Outgoing Ottawa-Cornwall Archbishop Terrence Prendergast stands beside a portrait of himself. Brian Dryden

Prendergast’s retirement on hold

  • December 5, 2020

OTTAWA -- Retiring is proving to be difficult for Archbishop Terrence Prendergast.

Prendergast was looking forward to having time to reflect and perhaps travel now that the day-to-day responsibility of running one of the few truly bilingual dioceses in Canada was coming to an end.

But just days before he was to give his final Mass as the Archbishop of Ottawa-Cornwall, Prendergast was appointed by Pope Francis Nov. 30 as apostolic administrator for the Diocese of Hearst-Moosonee, where he will oversee the diocese until a new bishop is appointed following the resignation of Bishop Robert Bourgon. Bourgon resigned Nov. 29 following complaints of his handling of two priests in the diocese who, along with their parish secretaries, are facing fraud accusations. Bourgon had been subject to review by the Congregation of Bishops since August.

In Hearst-Moosonee, Prendergast will oversee a large yet sparsely populated area of northeastern Ontario where 27,000 Catholics live in a diverse diocese of Indigenous, Anglophone and Francophone faith communities.

The new mission for Prendergast is not how 2020 was supposed to end for the proud Jesuit. But then again, with a global pandemic continuing to impact daily life around the globe, not much about 2020 has gone the way it was supposed to.

Prendergast was to retire on Dec. 3 after celebrating Mass at Ottawa’s Notre Dame Cathedral to mark the silver jubilee of his ordination as a bishop, handing the reins to Archbishop Marcel Damphousse, co-adjutor archbishop since May when the newly formed Archdiocese of Ottawa-Cornwall was established. But his “retirement” is different than first envisioned when he originally submitted his resignation to Pope Francis at age 75, customary by Canon Law. For one thing, Prendergast is now 76.

He was to become Archbishop Emeritus and his successor, , was all set to give his first Mass as the new archbishop of the diocese on Dec. 8. But now it is on to northern Ontario.

It’s been an eventful 13 years serving in the nation’s capital for Prendergast. He was named the ninth Archbishop of Ottawa in 2007 and apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall in January 2016, before becoming the first Archbishop of Ottawa-Cornwall when the two dioceses merged. That makes him the only archbishop to received three pallia for three archdioceses from three popes. In 1999 he received the pallium from St. Pope John Paul II as Archbishop of Halifax, then in 2007 as Archbishop of Ottawa he received a second pallium from Pope Benedict XVI. Earlier this year Pope Francis bestowed his third pallium for his episcopal service in the newly-formed Ottawa-Cornwall archdiocese. 

Prendergast, who was born in Montreal, was first ordained a bishop in 1995 when he was named auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Toronto. Three years later he was appointed the 11th Archbishop of Halifax, where he served until 2007 before moving on to Ottawa. He said when he was first appointed to Ottawa his experience coming into the post was a lot different than his roles in Toronto and Halifax.

“In both Toronto and Halifax, I had already spent a lot of time there, so I knew the cities and I knew the faith communities to a large extent. You are always learning and you never know everything but I was familiar with those places,” Prendergast said. “Coming to Ottawa was different, I really didn’t know many people and I was not as familiar with the city so I had to learn a lot about the community,” he said. “It was a very different experience, but sometimes coming in with ‘new eyes’ can be helpful.

“I am honoured to have served as leader of the Archdioceses of Ottawa and Ottawa-Cornwall for 13 years,” Prendergast said.

The statement from the archdiocese praised his work in fostering interfaith co-operation, noting his relationships with leaders in the Jewish and Islamic communities.”

Prendergast himself wishes he could have done even more on that front now that his time as Ottawa-Cornwall’s archbishop ends.

“I have developed some lasting friendships with people like Rabbi (Reuven) Balka who is retired like me, but I wish I had put more attention towards that especially in the early years when I first got here,” said Prendergast, adding he also wished he had been able to do more to evangelize Francophone youth in the diocese.

But now that his time as archbishop in Ottawa is over, and even though there is another mission he has been tapped to undertake by Pope Francis in the immediate future, his time in Canada’s capital city will stay with Prendergast forever.

“This large and generous community of faithful Catholics will continue to encourage me in my faith journey,” he said.

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