Academic journal article Historical Studies

Nomination of Michael Fallon as Bishop of London

Academic journal article Historical Studies

Nomination of Michael Fallon as Bishop of London

Article excerpt

At the turn of this century, the population of the nine counties that comprise the Catholic Diocese of London, Ontario had reached 500,038. Of these 11.24% professed the Catholic faith, 5.31% claimed French as their ethnic origin, and 21.49% were of Irish descent. (1) Given the size of its ethnic population and the agrarian nature of its economy, the London Diocese did not seem to pose any threat to the social and religious peace of the Dominion, but it was soon to become a much debated topic among Catholics and Protestants. This upsurge in fame was the result of two events which occurred less than a month apart: the nomination of Michael Francis Fallon as Bishop of the Diocese in December 1909 and the French-Canadian Educational Congress held in Ottawa in January 1910. For the next two decades, Bishop Michael Fallon's relationship with French-Canadians was a controversial issue in Canadian social and religious life.

The investigation of the candidacy and the appointment of Michael Fallon as Bishop of London has been shrouded in mystery and unconfirmed rumours. The Roman hierarchy does not disclose information regarding its methods of investigation or its findings. However, this paper will present the fruits of my research at the Vatican Archives with respect to the nomination of Fallon to the episcopal see of London.

On 25 June 1908, the Bishops of Toronto, Hamilton, Sault Ste. Marie, Kingston, Peterborough, and Alexandria met in Toronto to compile a list of three candidates -- known as a terna -- for the London See which had become vacant following the translation of Bishop Francis Patrick McEvay to the Archdiocese of Toronto. The Bishops felt confidant that Rome would easily accept one their candidates. In fact, in their correspondence to the Apostolic Delegate, Archbishop Donatus Sbarretti, they indicated that all three candidates had been nominated unanimously. The Bishops' first choice, the dignissimus, was Fr. John Mahoney of the Diocese of Hamilton; their second choice, the dignior, was Fr. John Hogan of the Diocese of Kingston; and the dignus, Fr. Dionysius Morris of the Archdiocese of Toronto was their third choice. (2) The Bishops' optimism regarding their choices was shared by Sbarretti. (3) In forwarding to Bishop T. J. Dowling of Hamilton "the usual lists of questions concerning the candidates," (4) Sbarretti tacitly acknowledged that he foresaw no difficulties with any of the three. However as soon as the Apostolic Delegate began his official investigation of the terna, the winds of discontent made themselves felt in Ottawa, creating an obstacle to the nomination of the new Bishop. The appointment turned out to be far more complicated than the Ontario Bishops -- and the Apostolic Delegate -- could ever have expected.

The first hurdle was the unpopularity of Fr. Mahoney of the Diocese of Hamilton. No sooner had McEvay vacated his office that rumours began to circulate as to possible replacements. Rumours form interesting opinion polls that indicate, in a crude and unsolicited manner, the popular priests among possible candidates to the episcopacy, along with the reasons for supporting or opposing the rumoured individuals. A number of priests from London Diocese decided to convey their opinion on the rumoured candidates to the Apostolic Delegate. In June of 1908, an anonymous letter -- simply signed "priests of London" -- was received by Sbarretti. It supplied information on four priests who had been rumoured as possible candidates for London; among the names mentioned was that of Mahoney. (5) As chancellor of Hamilton Diocese and a close friend of Bishop Dowling, Fr. Mahoney was considered the favoured candidate. The information supplied on Mahoney by the anonymous writers, however, was not very flattering in that they felt he had won neither the respect nor the friendship of his fellow diocesan priests. They mistrusted him and considered him to be simply his Bishop's pawn. His inability to bond with the clergy, even in a superficial manner, far outweighed, in the opinion of the anonymous writers, the administrative abilities of Dowling's close ally. …

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