Archbishop Francis J. Spence

Archbishop Spence led Kingston diocese for two decades

  • August 2, 2011

Archbishop Francis John Spence, former archbishop of Kingston, died peacefully in his Kingston, Ont., home on the morning of July 27 at the age of 85.

Archbishop Spence, a former president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), served as a priest for 61 years and as a bishop for 44. In 2002, after two decades of leading the archdiocese of Kingston, he retired.

“As an archdiocese, we thank God for the gift of Archbishop emeritus Spence and his unfailing service and witness throughout the years of his priesthood and episcopacy,” read a statement from the archdiocese of Kingston.

Archbishop Spence was born in Perth, Ont., in 1926. After his ordination in 1950, he spent two years as an associate pastor at Kingston's St. Mary’s Cathedral, where he was the secretary to the archbishop of Kingston. In 1955, Archbishop Spence earned a doctorate in canon law from the Angelicum University in Rome after three years of study. After returning to Kingston, he fulfilled a variety of responsibilities and attended the Second Vatican Council, until his appointment as a bishop in 1967.

For the next 15 years, he served as auxiliary bishop to the Military Ordinariate, where he developed a reputation as a devout, kind and understanding man among soldiers, Catholic or not. For 12 of those years, he also served as bishop of Charlottetown, balancing two separate appointments at once as he travelled between his diocese and military bases in Canada and Europe.

“He was recognized as being very intelligent and an extremely hard worker,” said current Kingston Archbishop Brendan Michael O’Brien, who was a seminarian in 1967 when he first met Archbishop Spence. “He had a phenomenal sense of responsibility.”

Archbishop Spence’s dedication and hard work only intensified as he was installed as archbishop of Kingston in 1982, the same year he was appointed as bishop for the Military Ordinariate of Canada. For seven years, he held both positions.

In 1995, after several years of involvement with commissions and committees, Archbishop Spence was elected president of the CCCB, a title he held for two years.

After his retirement at age 76, Archbishop Spence continued his priestly ministry by celebrating Mass and filling in for vacationing priests.

Despite numerous titles, achievements and honours — he founded the archdiocese of Kingston’s seasonal newspaper, Journey, and has a Catholic teacher-of-the-year award in his name in the Algonquin and Lakeshore Catholic District School Board — Archbishop Spence maintained a humble and approachable attitude, said O’Brien.

“He was very unassuming, he wasn’t pompous,” said O’Brien, adding that Archbishop Spence wouldn’t hesitate to ask for the consultation of lay people when making decisions in his archdiocese. “People found it easy to chat with him. He was very pleasant company.”

“His keen mind, spirit of service and sense of humour were appreciated and admired by all who knew him,” the statement from the archdiocese read.

But the “faithfulness to the call he had received — to shepherd to the people of God — he took that very seriously,” said O’Brien.

A visitation was held for Archbishop Spence on Aug. 2 at St. Mary’s Catherdral, followed by a vigil that night. His funeral took place Aug. 3.

Archbishop Spence is survived by his brother, William, seven nieces and nephews and many great-nieces and great-nephews.

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