OTTAWA – Retiring is proving to be difficult for Terrence Prendergast.

Just days before he was to celebrate his last Mass as the Archbishop of Ottawa-Cornwall, Prendergast was appointed by Pope Francis to take on a new responsibility as apostolic administrator for the Diocese of Hearst-Moosonee. He will oversee that diocese until a new bishop is appointed following the resignation of Bishop Robert Bourgon.

In his new role as apostolic administrator of Hearst-Mossonee, Archbishop Prendergast will oversee a large yet sparsely populated diocese in north eastern Ontario, where 27,000 Catholics live in a diocese that stretches from Chapleau to Peawanack near Hudson Bay. It is a diverse diocese of Indigenous, Anglophone and Francophone faith communities.

“The Holy Father has invited me to take on this short-term responsibility as apostolic administrator of the largest diocese in Ontario and a suffragan diocese of the Ottawa-Cornwall Ecclesiastical Province,” Archbishop Prendergast said after his appointment was made public.

“I will strive to do my best in preparing the diocese to receive a new bishop in 2021. I intend to divide my time in the next several months, alternating trips to Hearst-Moosonee with time in Ottawa,” he said. “I ask for prayers for the successful completion of this new mission.”

The new mission for Archbishop Prendergast is not the way the end of 2020 was supposed to go for the proud Jesuit, who has served in key roles within the Catholic Church in Toronto and Halifax and has become a strong and vocal pro-life advocate as leader of the Catholic Church in Canada’s national capital.

But then again, with a global pandemic continuing to impact daily life around the globe, not much about 2020 has gone the way it was supposed to.

Archbishop Prendergast was set to retire as Archbishop of Ottawa-Cornwall after celebrating Mass at Ottawa’s Notre Dame Cathedral to mark the Silver Jubilee of his ordination as a bishop Dec. 3.

In an interview with the Canadian Catholic News Nov. 27, he said he was looking forward to having time to reflect and perhaps have the opportunity to travel now that the day-to-day responsibility of running one of the few truly bilingual dioceses in Canada was coming to an end.

The plan was for him to become an archbishop emeritus and his successor, Archbishop Marcel Damphousse (co-adjutor archbishop since early May), was all set to celebrate his first Mass as the new archbishop Nov. 8.

That transition of the leadership of the Ottawa-Cornwall archdiocese continues as planned, but Archbishop Prendergast’s “retirement” is different than first envisioned when he submitted his resignation to Pope Francis once he reached the age of 75, which is customary by Canon Law.

Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa-Cornwall, days before his final Mass as archbishop, standing next to a portrait of himself displayed at the archdiocese.

In a statement from the Ottawa-Cornwall archdiocese about the change of leadership, Archbishop Prendergast was praised for how he engaged with the Church and the larger community.

“Archbishop Prendergast leaves a considerable legacy of accomplishments,” the statement said, going on to praise his work in fostering interfaith cooperation. “He has made the Church present to people at public events, greeting parishioners after every Mass and appearing at conferences locally and across the country.”

“A defender of Christian unity, Archbishop Prendergast was educated at, and has taught Scripture in, ecumenical theological centres and as a priest and bishop served on the Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue. He was one of the first bishops to welcome into the Catholic Communion members of an Anglican Rite parish on April 15, 2012, as provided for by Pope Benedict three years before. He also cherishes his association with local interfaith bodies and his friendship with leading members of the Jewish and Islamic communities.”

While the diocese praised Archbishop Prendergast’s cooperation with other faith communities, he said he wishes he could have done even more.

“I have developed some lasting friendships with people like Rabbi (Reuven) Balka who is retired like me, but I wish I had put more attention towards that especially in the early years when I first got here,” Archbishop Prendergast told the Canadian Catholic News. He also said he wished that he had been able to do more to evangelize Francophone youth in the diocese.

Archbishop Prendergast, who has a divinity degree and a Doctor of Theology degree from the Toronto School of Theology and a Licentiate in Theology from Regis College, taught in Halifax at the Atlantic School of Theology from 1975–1981 and was Rector of Toronto’s Regis College from 1981–87 and Dean of Theology from 1991–1994. He was named Auxiliary Bishop of Toronto in 1995 and was appointed Archbishop of Halifax in 1998. He served as Archbishop of Halifax from 1998 to 2007 and apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Yarmouth from 2002 to 2007.

He was named Archbishop of Ottawa in 2007 and apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall in 2016, before becoming the first Archbishop of Ottawa-Cornwall when the two dioceses merged. He has the unique distinction of having received three pallia from three different popes.

When he was first appointed as Archbishop of Ottawa, his experience was very different from when he became a leader of the Church in Toronto and in Halifax.

“In both Toronto and Halifax, I had already spent a lot of time there, so I knew the cities and I knew the faith communities to a large extent. You are always learning and you never know everything but I was familiar with those places,” Archbishop Prendergast said.

“Coming to Ottawa was different, I really didn’t know may people and I was not as familiar with the city so I had to learn a lot about the community,” he said. “It was a very different experience, but sometimes coming in with ‘new eyes’ can be helpful.”

Now that his time as Archbishop of Ottawa is over, and even though there is another mission he has been tapped to undertake by Pope Francis in the immediate future, his time in Canada’s capital city will stay with him forever.

“This large and generous community of faithful Catholics will continue to encourage me in my faith journey.”

Canadian Catholic News.