Though Prendergast had crossed paths many times with Collins, it wasn’t until the two were in Rome together in 1999 to receive the pallium that they began to know each other.

"A sly sense of humour couples with serious love of the faith" - Archbishop Prendergast

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  • February 13, 2012

OTTAWA - Over the years, Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast has come to appreciate the depth of Archbishop Thomas Collins’ scholarship, his love for the Scriptures, his joy in sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ and his courage in professing his faith in the public square.

Though Prendergast had crossed paths many times with Collins, it wasn’t until the two were in Rome together in 1999 to receive the pallium that they began to know each other. The pallium is a wool band the Holy Father presents to Metropolitan Archbishops as a sign of their jurisdiction in the Universal Church and of their closeness to the Pope.

Prendergast, who had about a dozen members of his family with him for that celebration, said he was struck by the fact that Collins brought no one with him to Rome. “He’s a very humble person,” Prendergast said. So in Rome, they shared a private, common celebration that year.

Collins had just become archbishop of Edmonton; a year earlier Prendergast had become archbishop of Halifax. In Rome, the two discussed their similar circumstances as new archbishops in dioceses where the retired bishop had been there for a long time. They discussed what it was like to be a new bishop when vocal Catholics wanted to preserve the practices of the previous bishop.

“Why are you considering changing what the previous bishop has done? they would ask,” said Prendergast. “Every new bishop has that.”

They also shared a background as Scripture scholars, though Prendergast considers Collins more widely read in literature and in the culture. They both served together on the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ theology (now doctrine) commission.  

“He’s a good theologian,” said Prendergast.  “I really appreciated that.”

Coincidentally, the two archbishops were both in Rome in 2007 to receive the pallium again after Collins was named archbishop of Toronto and Prendergast was named archbishop of Ottawa. That second time, Collins brought his sisters to Rome and a priest or two.

“He doesn’t make a big deal of the fact that he’s called to a leadership role,” Prendergast said, though he anticipated he would have more accompanying him to Rome when he receives his red hat as a cardinal.

Naturally reserved and on the quiet side, Collins tends to be more comfortable giving individual people attention than in greeting people in large crowds, but he has made himself accessible for people to communicate with him, to “touch base” with him, said Prendergast.

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Prendergast also appreciates Collins’ subtle sense of humour.  

“It’s a sly humour,” he said. “He’s a punster. You have to catch it; it sneaks up on you.”  

Collins will often have a little sly smile on his face as he waits for people to get his joke. “He sometimes teases about solemnity of episcopal things and pokes fun at our pretentiousness.”

But underlying that sense of humour is a deep seriousness about the Catholic faith and the courage to proclaim it.  

Collins was the first bishop to protest against the awarding of the Order of Canada to abortionist Dr. Henry Morgentaler, issuing a condemnation on the 2008 July 1 holiday.  He has regularly attended the National March for Life every May in Ottawa; prayed on the sidewalk in front of abortion facilities during 40 Days for Life campaigns; and steadfastly defended life from conception to natural death.

He is also deeply concerned about young people in high schools being exposed, in the name of anti-bullying policies, to pressure to engage in inappropriate sexual behaviour or being pushed to embrace a lifestyle not in keeping with Church teaching, Prendergast said.  

Collins has also made himself available to the news media, recognizing that Toronto is the “media hot spot in Canada,” he said.  Being in the media spotlight is not something Collins gravitates towards, but he does not avoid the responsibility that comes with his position, Prendergast said.

When there was debate about whether to continue saying the Lord’s Prayer in the Ontario Legislature, Collins wrote a large article that Prendergast credits with preserving the tradition of saying the prayer while recognizing other traditions.  “He’s persuasive with his pen,” he said.

With his 15 years’ experience as a bishop, serving major Sees like Edmonton and Toronto, he brings wisdom and experience to the table. What he says is not based on theory but on being “on the firing line from day one.”

Collins is also a man of prayer, who when in Edmonton and now in Toronto, keeps a private chapel in his apartment and finds consolation and strength there, said Prendergast.

“He’s going to bring great wisdom to the counsel of the Holy Father,” said Prendergast, noting the new cardinal will be asked to serve on some dicasteries. Wherever he serves, he will bring “wisdom and solidity.”

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