Short stay ends, 11 years on for Toronto’s John McGrath

By 
  • July 11, 2012

TORONTO - After serving on a host of Catholic boards, including the senate of the University of St. Michael’s College, John McGrath came to the archdiocese of Toronto in 2001 to be chancellor of temporal affairs, a rough equivalent to chief financial officer. He intended to stay five years and had an opt-out clause at two-and-a-half years, just in case. He stayed 11.

Shortly after turning 70, McGrath welcomed his 20th grandchild and let it be known it was time for the archdiocese to start searching for his replacement. After a lengthy search, the changeover took effect on July 1. But retirement won’t change McGrath’s life. He will continue to serve on the boards of St. Joseph’s Hospital, Catholic Charities, the Southdown Institute, the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute and the Patrons of the Arts for the Vatican Museum.

2“I will continue to be occupied, whether it’s Church-related or family,” he said.

“We’re not about to pull up stakes and move to Florida. We’ve got lots of grandchildren here and lots of children.”

McGrath graduated from the University of Toronto with a Bachelor of Commerce in 1963, landed a job as an investment banker with AE Ames and stuck with it through mergers and market collapses until he retired as a vice-president and director of Dominion Securities in 1998.

Hired by Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic, McGrath’s first episcopal board meeting was Sept. 11, 2001.

As he and the bishops sat around the table, suddenly one of the most ambitious projects in the archdiocese’s history, World Youth Day 2002, was threatened.

“I will always remember that,” he said. “I’ll also remember the commitment of the bishops to providing leadership and comfort to the faithful.”

It eventually fell to McGrath to help a new archbishop understand what goes into keeping 223 parishes operating in 36 languages from downtown Toronto to farm country near Midland, Ont.

“I have learned a lot about the archdiocese from working with him,” said Cardinal Thomas Collins.

“The archdiocese is a complex spiritual community with many temporal needs.”

Making business decisions involves certain basic, constant elements that are as true on Bay Street as they are at the archdiocese of Toronto’s Pastoral Centre.

“You have to be comfortable with big numbers,” said McGrath. “You have to make decisions, and you have to be fair and consistent in your decisions.”

But there are shades of difference, too.

“It certainly came home in the first few months that we were dealing with people at let’s say a more complete level here,” he said. “Spiritual values were always there when we were considering things.”

By putting those two sides of the job together, McGrath and his team managed to open 12 new churches.

He was also involved in getting the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute off the ground.

While his fundraising and financial acumen have been invaluable, it’s McGrath’s friendship that has really encouraged the tiny but ambitious institute, said CCBI executive director Moira McQueen.

“You really know that is taking up his personal time. We interpret that as a real measure of support,” said McQueen.

For this man of constancy and loyalty there has been one more constant in his years as chancellor. He calls it his “great fringe benefit” just two floors below his office.

Every working day at 1155 Yonge St., there’s been daily Mass and, whenever possible, he has joined many in the Pastoral Centre to celebrate the Eucharist.

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