31 March 2010

Part One of A Brief History of the Toronto Diocese Chapter 3: A Man for Toronto


Note:  I intend this to be my last post before the Triduum, and I hope to avoid the internet altogether during that time.  I wish you all a most Holy and Happy Easter, and wish to remind you, as the man I am about to discuss knew so well, the only true attitude for a Catholic who truly believes in the Resurection and the forgiveness of our sins, is Triumphalism.  In short, we are celebrating the Victory of Our Lord, won for our salvation. 

Also, admit the rotten news out there, remember we are to rejoice when others persecute us for Jesus's sake.  These are joyful times indeed.


It is said a picture is worth a thousand words.  Let us begin, then, with the only picture.

This image is only one of Toronto's first bishop, Michael Power.  All other images of Power are copies of this one, and in many cases, poor copies.  the colour version of this painting depicts Power with rosy red cheeks. Whether painted from life or after death, I cannot tell.  How accurate this image is, I cannot tell.  To my eye, Power appears to be somewhat soft in this image: A plaster saint, or a high minded eunuch. But Power was hardly soft, and now it is time for the thousand words to explain why.

Michael Power was born October 17, 1804 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Irish immigrant parents. His family seems to have been fairly well off at first, as his father was a ship captain and owner. However, ships could sink and frequently did, so the family was supported mainly by the efforts of the mother, who took in renters.

He was educated at the local grammar school and taught Latin by the local priest. He was a promising student and at the age of twelve was sent to the seminary of St Sulpice in Montreal to begin his training for the priesthood, and was ordained in 1827 at the age of twenty-three. His teachers and mentors had marked out his abilities as a scholar, and a specialist in canon law, and believed Power was a priest who could go far in his career. At first Power gained experience served in various parishes and missions on the edge of Quebecois society- judging from his record, not very successfully- until 1839, when he was appointed pastor at Laprairie and Vicar General for the diocese of Montreal. He settled into his new parish and position quite comfortably, and loved and was loved by his congregation. However, he was not allowed to remain there for long.

In 1841 the bishop of Kingston, Remegius Gaulin was in poor health and sought a co-adjutor. Knowing of Father Michael Power’s talents, he requested him. At the same time, he also appealed to the Holy See to split his vast diocese. From the first, Power was considered to be the best man for the bishop of the new diocese. Power was concerned about his abilities to become bishop, and also wished to make sure all legalities were observed. He travelled with Bourget to Rome to see that all arrangements were made. Bourget, for his part, played a mild sleight of hand on Power. In submitting a list of three candidates for the position of bishop of the new diocese, he put Power’s name as “Most dignified”, and the other two, while dignified, were unlikely to the point of impossible candidates. On December 17, 1841, the diocese of that was soon to be named for Toronto was created, and Michael Power was named its bishop. He just thirty seven years old.

Next, Power and Bishop Bourget of Montreal were sent to London to make necessary arrangements with the British Government for the reorganization within their territory. Church and state were not separated at this time, and the British Government was very much an interested party in the ecclesiastical arrangement of their territory. For starters, the church preferred by the British, the Anglican Church, had not created a separate diocese for Toronto and its area at this time. That meant the top Anglican in town, Archdeacon John Strachan, would technically be outranked by a papist. Using the kind of savvy he would show throughout his tenure as bishop, Power used his political intelligence to phrase the request in terms of law and order:

A Canadian Bishop in case of emergency will provide more authority over those committed to his care than an ordinary clergyman, his presence and advice may also prove highly serviceable to His Majesty’s Government in quelling the spirit of insubordination and fierce democratic spirit which unhappily exists in a formidable degree in many parts of the frontier line.
In the wake of the 1837 rebellions of Upper and Lower Canada (during which Power was detained by French Canadians who distrusted him), the British Government was very much concerned with quelling insubordination and democratic spirits. They acceded to the plan, and shortly after, in 1842, Power was consecrated bishop at Laprairie. He was permitted to name and choose the seat of his diocese, and chose Toronto as the location of his seat, and set sail for his new diocese. The diocese ran geographically from Newcastle county West to lake Superior. In area it was larger than the entire Island of Great Britain and Ireland, combined. It had but a few parishes and a total of twenty clergymen.

Bishop Power chose Toronto to be his seat, and settled the boundary between his diocese and Kingston somewhere in the area of what is now Whitby. He travelled to the ‘city’ up the St. Lawrence and over Lake Ontario by boat, and was installed as Bishop in St Paul’s on June 16th. St. Paul’s, the little ugly church, as it had been repeatedly called, was now his Cathedral.  I don't know when Power decided he needed a new Cathedral, but I suspect it was soon after his installation, if not before.

Organizing the clergy and setting out the new rules for his diocese were high on Bishop Power’s mind. He quickly summoned a synod of his priests to the new centre of the diocese. Seventeen came, with three abstentions for legitimate reasons. The synod had an impressive ceremony in which the diocese of Toronto was consecrated to The Sacred Heart of Jesus. Power expressed a wish to begin a new college run by the Jesuits, to begin a Mission among the Natives. It was perhaps the first of many wishes he did not live to see fulfilled.

