Project Canterbury

Leaders of the Canadian Church
Edited by Canon Bertal Heeney

Toronto: Ryerson, 1943. 191 pp.


TODAY is the Feast of the Epiphany in the year of our Lord, 1942. Just forty-five years ago today, January 6, 1897, the historic Georgian Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, in that quaint, old-world city of Quebec, witnessed the consecration of the subject of this sketch, known then as the Rev. Canon George Thorneloe, D.D., just recently Rector of St. Peter's Parish in the City of Sherbrooke, to be the third Bishop of the Missionary Diocese of Algoma. Many memories return this day, shared now only by a few, of an event which brought a priest of the Church of God to the episcopate, who proved to be, over many years, such a beloved Father-in-God to Algoma and such a leader and strength to the whole Canadian Church.

The preacher at the Consecration Service was the eloquent Dr. Edward Sullivan. He took for his text: "When they saw the star they rejoiced with exceeding great joy." Joy there was in the text, but little in the sermon! Turning to the Bishop-elect the preacher said:

You are undertaking a difficult task in taking charge of the Diocese of Algoma. You will see doors open and be unable to enter, and harvests ripening without a means to reap them. I don't speak to dishearten you, my brother! You did not seek the appointment, but after careful consideration decided to accept the office as a call from God. . . .

But Dr. Sullivan, having been Bishop of Algoma for fourteen years, knew whereof he spake. The Missionary Diocese of Algoma, set aside from the Diocese of Toronto in 1872, and comprising an area of 70,000 square miles, as large as Eng-gland and Wales together, had started its history without any endowment funds. The episcopal oversight of such a large area, though sparsely populated, and the financial responsibility involved, had broken the heart and strength of the first Bishop, the saintly Bishop Fauquier, and also exhausted and broke down the physical vigour of Bishop Sullivan. The preacher was right in his picture of the discouraging task to which George Thorneloe had been called. But something more was said that day, not of the task but of the man himself. And those who said it were also right. Soon after the consecration service, the priests of the Quebec Diocese surrounded the new Bishop in the Cathedral, and, presenting him with a beautiful Jewelled Pectoral Cross of gold, said to him in an illuminated address:

. . . Our sorrow in parting with you is tempered by the assurance that the whole Church is a gainer through your advancement to a sphere in which the gifts entrusted to you, gifts of counsel and prudence, gifts of lucid teaching and loving pastoral care, gifts of wisdom in organization and eloquence and speech, will find a larger and more influential scope. . . .

