There’s a story that circulates around Guelph, Ont., about how Cardinal-elect Thomas Collins barely escaped Our Lady Immaculate Church with his life.

In one version, a 10-year-old Collins was almost killed when a statue of Our Lady came loose from the roof of the church and crashed at his feet. This somehow drove him into the priesthood.

The story is utter nonsense. We got the true story from the man himself.

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LONDON, ONT. - St. Peter’s Seminary in London has been a focal point for much of the life of Cardinal-designate Thomas Collins. He studied there before becoming a priest in 1973 and over the ensuing 24 years was drawn back to St. Peter’s in the roles of lecturer, Dean of Theology and, finally, rector until he was named bishop of St. Paul, Alta., in 1997.

Fr. Michael Prieur, now a professor of Moral and Sacramental Theology, taught Collins in the early 1970s and worked with him for 19 years at the seminary. Fr. Murray Watson, the current vice-rector and assistant professor of Sacred Scripture and Ecumenism at the seminary, was taught by Collins in the 1990s. The Catholic Register sat down with these two priests and teachers for their perspectives on the London years of the man destined to become Canada’s 16th cardinal.

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When Archbishop Thomas Collins becomes Thomas Cardinal Collins the principal colour of his vestments will become scarlet to symbolize the blood that a cardinal is willing to shed for his faith.

Scarlet was installed as the colour for cardinals by Pope Gregory X at the Second Council of Lyon in 1274.

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With his elevation to the College of Cardinals, Archbishop Thomas Collins has updated his bishop’s coat of arms. The biggest change is an emphasis on the colour red of a cardinal. Here is an explanation of the new emblem.

The motto “Deum Adora” (Worship God) is taken from Revelation 22:9.

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EDMONTON - On Feb. 18, Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins will become the first former archbishop of Edmonton to be installed as a cardinal. Collins is no longer “our man,” nor is he the “man” of the St. Paul diocese where his episcopal career began. Nevertheless, we feel some stake in the man and are glad to experience a little of the reflected glory of his appointment.

A little known fact, however, is that Collins will not be the first priest from this archdiocese to wear the red hat. That honour belongs to Cardinal James Charles MacGuigan, archbishop of Toronto from 1934 to 1971, who in 1946 became the first-ever English-speaking Canadian cardinal.

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TORONTO - About 150 pilgrims from Canada will make their way to Rome to watch history unfold as Archbishop Thomas Collins is elevated to cardinal.

“Any time you can be part of history, people are going to want to experience it live, firsthand, to live it and breathe it,” said Neil MacCarthy, communications director for the archdiocese.

“It’s happened four times in the history of the archdiocese of Toronto. And only 16 times in the history of Canada.”

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When Archbishop Thomas Collins climbs the steps to the main altar of St. Peter’s Basilica on Feb. 18 and kneels before Pope Benedict XVI to receive the red berretta, he begins a form of public martyrdom. He not only represents the great archdiocese of Toronto, but all of Canada, especially Anglophone Canada.

Thomas Collins knows full well the difficulties of the complex ministry that he undertakes as cardinal. As cardinal, he does not lord it over others, but continues to serve the Church through the logic of humility and service — a logic which has distinguished his priestly and episcopal ministry for many years.

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Pope Benedict XVI has named 22 men to the College of Cardinals. They are listed below.

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Cardinal-designate Thomas Collins will become the 16th Canadian Cardinal. View details of the other "princes of the church" below.

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The following is the list of cardinals under the age of 80 who are eligible to elect the pope. They are listed in alphabetical order, with their country. 

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Naming new cardinals is among the more important acts of any papacy, because the cardinals form the “electoral college” that will pick the next pope. That’s arguably even more significant this time around, given that Benedict XVI will turn 85 in April — and although there’s no sign of any health crisis, at that age it’s natural to begin thinking about what might come next.

Here are five quick observations about the 21 new cardinals named by Benedict XVI, including 18 who are under 80 and therefore eligible to participate in a future conclave.

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Although the consistory to elevate Archbishop Thomas Collins to cardinal is being held in the Vatican, the events of this historic week are only an alarm clock (or rooster) away for most Canadians.

Salt + Light Television will be carrying the major events live and showing others on tape delay. That means that, due to the six-hour time difference between Rome and Toronto, viewers will need to be in front of their televisions in the wee hours of the morning to witness Collins receive his red hat from Pope Benedict XVI.

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OTTAWA - When asked what advice or encouragement Cardinal-designate  Thomas Collins might need in his new position, Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte laughed.

“I will it say it’s courage,” the cardinal said from his office in Montreal. “To be a cardinal, it’s a lot of work. It is not only to elect the Pope!”

Collins will become a member of many congregations, or dicasteries, in the Holy See, Turcotte said. “Cardinals are the counsellors of the Pope in those different congregations.”  He can expect to do a lot more travelling to Rome, he added.

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OTTAWA - Over the years, Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast has come to appreciate the depth of Archbishop Thomas Collins’ scholarship, his love for the Scriptures, his joy in sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ and his courage in professing his faith in the public square.

Though Prendergast had crossed paths many times with Collins, it wasn’t until the two were in Rome together in 1999 to receive the pallium that they began to know each other. The pallium is a wool band the Holy Father presents to Metropolitan Archbishops as a sign of their jurisdiction in the Universal Church and of their closeness to the Pope.

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The most important duty of a cardinal is to elect the Pope, but the responsibilities of the College of Cardinals have steadily evolved over the centuries. Cardinals are personally selected by the Pope. They give counsel to the Pope, contribute to the governance of the Church and act as papal envoys. Some are officers of the Roman Curia while many serve as bishops of major diocese around the world. Cardinals have been responsible for electing popes since 1059. They remain eligible to vote until age 80 and the number of voting cardinals is limited to 120.

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