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Guelph-born Cardinal not slowing down in retirement

Cardinal Thomas Collins held his final masses as Archbishop of Toronto over the weekend, but the Guelph-born priest's schedule continues to be packed
Cardinal Thomas Collins of Guelph, right, greets Pope Benedict XVI in Vatican City in this undated photo.

Guelph-born Cardinal Thomas Collins plans to remain quite busy, even following his retirement as the Archbishop of Toronto.

Collins held his final masses as Archbishop over the weekend.

There wasn't really a decision to be made to go into retirement. Collins said when a bishop turns 75, they're asked to send in a letter of resignation to the Pope.

"It was very moving because I've been Archbishop in Toronto for over 16 years," he told GuelphToday of his final masses. "It's a long time in life."

Collins has spent nearly his entire life in the church setting.

He was an altar server at the Church of Our Lady – now Basilica of Our Lady Immaculate – as a child in Guelph, and was first ordained into the priesthood in 1973.

After holding many roles in both the church and academia across the country, Collins became the Archbishop of Toronto in January 2007.

He said through that time, he really got attached to people and loved being with them.

"It's a beautiful thing being an Archbishop or a bishop of any diocese," he said. "I'm just very impressed with the goodness of the people. The Archdiocese of Toronto is really flourishing. For a while, they were opening a church (every) year."

He commended the work done in the 225 parishes he travels to, and looks back on his time "with great joy."

"I love being a priest, I love the mission of a bishop," Collins said. "I asked to be a priest, I didn't ask to be a bishop, I was told to be a bishop but I love it all. It's beautiful."

In 2012, he was bestowed his highest honour, when Pope Benedict XVI announced Collins would be appointed to the College of Cardinals, just the 16th Canadian to do so.

He remembers at the time, he was in Washington, DC for a meeting on translations for literature in the church, when he had a message left in his hotel room to call the Pope's ambassador in Canada.

He got back to Toronto immediately, and the Pope made the announcement, which saw Collins needing to travel to the Vatican to make it official.

"It was very exciting," Collins said of his trip in 2012. "When you go there, the ceremony was very beautiful in St. Peter's Basilica. Pope Benedict gave me the Cardinal's ring and put with a red hat, symbol of the Cardinal on my head and gave me a scroll."

The role also comes with being the Cardinal-Priest of San Patrizio, a church in Rome, Italy, known as the Roman church of the United States. 

He describes the role as being an 'honourary priest' at the parish.

A year later, he was one of three Canadian Cardinal electors to be part of the conclave to elect Pope Francis, following Benedict's resignation.

He remembers how majestic the experience was, wearing the bright scarlet robe into the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City, with TV cameras all around, and going in to place his ballot.

"I walked right in (the chapel) and think 'what's a kid from Guelph doing here,'" Collins said. "It was amazing."

Collins, who just turned 76 on Jan. 16, can still participate in papal-electing conclaves until his 80th birthday.

But with some extra time, he's not slowing down.

He said he has a lot of books to read, plans to go around doing talks, and help do confessions at churches.

"I've already been booked to do a retreat for priests out west," he said. "I've got two or three things, I'm joining a board for different things, so I'm already filling up (the schedule)."

He'll live at a seminary in downtown Toronto, but he looks forward to getting back to Guelph more, a place his family has called home since about 1832.


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Mark Pare

About the Author: Mark Pare

Originally from Timmins, ON, Mark is a longtime journalist and broadcaster, who has worked in several Ontario markets.
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