The Life of Bishop Michael Powert
Something of an unsung hero, Bishop Michael Power started the construction of St. Michael’s Cathedral and founded the Archdiocese of Toronto.
Power was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Irish immigrants on October 17, 1804. On the advice of Father Edmund Burke, the Vicar General of Nova Scotia, Michael began to study for the priesthood. Following his seminarian studies in Montreal and Quebec City, Father Power was ordained on August 17, 1827, in Montreal.
After this, Father Power was sent to Drummondville, Quebec to do mission work. During the 1830s and 40s, he served at a number of parishes including Montebello, in the Ottawa Valley, at Sainte-Martine and La Prairie, near Montreal. While serving at La Prairie, Father Power also became the Vicar General of the Diocese of Montreal.
The Diocese of Toronto
In the spring of 1841, Bishop Remy Gaulin began to seek assistance with the running of his diocese, which consisted of all of Upper Canada, now the province of Ontario. He sought the division of the diocese, either through an absolute division or through the selection of an auxiliary bishop.
He sent a letter to Bishop Ignace Bourget of Montreal, in which he noted that the province would become increasing Irish in its make-up and recommended Father Power as a suitable candidate to oversee the formation of the new dioceses. “This gentleman is sufficiently Irish to be well thought of here and sufficiently Canadian to live up to all we might expect of him.” In May, 1841, Bishop Bourget and Father Power travelled to Rome where Bishop Gaulin’s proposed division of the Diocese was favourably received.
In December, 1841, the new Diocese of Toronto was formed from the western half of Upper Canada. Father Power was chosen as the Diocese’s first Bishop. He was left free to select his Episcopal See and to recommend the exact borders of his new diocese. Following papal approval, Bishop Power was consecrated in La Prairie on May 8, 1842. He was formally installed as the Bishop of Toronto on June 26.
Toronto’s First Bishop
Shortly after his installation, Bishop Power called a synod. During this meeting, Bishop Power laid down a number of rules designed to put the new Diocese on a firm footing and get it off to a good start. Pastors were not allowed to wander outside of their assigned parishes. Priests were not allowed to charge a fee for the administration of the sacraments. Churches were also required to erect baptismal fonts and confessionals, as well as to keep detailed baptism, marriage and funeral records. Immigrants who wanted to marry were also thoroughly investigated.
Bishop Power wasted no time in providing the Diocese of Toronto with needed energy and dynamic leadership. In August and September 1842, he undertook his first pastoral visits to Penatanguishene and Manitoulin Island. He also visited Windsor and Tilbury. Bishop Power had to cope with a number of substandard clerics and was not afraid of applying harsh punishments. Bishop Power’s most important achievement would be the founding of St. Michael’s Cathedral.
Father Power, while still Pastor at La Prairie Parish played an instrumental role in bringing the Jesuits to his church. The history of the Jesuits in Canada dates back to the founding of New France, but they were expelled by the British following the end of the French and Indian War. The Jesuits did not return to Canada until the late 1840s. Father Power sent a letter to the Jesuits’ Director General, asking for men to run the First Nations missions in the north and west parts of his diocese. In 1843, the Jesuits established Assumption Parish in Windsor, which became the Order’s headquarters in Ontario. The Jesuits stayed in Windsor until 1859, when Bishop Pierre-Adolphe Pinsoneault chose Windsor as his Episcopal See.
By 1847, there were 25 priests in the Diocese of Toronto. However, Bishop Power felt that these numbers were not adequate to meet the needs of the Diocese. Consequently, Bishop Power left on a six month trip to Europe, seeking to recruit additional priests and to raise funds for the construction of St. Michael’s Cathedral.
While in Ireland, Bishop Power arranged for the Loretto Sisters to establish a mission in Toronto. He also came face to face with the Great Irish Famine, which drove more than 90,000 people to leave Ireland and immigrate to Canada, in 1847 alone. Bishop Power was struck by the devastation that the Famine had wrought in Ireland.
When he returned to Canada, he began ministering to the newly arrived immigrants. However, many of the Irish immigrants who arrived in Canada during the late 1840s and early 50s were infected with Typhus. Due to his prolonged exposure, Bishop Power eventually contracted the illness. He died on October 1, 1847. At the time of Bishop Power’s death, construction of St. Michael’s Cathedral was not complete, and he only lived to see the completion of the Bishop’s residence. Today Bishop Power is buried in the Cathedral’s crypt.
Choquette, Robert.Power, Michael. Canadian Dictionar of Biography. Mar.26/10
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- March 27, 2010 / 8:08 pm
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