Bishop John Sherlock

Sherlock saddened by how disease ravaged cardinal

  • August 31, 2011

The last time Bishop John Sherlock saw his old friend Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic there were tears in Sherlock’s eyes.

“The devastation of that Parkinson’s (like disease) had set in,” recalled London’s bishop emeritus. “I remember being overwhelmed with sadness. I remember I came out of his room and I broke into tears.”

Cardinal Ambrozic was a scholar who spoke English, French, Italian and German, read Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, all in addition to his native Slovenian. It was painful for Sherlock to think of the cardinal imprisoned by a disease, unable to communicate.

“His life must have been pretty miserable. He was a voracious reader and I presume even that was stripped away. He was a great communicator and that was taken away,” said Sherlock.

Sherlock prayed for Cardinal Ambrozic by name every day over the last two years. He directed his prayers to Blessed John Paul II, who had also suffered through Parkinson’s.

Sherlock and Cardinal Ambrozic were sometimes perceived as bishops on opposite ends of the ideological spectrum, but Sherlock finds the idea ridiculous. While Sherlock served constantly on the social justice commissions of the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, and was counted as an ally of Catholic social justice activists, Cardinal Ambrozic had the reputation of a stern defender of tradition.

However, Sherlock remembers Cardinal Ambrozic could be counted on to support the work of social justice commissions.

“He had a heart for the poor,” said Sherlock.

The idea that the Church is split between social justice and orthodoxy has never made sense to bishops, he said.

“He was tremendously interested in the orthodoxy of the faith, and so was I,” said Sherlock.

Sherlock and Cardinal Ambrozic worked together on a statement in support of the encyclical Humanae Vitae which the Ontario bishops issued as a guide to Catholic school teachers in charge of family life programs.

“The only time I remember we disagreed was when St. Theresa of Lisieux was to be made a Doctor of the Church,” said Sherlock. “He wasn’t too high on that.”

Sherlock and Cardinal Ambrozic had been friends since their days together in St. Augustine’s Seminary. Sherlock was a senior seminary student when the future cardinal showed up in 1948.

“When he arrived, he was kind of awkward. He was a displaced person. I, as a senior seminarian, kind of took him under my wing and helped him to adjust to St. Augustine’s,” said Sherlock. “It wasn’t very long before I realized he was extremely brilliant and he was undertaking a lot of studies on his own that went beyond the prescribed curriculum at St. Augustine’s in Scripture and in languages.”

Sherlock became a bishop in 1974, two years before Cardinal Ambrozic was made an auxiliary bishop in Toronto.

“I remember being thrilled he was made a bishop,” said Sherlock.

The young bishops had plenty of respect for the powerful and impressive churchmen who had gone before them, but they weren’t shy, either.

“We never thought of ourselves as young turks,” said Sherlock. “Though we certainly didn’t hesitate to suggest some new ideas and to disagree with some of the standard notions that were around.”

What Sherlock most admired about his brother bishop was his integrity.

“He was a man of total integrity and of absolute truthfulness, without any sham or pretence,” he said. “He described things the way they were. That caused him sometimes to be thought of as lacking diplomacy or tact. Well, sometimes that’s what a situation requires — truthfulness without softening it down out of political considerations. So he was blunt.”

It wasn’t just that sometimes a blunt man is the right man for the job. Sherlock also admired Cardinal Ambrozic’s absolute commitment to Jesus and the Church.

“I had great affection for him. I loved the man.”

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