In mid-1985, I had just been ordained a priest for a little over a year when I found myself, through unusual circumstances, the sole priest in a big-city parish with about 3500 families, in Brampton, Ontario. There were lots of Masses and weddings and many baptisms every weekend, the usual schools to visit and a hospital to serve, all while waiting for another priest to be appointed to the church.
Bishop Robert Clune.
Bishop Robert Clune, then Auxiliary Bishop of the Toronto archdiocese, called me up and offered to come over and help out one weekend, even though he had his own schedule of Confirmations. He came over and presided and preached at the Saturday evening Mass, and then we had dinner and a visit afterwards. It was on that occasion that I was first impressed by his sincere concern for the work and welfare of fellow priests.
He spoke of his days as president of The Catholic Church Extension Society, which lasted from 1971 to 1979, after which he became bishop. At the time I was aware of, but not keenly interested in the missions, but it was his fervour and storytelling skill that won me over. That evening he talked about long discussions with First Nations peoples across the country, and being with the very humble and poor in many mission stops, but in them he saw the face of Christ so clearly. I wish now that every young priest could have the
privilege of hearing such a wise and sincere and simple bishop.
He told also of a far-North tour of missions he had made with Monsignor Pearse Lacey, who also later became a bishop. The trip took them to Inuvik in the Northwest Territories, as well as Tuktoyaktuk and other remote places. The cold, the isolation, the overwhelming awe and majesty of the natural surroundings had a direct spiritual impact on Father Clune.
He was fired with sincere
admiration for the Oblates and the Grey Sisters in Canada's West, and the Jesuits and several orders of women across the country, and remarked especially about the Redemptorists who devoted themselves to the many Ukrainian Catholic parishes.
Knowing and sharing the hardships and holiness of the
missionaries made him a truly
sympathetic bishop and a
perceptive pastor. Until he died in September of 2007, he retained a great respect for mission priests and sisters and lay workers, as well as the Northern bishops he had known and assisted. It must have been for this reason that he was so generous with the cause of Catholic Missions In Canada when preparing his final will. He wanted to share his humble worldly goods with the very charity that was close to his heart, to ensure that in some small part the good work that he himself had been engaged in would be enabled to continue.
Over the years since that evening in Brampton, I met and spoke with Bishop Clune, and always the talk got around to the missions. Little did I know that I myself was
perhaps being prepared in an uncanny and mysterious way to become deeply involved with Home Missions at a future time.
At my last visit with the worthy bishop, just days before his death, he told of what was still vital to him: "You know, the labours of all those missionaries, all across the country...they're so important to us, because it's really the work of the apostles that they do; they are apostles, for sure! They are
preaching the Word of Christ just as surely as Peter and Paul and the
Bishop Clune left a modest bequest to Catholic Missions In Canada, but we can keep in mind that he also gave us a legacy of work and devotion for the missions in this country.