As I sat in the Kingston Cathedral last Thursday evening with more than 700 people from throughout the Kingston Archdiocese and far beyond, I witnessed something remarkable happening before my eyes.
Surrounding the casket of the late Archbishop Anthony Meagher were religious leaders representing the Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Bah'ai and Native Faith communities. They had come together for an interfaith prayer vigil to mourn the loss and celebrate the life of a good shepherd who touched the great, common, human heart of so many people.
Last Friday afternoon, the Archbishop's funeral mass drew more than 1,300 people from every walk of life. Amidst tears of sorrow, there was a tremendous sense of gratitude for the life of this gentle shepherd.
Anthony Meagher was born in Oshawa on Nov. 17, 1940. After high school, he studied at the U of T and then worked as a high school English teacher for three years before entering the seminary He was ordained on June 17, 1972, for the Archdiocese of Toronto.
Following ordination, he served at St. Michael's Cathedral in Toronto and at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Whitby. In 1981, he was appointed Pastor at Blessed Trinity Parish in Willowdale. In 1992, he was assigned to St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Brampton, where he remained until his episcopal ordination in 1997 as Auxiliary Bishop for the Archdiocese of Toronto.
Much of the next five years was devoted to World Youth Day, Toronto -- he was president of the World Youth Day 2002 Council, representing the Bishops of Canada. We worked closely together on that blessed event and Bishop Tony never lost his hope, perspective, kindness and vision for an event that would change the lives of millions of people.
Just three months after he was installed on Aug. 13, 2002, as the eighth Archbishop of Kingston, doctors told Meagher they had found a large cancerous growth in his kidney, and suggested he should not plan more than 18 months ahead.
He made his illness a ministry to the sick. He spoke of himself as the bishop for the sick, and he lived this special ministry in three ways: He made a very deliberate effort to talk with cancer patients at the Kingston cancer centre; he shared the illness with the people of the Archdiocese in his preaching and in his writing; and he spoke of his cancer often in the secular press.
One of the most memorable events of World Youth Day took place on July 26, 2002. Bishop Tony and I accompanied 14 young people from throughout the entire world to a luncheon with Pope John Paul II at Strawberry Island.
All the way up on the bus ride, Bishop Tony expressed his concerns as to how he would possibly be able to eat while sitting at the table with a Pope! He hoped he would answer the Pope's questions properly.
We arrived in the island lodge, where the lunch was served. After the initial moments of awe and utter delight expressed by the young people and the bishop, who was now sitting at the Pope's table, a spirit of levity settled upon everyone at the table.
As we prepared to leave Strawberry Island and return to Toronto, Bishop Tony sat next to me on the bus. After describing his sheer delight at what had just transpired at the Papal table, he remarked: "Unbelievable... you'd never know that guy was Pope! He is just so normal and down to earth. Everyone was so comfortable in his presence."
What Bishop Tony said to me about John Paul II, is exactly what so many people said about their beloved bishop as they prayed at his wake and funeral last week: "You'd never know that guy was Archbishop! He was just so normal and kind to everyone! There were no airs about him!"
That's precisely why this Good Shepherd was so extraordinary. Well done, good and faithful servant. May you rest in peace.