The May issue could have been 32 pages or more. It was a big month for news since our last issue came out. Our beloved former columnist Fr. Ted Colleton passed away April 26. On May 2, there was transformational federal election. On May 13, Ottawa witnessed the largest-ever National March for Life, and successful regional marches were held coast-to-coast. How to fit it all in? What to put on the cover?
The editorial board discussed these matters on May 5. It was quickly agreed that the election warranted ample coverage, but not front-page treatment. There was some debate as to whether the passing of a single person outweighed what was expected to be a crowd of 10,000 people in Ottawa for the march. It was not an easy decision and strong arguments were made for either Fr. Ted or the march gracing the cover. There was even some consideration on how to depict both if we could, but it was decided that such a cover would be cumbersome. (While talking about this to my wife, Christina, she joked that there must be a photo of Fr. Ted at the march and that would take care of both topics.)
I said that in recent months Heather Stilwell and Bernard Nathanson have passed away and both appeared on our cover. Did it make sense to not similarly honour Fr. Ted, who has been close to The Interim as both a columnist and financial supporter (through the sale of his books)? The march is an annual event, but we only get one chance to memorialize our heroes.
Our editorial advisory board meeting moved me off my original position of placing the march on the cover with a teaser box at the top pointing to a special pullout section remembering Fr. Ted. I thought the pullout provided a “second cover” but I realized that was only rationalizing not putting Fr. Ted on the cover of the paper. I left the meeting agnostic on the matter and per Rory Leishman’s suggestion, Jim Hughes and I continued to discuss the matter and I sought further advice.
You know how the matter was settled unless you somehow opened the paper and turned to page five without looking at the cover. The teaser box at the top points our National March for Life coverage. If you have read our editorial, you understand why Fr. Ted is on the cover. As a small acknowledgement of what he has meant to the Canadian pro-life movement and this paper, it was – eventually – an easy decision.
Please indulge a personal note on Fr. Ted, none of which will have anything to do with my time as his editor as this paper. Instead, I want to recall the Fr. Ted I knew before I became involved in the pro-life movement.
I love the Spiritan fathers. I grew up in Woodstock, Ont., and went to St. Rita’s Church. St. Rita’s was the first parish the Spiritans started in Canada, in 1954. I grew up with incredible Irish priests as role models: Fr. Kieran Keena, Fr. Martin Brennan, Fr. Garry McCarthy, and Fr. James (Jimmy) Dunn – all but Fr. Dunn have passed from this world — and most of them, like Fr. Ted, spent time in Africa. Later, the fruits of the order’s missionary work were evident, as we had several African associate pastors (Fathers Jude and Gabriel). Fr. Ted often visited our church and said Sunday Mass and for a brief while, he was a visiting associate pastor.
He wrote in The Interim in July 1991: “About two years ago, when I had reached the age of 76, some friends, both clerical and lay, made kindly suggestions. They intimated that it was time to end my days in a nice parish as an assistant. There I could celebrate Mass for the people, preach the Gospel, administer the sacrament of Penance, visit the schools, take Holy Communion to the sick, etc. What more could an aging priest wish for, with the lines of life beginning to caress his face!”
He wrote that he loved his time doing parish work and he loved the parish. But, he said, being a parish priest is a full-time job and he was called to do pro-life work. Even though he was in his mid-70s, he did not want to turn his back on his pro-life calling. He wrote: “If I had left any other work like say, teaching or fund-raising or administration, I could have simply put it behind me and delved into the new job. But pro-life is different from anything else. I could not get those 1,000,000 babies murdered each year out of my mind or out of my soul.”
Even as a parish priest, he was active in the pro-life movement, supporting local pro-life groups, but he also remained a popular speaker across the country and the demands of his pro-life vocation conflicted with the responsibilities of parish work. He returned to Toronto in 1991 – the movement’s gain being our loss.
Although not completely. Fr. Ted, as he had before becoming an associate pastor, would return for a few weeks to take the place of whichever priest was on vacation to Ireland, as Irish priests are wont to do on an annual basis. It was always a moment of excitement among parishioners when they saw him at the vestibule preparing for Mass.
Over the years, there have been so many connections to Fr. Ted, for my family. Fr. Ted officiated at the wedding when my uncle Mike on my mother’s side got married to Nancy at St. Joseph’s in Port Elgin, another Spiritan parish. I was lucky in that when we visited my relatives in Southhampton and Port Elgin, that there, too, we would occasionally bump into Fr. Ted, who visited or relieved the late Fr. Robert Hudson – which he also wrote about in his columns.
My father lived with Fr. Ted one summer when he was taking courses in Toronto. If you have ever seen the video in which Fr. Ted reads a Christmas story to school children, it is my mother’s Grade 1 class at St. Rita’s school in Woodstock that he is visiting.
In his column about leaving St. Rita’s, Fr. Ted wrote: “The parishioners are a delightful community. They even listened attentively to my homilies and I know that they supported my pro-life convictions. In fact, St. Rita’s is a very pro-life parish.” That’s only because we had priests like Fr. McCarthy and Fr. Dunn and, for a while, Fr. Ted Colleton.
I consider myself blessed to have been taught and influenced by such men and it would be highly unlikely that I would be sitting at a desk in Toronto editing the paper Fr. Ted wrote for over a quarter-century, were it not for them.