These were not only cheering words but true words. God had endowed His servant with many particular gifts, as his brother-priests knew, and that the great grace of consecration had come upon him was evidenced by the sermon that he preached that Festival evening from the Cathedral pulpit. His text was St. Paul's words: "Unto me who am less than the least of all saints is this grace given." He spoke of St. Paul as the great missionary of the early Church, ever looking to God to help him in his weakness. With modesty yet frankness he applied the words of the Apostle to himself, dwelling upon the great commission entrusted to him, and the great help upon which he would ever depend. He outlined with much feeling what would be his personal endeavour and pastoral policy, which indeed had their faithful fulfilment with the years, and caused the late Archbishop Davidson, when Primate of all England, to say of him publicly: " He stood out as one of the great missionaries of our time." This writing is not an attempt to give a history of the life and work of George Thorneloe. That will be a book by itself. The desire of the writer is rather to dwell upon the personality and remarkable qualities of this man, who, while such a devoted prelate and acknowledged leader, was yet delightfully human and wonderfully beloved by all who knew him. Some facts of his life though must be briefly stated. He was born the second son of the Rev. James and Katharine Thorneloe, in 1848, in that now terribly bombed city of Coventry, England. A former Algoma priest, living near Rugby, recently wrote me: "The late Archbishop's home has disappeared in the general destruction." Though of English birth George's upbringing and education belonged almost entirely to Canada, for he was but a lad of ten when the family left England for this country. At first in the Eastern Townships of Quebec Province, then in the City of Montreal, where his father became Rector of St. Luke's Church, George grew to manhood. Entering upon a business career he soon felt a vocation to the Sacred Ministry, and in 1869 entered Bishop's University, Lennoxville. His graduation in Arts and Divinity was with high honours. Bishop J. W. Williams of the Diocese of Quebec made him a deacon in 1874, and a year later raised him to the priesthood. Stanstead and Sherbrooke were his only parishes, serving eleven years in each. Sherbrooke, that picturesque capital of the Eastern Townships nestling by the St. Francis river between hills, provided greater scope for Canon Thorneloe as he soon came to be called. His devotion as a parish priest, his preaching power and executive ability caused him to exercise a wide influence even beyond the Diocese. Made a Canon of the Cathedral, he was also honoured by his University with the degree of D.C.L., and was chosen University preacher. He became Secretary of the Provincial Synod of Canada. His name was proposed for the far away See of New Westminister, and when his Diocese became vacant by the death of Bishop Williams in 1892 he received the second largest number of votes. His election therefore to the See of Algoma, by the Provincial Synod of Canada in 1896, caused no surprise. After his consecration, almost immediately, he left for Sault Ste Marie, the See town of his Diocese. Mrs. Thorneloe, Miss Fuller his sister-in-law, and Katharine his only daughter accompanied him. His only son, Walter, was a student at McGill University. At that time Sault Ste Marie, delightfully and advantageously situated and with a very interesting historical background, was a very modest town. Bishophurst, the residence for the Bishop, was on the fringe of the town, and did not for some time share in its conveniences. The promise of the place though was very bright with the Clergue brothers as interested citizens. These promoters, especially Mr. F. H. Clergue, made possible the extensive and flourishing works of the present Algoma Steel Corporation. It was in this town that Bishop Thorneloe found his home for the rest of his life, saw it grow and himself grew in its interest and affection. From his chair in St. Luke's Pro-Cathedral, and from Bishophurst and its study, which was really the Synod Office in those days, the Bishop, for thirty years no less, went forth and served his very extensive Diocese, never sparing himself in winter or summer. During the last eleven of these years he also served as Metropolitan of the Ecclesiastical Province of Ontario, which entailed much further travelling and many extra duties. In 1920 he felt deeply the passing of his wife. Mrs. Thorneloe was a very dear lady, bright and vivacious, such a gracious hostess at Bishophurst, and always an inspiration and help to her husband. Undoubtedly this loss and the pressure of ill-health decided the Archbishop in 1927 to resign and retire from his responsible and onerous offices. He had, too, reached the ripe age of 79. From Bishophurst he moved to a brick dwelling not far from St. Luke's Pro-Cathedral, where, with his widowed sister-in law, Mrs. Walter Thorneloe, to preside over his home, he lived very quietly for eight more years. On August 3, 1935, when just ending his 87th year, he passed very peacefully to his rich reward greatly beloved by the citizens, the whole Diocese, and the Church in Canada and beyond.

Looking back upon such a long, successful and honoured career which was Archbishop Thorneloe's, it is not easy to distinguish and assess all those values which went to make up his outstanding life and character. The writer, when a young student at Lennoxville, knew personally the Archbishop in his Sherbrooke days. Later, for over twenty years, he was one of his Algoma clergy, and became related to him. For the latter part of those years, in the See City, he became very closely associated with him and his work. At the last he was by his bedside, gave him his Viaticum, and commended his soul to God. And yet, he does not find it a simple matter to put into words those attractive qualities of mind and heart which the Archbishop possessed in most remarkable measure.

Many will recall his personal appearance. He was short of stature, but was of good weight with broad shoulders. His head was large with wide forehead. And he possessed a wide mouth, which he used to good advantage in his articulation in preaching. He had a fine, deep, resonant voice. His eyes were blue and full of life, betraying kindness and fellow-feeling. But it was his smile which lighted up and glorified his whole countenance, and which people never forgot. In his bearing and demeanour he was uniformly the same. In the best sense he was humble minded. While he truly "magnified his office," for perhaps few had a higher estimate of the sacred ministry of Christ's Church than he, he never seemed to forget the Apostolic counsel to esteem others better than oneself. This was one of the charms of his personality. While ever dignified and, as a reporter wrote of him, "every inch a Bishop," he was most approachable and friendly. In fact he exuded friendliness, and friendliness which was contagious for he made everybody feel so at home with him. His sincerity in such friendliness was shown by the way he retained his friends over long years. Apart from Diocesan correspondence, letters were constantly being received from these friends, friends he had made in the East in his parish work, friends in England in which country by reason of his several visits he had many admirers, friends in so many homes in his Diocese and from coast to coast. And all these letters were conscientiously answered with his own pen. Even up to the last he seemed encircled with friends, and their remembrances of him so constant and affectionate must have supported and sustained him more than we can know.

