and down the other and telling me how selfish I was and saying ‘are you really considering the needs of the church and the gifts you have’ and ‘maybe the church knows better’ so I was a bit humbled and disoriented.”

He changed his mind and went on to study for two years at the Gregorian University in Rome. He returned to St. Peter’s to teach moral theology, ethics, social justice and sacraments. As unprepared as he felt, things worked out for the best, he said, so he knows this newest direction will reveal great things.

“Maybe I will go back again to where I first discovered a great desire to teach and explain the faith,” he said. “I think that’s giving me great excitement. The other thing is being asked to have a greater responsibility and concern for the needs of the church, to protect and promote aspects of the wider church rather than just for those preparing for the priesthood.”

McGrattan’s sister Theresa Mikula says they were raised by strong Catholic parents, who, quiet in personality, displayed a strong faith and spent many a Sunday breakfast discussing the day’s homily and church teachings with her and her older brother, born a year and a half before her in 1956.

McGrattan said the breakfast table conversations were an important stepping stone in his faith life.

“I think that elicited in me a connection of our faith and what’s happening in my  life and the world,” he said.

He had considered the priesthood while growing up, but kept it at the back of his mind. An old high school friend, also a priest, tells him that while playing tennis in high school one day he had asked him if he ever considered the priesthood.

“I don’t remember this, but obviously the thoughts were in my head,” McGrattan said.

McGrattan dated and thought perhaps he was called to marriage. But after he graduated in engineering from the University of Western Ontario in 1979 and went to work in Sarnia for PolySar, a company that produced petro chemicals for plastics, styrenes and also rubber, he wasn’t at peace. He made the decision with the help of priests he knew well and hasn’t regretted it.

“He was in a successful career as a chemical engineeer and seemed to be doing really well so it was just a surprise, a nice surprise, that he was taking this vocation and this step,” said Mikula. “But I saw a real commitment from him, with his studies at the seminary, and so I definitely saw that was what he was called to do.”

McGrattan is known for his love for hockey, having played on the seminary team for years. As a parting gift, at their goodbye party, lay staff presented him with a crosier made by a local woodworker of which the bottom half finishes in a hockey stick end.

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