The purpose of the Synod was to establish control measures and regulations for the discipline and order of the clergy and the laity. Priests were not to wander beyond the limits of their parish without the Bishop’s permission. They were to dress in an appropriate manner- cassock- and avoid any intimate association with women. Rules were set up regarding churches, which must be regarded as looking forward to a time when churches would be built. All churches were to have confessional boxes so sins would not become public knowledge. Confession outside of churches was forbidden except in cases of the deaf or ill. All churches were to have baptismal fonts, and there were to be no baptisms in private homes unless the child was in danger of death. Marriages were to be regulated, and by the beginning of the new year all parishes had to set up a ledger recording all baptisms, confirmations and marriages. Power further stated that use of the Roman Missal, Breviary and Butler’s Catechism were to be normative in the diocese.

After the synod, Bishop Power travelled his vast diocese, going as far as Manitoulin Island in the west, educating priests and laity on the value of charitable works and the providing sacraments. His travels convinced him of the need for a more decentralized power structure for the diocese, and so he set up six deaneries to aid in the administration of the diocese. Each deanery was named after a saint, for example the Home deanery was named St Michael. Each deanery was under the supervision of a local cleric, called a “dean”, who was authorized to call meetings to deal with local problems quickly and efficiently.

Before long, Bishop Power settled a pattern. He spent the winter in Toronto, and spent the summer travelling the diocese, seeing to the administration of the sacraments. He spent considerable time and energy travelling back and forth, seeing to the needs of his people.

Around 1844-1845, Power decided the diocese and particularly the home deanery needed a focal point: a Cathedral and bishop’s palace. Power purchased land from Peter McGill at an area of Church Street that had not yet been incorporated into the city of Toronto. He paid a sum of 1,800 pounds. He asked all Catholic workers to contribute 5 shillings for the land and construction. The construction began on April 7, 1845, in a way that today is most often associated with the Amish: They had a bee. An entire ox was roasted for the volunteers who showed up with shovels and began digging out the foundations of the new cathedral and bishop’s palace. On May 8th, Bishop Power laid the cornerstone. Soon after that the project was in debt and draining the meagre resources of the diocese, in spite of the fact that much of the construction was carried out by volunteers. He was also greatly helped by Sir John Elmsley and another wealthy convert, Samuel Goodenough Lynn, who both contributed greatly and oversaw the finances of the building.

The Cathedral is perhaps Bishop Power’s most personal mark in the diocese, and it deeply reflects Power’s personal beliefs. It deserves a post in and of itself, and such a post will come in its turn, but for now, a few small remarks would be in order.

First of all, the Cathedral’s design reflects Bishop Power’s position as an Anglophile, for its design is based upon the English Cathedral at Yorkminster. It is entirely possible Power saw the church in person whilst in England in 1842, and decided this was the kind of church he wanted for his Cathedral. According to the Cathedral’s website, this explains the two faces, representing King Edwin of Northumbria and Paulinus, first bishop of York, carved on the pillars beside the main entrance.

Secondly, the sheer size of the cathedral shows Power’s rather idiosyncratic beliefs. Though it does not appear particularly large to the modern eye, at the time it was the largest religious building in the city, and it was to have the tallest steeple of all the city’s churches. It could literally hold every single Catholic living in the city at the time it was started, with some room to spare. It was unusual for Power, who normally stepped carefully and sought no confrontations with the other religious leaders of the city, to make so bold a move. But Power chose to make the building so large not only to emphasize the presence of the Catholic Church in the new city, but also because Power subscribed to a few of the beliefs prominent during the time. He was both an Ultramontanist, who believed in the supremacy of the Pope, and a believer in a Fifth age, believing that a new age was approaching as prophesied in the Bible, an era that would be a time to trials and tribulations, and mass conversions. Therefore, if new converts were to be coming, Power felt he had better make room for them.

As the new bishop of a new diocese, Power had many problems with which to deal. Power received word from Father McDonagh, who was stationed by Power at St Catherine’s, that McDonagh was experiencing trouble from the Irish Canal builders. McDonagh felt the problem lay with Irish secret societies, which had come with the new immigrants from the old country. Power had promised the British government that as a new bishop, he could help them maintain order in the new land, and he was not going to back down from that promise. Power advised McDonagh to use any means necessary to bring an end to the problems. McDonagh’s solution to the problem was perhaps quaint and novel to modern eyes: Bearing a Host and a Chalice in his hands, McDonagh walked back and forth between the warring lines. Hostilities ceased immediately, and McDonagh won Power’s approval.

Power expected obedience and compliance to his rules. Having decreed in the synod of 1842 that all priest were to wear clericals, he was dismayed to find that Vicar General MacDonald was appearing publicly without his soutane, and immediately suspended his authority, leaving him only a Parish priest in Hamilton. But when the problem was remedied, Power reinstated MacDonald, and left him and Father Hay in charge of the diocese whilst Power traveled to Europe for six months at the beginning of 1847. This may indicate that the bishop could quickly forgive and forget once a problem had been remedied, or it may be more reflective of the lack of clergy in the diocese.

The purpose of Power’s journey to Europe was to find a solution to his greatest problem: the lack of clergy. He hoped to create a seminary, but for that he needed funds. He turned to Ireland to find some funds and a few priests to come and serve in his diocese. It was difficult work, and he himself admitted that any priest serving in the vast diocese would have to deal with loneliness, and the lack of the comforts of home.

Power hoped to get some help with the chronic problems of a shortage of clergy, but while in Europe he found a new problem was coming to his diocese, the greatest problem the new diocese ever faced. The depth of the problem dawned on the good Bishop when he stopped off in Ireland before returning home.


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