Toronto gets new archbishop, Thomas Collins of Edmonton

By  Joseph Sinasac
  • December 17, 2006

A new archbishop has been appointed to the Archdiocese of Toronto. Pope Benedict XVI announced Dec. 16 that he has called on Archbishop Thomas Collins of Edmonton to take the place of the retiring Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic.

Collins, 59, told The Catholic Register in a telephone interview from Edmonton that he was "very, very honoured by the confidence the Holy Father had in me" to become the 12th bishop of Toronto, which was established in 1842.



"I’ve been immensely grateful for my experience as bishop of St. Paul and as archbishop of Edmonton," he said. "The people have been an inspiration to me and I will miss them very much."

Collins also observed that Toronto, as the largest city in Canada and English-language media and cultural capital, is a highly significant archdiocese in Canada.

"The archdiocese of Toronto is certainly extremely important, central to the life of the church in Canada," he said. "I think this has been emphasized in recent years with the World Youth Day."

Cardinal Ambrozic, 76, praised the new appointment in statement released Dec. 16 by the archdiocese.

"I am most pleased to see that the Holy Father has appointed Archbishop Collins to lead the archdiocese of Toronto. I have no doubt that he will be a responsible steward of the diocese, a faithful shepherd who will guide his flock for many years to come. I thank God for the privilege to serve as archbishop and offer gratitude to the clergy and laity who have supported me during my time in the archdiocese of Toronto. Be assured that you will always remain close to my heart and in my prayers."

The changing of the guard will take place early in 2007 at a date to be determined later. Though the cardinal handed in his letter of resignation to the Pope almost two years ago, when he was 75, he was asked by John Paul to stay on for another couple of years. He will be 77 on Jan. 27.

The seat of the archdiocese becomes immediately vacant upon the cardinal's retirement. On Dec. 18, the College of Consultors of the Archdiocese of Toronto will convene to elect an administrator to govern the local church for the interim.

Collins has been archbishop of Edmonton since 1999. He said the archdiocese is complex, taking care of almost 350,000 Roman Catholics within a metropolitan area of one million people. Prior to that, he was bishop of St. Paul diocese in northern Alberta from 1997 to 1999. Though the Catholic population was only about 50,000, the geographic area was large and encompassed some First Nations territory as well as Fort McMurray, the centre of the booming oil sands developments.

"I travelled many miles and got to experience the excitement of the oil industry and the economic boom that’s occurring, I was able to get to know First Nations people and Ukrainian Catholics as well. People everywhere were most welcoming."

In Edmonton in 2000, Collins initiated monthly lectio divina, prayerful reading and reflection on Scripture. Each month after a formal Vespers in the Cathedral, he would lead a 30-45-minute time of reading Scripture passages, followed by silent reflection and his own thoughts on the readings.

"It’s prayer. In a sense it’s what I do now when reading Scripture alone. My hope would be that individuals would take this experience and do it themselves with other Scripture readings."

Collins has had a long interest in Scripture and holds a licentiate in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, along with a doctorate in theology from the Gregorian University there.

Toronto’s newest archbishop is a native of Guelph, Ont., and still has two sisters, Catharine and Patricia, living there. He was an altar server at Our Lady Immaculate Church and later studied English at then St. Jerome’s College at the University of Waterloo.

After graduating from Waterloo with a bachelor of arts degree, he did a bachelor of theology at St. Peter’s Seminary in London, as well as an MA in English from the University of Western Ontario. Graduate studies in Rome followed his ordination.

He was ordained to the priesthood on May 5, 1973, and served a short time in parish life, starting at Holy Rosary parish in Burlington, Ont., followed by Christ the King Cathedral in Hamilton.

From 1978 to 1995, he served at St. Peter’s Seminary in various roles, finally as rector.

Collins takes over an archdiocese of 1.6 million Roman Catholics with 223 parishes in the most culturally diverse city in Canada. Each Sunday, Mass is said in 30 different languages.

Since 1990, the archdiocese has been in the care of Cardinal Ambrozic. A native of Slovenia who immigrated to Canada with his family when he was a teenager, Ambrozic is also a Scripture scholar who taught at St. Augustine’s Seminary before being ordained a bishop in 1976. He served as auxiliary in Toronto until he was named coadjutor archbishop in 1986. In 1998, he was named a cardinal by Pope John Paul II.

For Collins, Toronto will not be completely uncharted waters. He has been to the city many times and has preached retreats for priests and seminarians in the city.

"I’m looking forward to getting to know the people there," he said.

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