In studying such a winning personality, who commanded such a large following and exercised such a wide influence, one might enquire at the outset of his intellectual gifts. Perhaps the term scholarship, in the strict sense of that word, would not be claimed for the Archbishop, yet for learning he stood high among his fellow-bishops and in the councils of the Church. As a student he had what was termed '' a brilliant career'' at Lennoxville. His graduation was with a high first in Classical Honours, winning the coveted Prince of Wales Medal, and taking during his course two scholarships and several prizes. All through his ministry, even upon his travels, he kept up his reading, and took great delight in his books. Special lines of study interested him. The question of divorce, religious education in schools, the historic ministry, and re-union were some of these. When in England on one of his visits he was a guest of the Rev. Dr. Kidd, Warden of Keble College, Oxford, and became intrigued by the "Malines Conversations," in which Dr. Kidd was one of the official participants. A correspondence followed between them, at the time these "Conversations " were in progress and after, which is highly interesting and valuable. It was his good fortune to be in attendance upon three Lambeth Conferences, which he regarded as intellectual and spiritual treats. Naturally the "Appeal to All Christian People," as put forth by the Conference in 1920, on the subject of reunion, held supreme interest for him, and he had the privilege and satisfaction of being on the Committee appointed to consider the whole matter. The Canadian revision of the Prayer-Book, initiated in 1921, had much of his time and study for he was a member of the Working Committees. In this work it was said of him: "He was alert and keen and vigilant, lest there should be any departure from high ideals or former standards, and he brought to the Committee a rich spiritual experience." In connection with the Prayer-Book some will still remember how very loyal he was to its every rubric. He was indeed very rigid, and did not hesitate to call any of those under him to strict account if they deviated from what was laid down. Some perhaps thought him altogether too punctilious over the letter of the law. By reason of his recognized ecclesiastical knowledge may communications came to him from bishops, clergy and the laity for his reasoned opinions and counsels in matters which perplexed them. While the Archbishop published no treatises and printed no books he must have written libraries, and it seems a pity that only his charges to his Synods, Diocesan and Provincial, some pastorals and a few sermons ever got into print. It had been his hope that when he retired he could give himself to more reading, and to writing for publication. But his physical infirmities and partial blindness sadly prevented him. As a preacher his words always seemed to be carefully chosen, were beautifully phrased, in the best English, and they were with power. His enunciation and diction and choice English were certainly among the charms of his preaching. While the matter of his sermons was ever excellent, full of teaching as well as exhortation, perhaps, in looking back now, one recognizes that what chiefly helped was the man in the pulpit rather than the sermons themselves. For there seemed to come forth from the man himself something of his strong faith, of his deep feelings, of his spiritual influence, which, mystically imparted to those present through his word, must have, as in the experience of the writer, brought much inspiration, enthusiasm, and comfort to numberless souls. And his voice soft and pleasant, with its cultured tones, which he used to such good effect was a benediction in itself. The writer remembers a newly ordained deacon preaching in the Pro-Cathedral in a rather low voice. The Archbishop, seated in the Sanctuary, listened at first in vain and then gave up in despair. After the service he said to the writer: "I hope Mr. X preached a helpful sermon. He seemed to be taking a few into his confidence around the pulpit." Another story comes to mind which has to do with St. Paul's Church in Fort William. On one occasion when the Archbishop was preaching on a Sunday night the electric lights all went off. This made no difference to the continuance of the sermon. A small choirboy, very much impressed, was heard to remark afterwards: "That's some Bish. When the juice went off it didn't phizz on him a bit. He had it all stored in his coco!" A story which the Archbishop loved to tell himself, though a propos of the length of his sermons, concerned his little grand-daughter. She said to her Grandfather: "I always know when Dad is going to finish his sermon." "Can you tell when I am going to finish mine?" enquired her Grandfather. "I always think I can, but you never do," was the either innocent or artful reply!

Like other dignitaries who receive degrees from Universities, Archbishop Thorneloe was also recognized and honoured. The degree which pleased him most was that which the University of Oxford conferred upon him in 1920, and which he received in person. It was the D.D. degree (honoris causa) of that famous and ancient seat of learning.

