Michael Power: The Struggle to Build the Catholic Church on the Canadian Frontier

Article excerpt

Canadian Michael Power: The Struggle to Build the Catholic Church on the Canadian Frontier. By Mark G. McGowan. [McGill-Queen's University Studies in the History of Religion, Series Two, Vol. 27.] (Montreal and Kingston: McGillQueen's University Press. 2005. Pp. xvii, 382. Can. $49.95.)

Mark McGowan grabs and holds the attention of his audience, from beginning to end, in this important biography of Michael Power, first bishop of Toronto, Ontario. Born in Halifax in 1804, Power went to Montreal and Quebec City for studies. He never returned to work in Halifax but, ordained at twentytwo, stayed in the Montreal region. His education and early ministry gave him experience and knowledge of French such that, at age thirty-seven, he was nominated bishop of the newly-created diocese in 1841. Ontario was pioneer territory when Power was consecrated. Despite the lack of personnel, resources, and the basic amenities of life, Power accomplished a great deal in a mere six years, as McGowan reports. It is no surprise that he was universally mourned at his untimely death in 1847, resulting from typhus contracted while caring for sick diocesans.

Presenting the story, McGowan serves the local and national Church but also a much larger audience, as this really is a "Life and Times" biography. McGowan gives the reader a picture of the man who was devout in faith, loyal to the Church and Magisterium, and rigorous in application of church law, while utterly pastoral, a tireless worker, truly humble and far-reaching in his thinking and planning for the nascent diocese.

Just as important, McGowan paints a larger picture giving context to Power's story. From his background in Nova Scotia, to the province of Quebec, to Ontario, McGowan provides a picture of the Church with its various accomplishments, tensions, and "growing pains." This was when Canada was moving toward nationhood, with the colony itself experiencing "growing pains" as a result of imperial rule and tensions leading to various rebellions .The universal Church figures prominently through Power's loyalty to the pope and with the influence that ultramontanism had in Quebec and on Power himself. …