Academic journal article Historical Studies

Bishop (John) McNally and the Benedictines of Ampleforth

Academic journal article Historical Studies

Bishop (John) McNally and the Benedictines of Ampleforth

Article excerpt

In April 1912 two Benedictine monks from Ampleforth in England arrived in Edmonton to study the possibility of establishing a monastic foundation in the western provinces. Father Oswald Smith, Abbot of Ampleforth Abbey, and Father Vincent Wilson had been invited to the "geographical centre of all the North-West" (1) by Bishop Emile Legal of St. Albert, who had in mind an institution of higher learning for Alberta.

According to Bishop Legal: "Here is an enormous continent newly open to colonization which is filling rapidly with [a] numerous and continuous onrush of land-seekers. The population is large already, but will increase rapidly." (2) The desire of Catholics settling in western Canada, especially English-speaking Catholics, was to have a Catholic institution under the management of an English-speaking congregation. (3)

During the following year, the Benedictines began their "Canada College," in Calgary rather than Edmonton. Within a year a mission was incorporated for the Congregation, plans for the proposed institution nearly finalized, and footings poured for one wing of the main building.

In March 1914, the Benedictines abandoned the Canadian project and eventually returned to Ampleforth. They had decided, as they explained to Calgary's Bishop John Thomas McNally, that "our scheme of corporate life and collegiate work at Calgary is not practicable in this generation." (4) Their departure from Calgary, a city with a largely English-speaking population, has been a puzzle, their reasons a well-kept secret. In light of new documentation, this paper examines the events that led to their leaving, seemingly a missed opportunity in the history of education in western Canada.

No one was more aware of the need of English-speaking educators than Bishop McNally, who had been handed the herculean task of organizing the Diocese of Calgary shortly after it was erected 30 November 1912, when the Diocese of St. Albert was divided into the dioceses of Edmonton and Calgary. Previously the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (O.M.I.), missionaries in the area for over fifty years, had been in charge of the larger centres and missions. (5) Their language of instruction was French. As McNally endeavored to integrate his non-English-speaking and non-French-speaking adherents, the diocese and the Benedictines became embroiled in the ethnic and cultural tensions that were prevalent between the two large linguistic groups in Canadian Catholicism.

John Thomas McNally was the first English-speaking Roman Catholic bishop of the prairies. A native of Prince Edward Island, he was forty-three years old and of Irish descent. He was an ultramontanist, a believer in an emphasis on the authority of Rome in matters of ecclesiastical government. He was also an imperialist, "proud of the great British Empire which encircles the globe." (6) As such, he had the credentials needed to implement English as the language of instruction and communication in the Diocese of Calgary.

McNally was ordained in Rome 4 April 1896, a candidate for the priesthood from the Diocese of Ottawa. After receiving doctorates in theology and philosophy, he returned to Ottawa to serve as a curate for three years. He then applied for a transfer to Portland, Oregon, and became Secretary to Archbishop Christie for four years. After returning to Rome for two years of further study, he accepted pastoral appointments for the Diocese of Ottawa, at Old Chelsea, Quebec, and Almonte, Ontario. His experience with French-English relations was honed by an appointment to notary service at the Plenary Council of Canadian Catholic Bishops, held at Quebec in 1909. The Canadian Church looked forward with firm confidence to McNally's "great achievement for the Church in Calgary." (7)

En route to the diocese after his consecration in Rome 1 June 1913, presided over by Diomede Cardinal Falconio, the first permanent Apostolic Delegate to Canada, Bishop McNally visited Francis Cardinal Bourne in London, and spoke to him about the Benedictine College. …

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