“I may be a bit late for lunch tomorrow because I have to say Mass in the morning for the old people at a nearby seniors’ home. They move rather slowly, you know, and sometimes it takes them a while to get around,” said Fr. Ted Colleton, himself a delightful 88-year-old, in a phone conversation.
During lunch, we talked about his 60 years as a priest, 30 years in Africa and 30 years in Canada. In 1971 when he came to Toronto to work with VICS (Volunteer International Christian Services), he was horrified to learn that Canadian hospitals were doing abortions. When he was in Kenya, where he knew two African languages, he did not even know of any word for abortion. Appalled that a modern society like Canada would solve its social problems by killing thousands of unborn babies a year, he felt a call to pro-life work. For the last 30 years, he has combined his priestly duties with his pro-life commitment.
In my 1991 book, Silhouettes Against the Snow, Fr. Colleton was profiled as “A Lion in Winter.” He hasn’t changed much in the last decade despite his golden years. His initiation into the pro-life cause occurred in 1971 when he joined the Right to Life Association of Toronto board, and then its Speakers Bureau, to do their pro-life presentations in schools. He’s still doing them. He soon became a much sought-after speaker for fund-raising events, prayer vigils and protest rallies across the country. Amidst these activities he wrote two best-selling books, with a third, I’m Still a Radical, a collection of his monthly Interim columns of the last 14 years, just published. As well, he’s spoken in the media, picketed, been fined and arrested outside Henry Morgentaler’s Toronto abortuary over a dozen times, and gone to jail for six weeks in 1989. Still, he says he hasn’t done enough for the pro-life cause. Hinting that he might take more dramatic action in the future, he believes it is necessary to shake up indifferent politicians and to alert a public grown desensitized or accustomed to the abortion holocaust.
A special tribute dinner was held May 3 to celebrate Fr. Colleton’s 60th anniversary as a priest. More than 700 people attended, many of them priests. He seemed deeply moved, and expressed gratitude to his parents for his early spiritual formation, and sang “Mother Macree,” an Irish song his mother taught him. Then he spoke briefly and poked fun at himself, but couldn’t resist what he is known and loved for – telling a few Irish jokes. Campaign Life Coalition president Jim Hughes spoke about him, recalling that even when Father was in jail, he’d phone Jim, saying, “Hey, Jim, I’ve got a good one. Listen to this.” Jim surmises that Father has spoken to more than a million people during his priestly life, and with tongue in cheek, says, “A dollar for each one of those people would bring his fund-raising for missions and pro-life causes to about one million dollars.” However, Father would probably respond by saying, “I try to be humble but I’ve had very little practice.”
Then on May 5, a 60th Anniversary Mass at St. Joseph’s Church in Toronto was celebrated by Fr. Colleton, assisted by his long-time Irish friend and fellow Spiritan, Fr. Edward Graham. Fr. Colleton thanked God in his homily “for the greatest calling of all – to the priesthood,” which he received as a teenager more than 70 years ago.
Later during our visit, he talked about how he integrates his priestly duties with his pro-life commitment. He said that prayer is all-important, because it gives conviction and courage to do what’s right. Then he referred to Edmund Burke’s words that all that evil needs to flourish is for good men and women to do nothing. He believes that the clergy should move from the pulpit on the abortion issue and apply moral principles and stand up for Christ in defending innocent human life.
Over the years, Fr. Colleton has been inspired by other pro-lifers, such as the late Laura McArthur, Gwen Landolt, Jim Hughes, Fr. Alphonse de Valk, Rev. Ken Campbell, Fr. Tony Van Hee, the late Tom Brown, Joanne Dieleman, and more recently by Linda Gibbons and Robert Hinchey, to name a few. What they have in common, he finds, is faith and fortitude. “They have a spirit of life and refuse to be dictated to by political correctness. There is no measurement in words for their inspiration and example.”
Fr. Colleton says that people who make sacrifices for the pro-life cause may sometimes feel discouraged by the apparent lack of success or results for their efforts, “but we must never forget that Jesus died a complete failure by worldly standards. It was only after the Hill of Calvary that He arose in the Garden of Resurrection.” His message to pro-lifers is never to lose courage. “By your stand for the unborn, you are sowing the seeds of a future which you may not live to witness but the next generation may.”
To keep the conversation from becoming too gloomy, Father digressed to tell a favourite joke, probably fictitious, about himself. As a newly ordained priest, he was giving his first Sunday homily. Seated in the front pew was a mother and her baby son. Whenever Father spoke, the baby would wail. When Father stopped, the baby stopped. This continued several times until finally the mother rose to take the baby out. Father called out to her, “Oh no, you don’t have to take the baby out. He’s not annoying me.” The mother replied, “No, but you’re annoying him.”