Today was Good Shepherd Sunday in the OF. We are to pray for our priests, give thanks for them, and to pray for more, as well as find other ways to support them.
I found myself thinking of our first bishop, Michael Power. There was a good shepherd if ever there was one. Power's tenure here was short, and his legacy to us is complicated. Despite being a young man (still in his thirties) when he was made bishop, he died after a mere five years in the office. He was still very much in the process of setting up the machinery of the diocese and setting it into motion when he died, so there is relatively little that we can point to as his. At least one historian has argued that the true founder of the diocese was Power's successor, Bishop Charbonnel.
The one undeniable thing Power left us was his example. Power died in 1847 after he contracted Typhus from personally ministering to the victims of the Irish Famine who landed ashore here all that long summer. Since him, we have had many bishops who founded schools and built churches, set up this or took down that, but we have had but one who gave his life in the service of his flock. I understand the cause for his canonization has been opened. I support it whole heartedly.
Unfortunately, that is almost all we know of the man. I say 'unfortunately', because his life should be remembered for more than how it ended. His end was not an aberration of his life, but its fulfillment. We should look to what went before as well.
The most recent pandemic and the measures taken against it have had many asking the question: what would Power have done? The usual implication is that he would not have done what our current leaders have done and are doing. Very often it isn't an implication, but overtly stated. I wonder about that. What he would have done were he here today is ultimately unknowable, but if we were to look to his brief time as bishop and try to know him a little better, I think we may have some surprising answers..
Here's a few things to consider.
First, he probably would have lead from the front, as he did in '47. As that summer wore on, the few priests Power had in Toronto all fell ill to Typhus, one by one, so by the end he was alone in administering the sacraments to the faithful and to the sick. It is likely one of the reasons he fared so badly against the disease is because he was utterly worn out and exhausted, with no reserves left for himself. So, what direction would he have lead?
Here is gets a little more complicated. Back than, in the time when he was not at Mass or at the fever sheds ministering to the sick, he was at nightly meetings with the government officials of the time. He used his influence, as well as the influence of some well placed Catholic friends, to sway policy and to get a little more help for his flock. Part of his agreement with the British officials in order to get them to sign off on the creation of the new diocese was his promise that he would keep his flock in line and do what he could to stop his people from joining any further rebellions against the government, as many had done in 1837.
So, to say that Power would have directly confronted and gone against or even defied the government- unlikely.
What would he have done with the government restricting attendance at religious services to a mere ten people? It is likely he would have met with them, and he would have used his circle of friends to help persuade the government to change its mind. Perhaps he would have organized open air services, where the restrictions don't quite apply.
Second, less known about Power is that he had autocratic tendencies and was also an ultramontanist.
One of Power's first acts as bishop was to put a series of rules on his priests, one of which was to order his priests to wear their clericals at all times. His priests, who were almost all Irish, objected. Wearing your clericals in Ireland could get you killed. Wearing them in Upper Canada could get you a thrashing. Power, despite being born in Halifax to Irish parents, was educated, ordained, and served as a priest in Quebec, and was therefore essentially a French priest and insisted on the French tradition. Over their objections, the order stayed.
He would consult with others before making a decision, and, once the decision was made, it was final. He did not take contradiction well. One priest wrote a description of Power flying into a rage, his face turning dark red, his eyes bulging from their sockets. He was also known to reconcile quickly with those who repented of running afoul of him.
This ties into his ultramontanist tendencies. Ultramontanism was a movement that began in France, of looking literally 'beyond the mountains' (in their case,, the Alps) to the man beyond- namely, the Pope. If they had a motto, it would have been Roma loctus est, causa finita est. It is my understanding that it was this movement that would ultimately give rise to the doctrine formalized in the First Vatican Council of Papal infallibility. Power deliberately sought to model his diocese after Rome, and he expected his people to follow their bishop even as he followed the Pope, and he would have not tolerated, not even for a second, any deviation. Attacking him or the Pope was to invite excommunication.
What would he have done? Possibly what you wish, and possibly not.