Archbishop Francis Leo greets members of the faithful at his Mass of Installation as the archbishop of Toronto, March 25, 2023. Meeting his flock regularly is only part of an archbishop’s typical day. Michael Swan

A day in the life of an archbishop

  • March 31, 2023

Now that Archbishop Francis Leo has assumed the lead for the Archdiocese of Toronto, what can he expect from a typical day? 

The short answer is that there truly is no daily routine. Leo will soon find out that no two days ever are the same. 

Neil MacCarthy, the long-time director of public relations and communications for the Archdiocese of Toronto, is highly knowledgeable about the diverse list of events, liturgies and meetings that constitute the archbishop’s agenda. He said the only thing constant from day to day is a fastidious commitment to make time for prayer. 

“With Cardinal (Thomas) Collins, and I’m sure we’ll find with Archbishop Leo, is that prayer is at the centre of every day, not only for them as bishops, but as priests,” said MacCarthy. “Whether they start the day with morning prayer, personal reflection and prayer before the Blessed Sacrament or sometimes celebrating morning Mass. It is central every morning, midday, evening. It is the thread that is woven through their day.”

Variety as the spice of life can be defined as the credo the rest of the time. Any given day the archbishop could be visiting a school, guiding liturgical services, engaging in ecumenical events, participating in sit-downs with various lay movements and appearing at special city functions like the opening of the provincial legislature.

Some commitments are engraved in his schedule months in advance. Some functions materialize in response to happenings in society. An example was the domestic terrorist vehicle-ramming attack on Yonge Street in Toronto’s north end that killed 11 pedestrians and injured 15 others on April 23, 2018. Collins was present at the quickly put together memorial and prayer services for the victims. 

Or when there is a death of a notable public figure, for example former Ontario Lieutenant-Governor David C. Onley, who passed away in January, the archbishop presided over the funeral.

Each archbishop either chooses to be hands-on or hands-off when it comes to deciding the items on their schedule. In the case of Collins, it was the former. 

“Cardinal Collins was certainly very hands-on with his schedule,” said MacCarthy. “He was always involved in determining whether he would attend a particular event. For other bishops, they defer to others to make recommendations. It is going to be a new experience to see what are the preferences of Archbishop Leo.”

Equity is a key factor that helps determine what invitations to accept and which to politely decline. If the archbishop attended a certain event the previous year, he would give serious consideration in choosing the other option should there be a conflict this time around for the sake of fairness. 

Meetings also dominate the schedule. The archbishop is a member of many boards so he regularly attends assemblies of the stewardship committee, the ShareLife advisory board, archdiocesan pastoral ministries and a host of others. There are also plenty of personal meetings with individual priests and with various Catholic and non-Catholic organizations throughout the district. 

The archbishop also liaises regularly with entities like the episcopal board, the council of priests, the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops to discuss big-picture issues for the Church in the province and across the nation.

MacCarthy enjoyed a long professional relationship serving Collins for over 16 years starting in January 2007. With the exception of working for the late Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic in 2006, the entirety of MacCarthy’s contributions in this role has been made in service of Collins’ evangelism.  

Now MacCarthy will embark upon a transition to learn how he can best serve Toronto’s newest archbishop as the new leader acclimatizes to the daily realities of his role.

“There definitely is a transition period as every bishop coming in has their own approach and own preference on how they want to kind of look at things. Even in the last few weeks of just working with Archbishop Leo on the transition, you start to get a feel of how much he wants to be involved on certain things. It is a new experience for him to come into a diocese where he hasn’t worked full time. It will be new for him and new for us.”

MacCarthy said he tells everyone that it takes upwards of a full liturgical year in the archdiocese to get a true “built-in understanding of the ebbs and flows of what a year looks like.”

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