But the genius of the subject of our sketch did not lie in his scholarly gifts, however eminent they were. A Missionary bishop to be successful, along with his learning, has to be a very practical person. He has to possess powers of organization and administration, and be able to meet and deal with all kinds of people. Fortunately for Algoma and the Ecclesiastical Province of Ontario, Archbishop Thorneloe was such a person. To begin with he had very useful hands. He sketched with considerable skill, and further he could work in wood. On a visit back to one of the Churches in his first charge, after many years, he found a prayer-*desk he had made still in use. He had a gift for designing churches and parsonages, and would have enjoyed being an architect. Such handiwork indicated an orderly mind and a love for the beautiful with the useful. Such orderliness of thought and planning found expression in the way in which he arranged and carried out all his Diocesan work. The spiritual was ever combined with the practical, and the practical was therefore sacred, worthy of most careful thought and prayerful action. The first official report of Bishop Thorneloe, as Bishop of the Missionary Diocese of Algoma made to his Metropolitan, evidences this, and is a very revealing document. For example, it shows for the seventeen months which it covers, what an amount of work the Bishop was able to accomplish. This capacity for work ever excited the marvel of his contemporaries. He was untiring, in season and out of season, in fulfilling his ministry, and never took holidays as such. His diaries, which he faithfully kept, of his appointments, interviews, services, preachments, travels and general information connected with his work, tell a wonderful tale of continuous activity, hard to believe until read. Strangely his health did not suffer in consequence. On a tiring journey and in the midst of visiting a number of out of the way places, this is what he wrote me in a letter on October 4, 1919: "I am 71 years 'young' today, and I am well and vigorous." The Report, referred to above, also shows the very comprehensive grasp which the Bishop had, so soon, of the conditions, needs and problems of Algoma. These needs were always close to his heart. Happily his devoted labours, and that of those associated with him, and the gifts of those interested, made for considerable progress, spiritual and financial, with the years. Rather early an important step was reached when the Diocese received permission to "erect a synod."

In that Report of 1898, to make reference to it again, the Bishop declared himself opposed to Synodical action, which had been previously under consideration. He did not judge the Diocese to be at all ready, either numerically or financially, to undertake the responsibilities of self-government. But, a few years later the Bishop and his Council felt that advancement had been such that the Diocese could take this step. So, in 1906, with the authorization of the Provincial Synod of Canada, Algoma became a Diocese with a governing body of its own, "with all the rights and privileges by ecclesiastical law pertaining thereto." The rough draft of the Constitution, Rules and Canons for the Diocese show, in the Bishop's handwriting, what a great part he had to take in making workable all those "rights and privileges." The next step which the Bishop worked towards, and most fervently longed for, was the freeing of Algoma from dependence upon any outside resources for its maintenance and work. Alas the day for that advance has not arrived yet, but when it does come the long-continued and constructive labours of Archbishop Thorneloe, as well as the pioneering and foundation work of Bishop Sullivan and Bishop Fauquier, will have their honoured part and place in the happy consummation. Many recognitions of the Archbishop's spiritual leadership and successful service for the Church came from his fellow-bishops, his clergy and the laity on particular occasions and anniversaries. These took the form of addresses and gifts. Such evidences of loyalty and affection always moved the Archbishop greatly. He saw in them the tribute of faithful hearts devoted to the service of Christ and his Church, and while such appreciation of his endeavours encouraged him it also humbled him. On the occasion of his retirement these words were very characteristic of him:

I wish to express to my friends the Ven. Archdeacon Gillmor, the Rural Deans of the Diocese and the great body of clergy and laity whom they represent, my sincere and grateful thanks for the beautiful address . . . and for the splendid sum of money by which the address was accompanied. Such words of filial devotion go so far beyond my deserts that they remind me chiefly of my debt to my dear fellow-workers for consideration so generous that without it my service to the Diocese would have seemed poor and imperfect indeed. . . . I give you one and all, my warmest thanks for your underserved tribute, gratefully assuring you that your generous kindness touches me to my very heart's core.

The Archbishop's association with and consideration of his clergy was something very delightful. Before coming to his Diocese he sent them a greeting, and when he retired, only a very few of the original number remaining, he issued a touching farewell to all who had laboured with him. His very person attracted men to him, and he built up an exceptionally fine and devoted body of clergy. Many, in small nnd unpromising spheres of work and with meagre salaries, remained on year after year in the Diocese, because they found in Archbishop Thorneloe their ideal Bishop. While he was exacting, and expected the same high standard which he himself set, he had a father's kindness because a father's heart. Absolute fairness marked all his dealings, and his clergy gave him their implicit trust, realizing too the personal interest he had in each one of them. More than their trust they gave him devotion and love. Often my brother-clergy have spoken to me with deep feeling of all that Archbishop Thorneloe meant to them in their own lives, and in the carrying on of their ministry by reason of his personal sympathy, his counsel and his prayers. Many too found in the Archbishop in his day a leader who upheld the very best traditions of the Anglican Church as a true and historic part of Christ's Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. The Archbishop was no party-man. He deprecated the party-spirit which made so often for prejudice, criticism and all uncharitableness, but he stood ever as the doughty champion of the continuity of Christ's Church from the beginning, with its historic episcopate and ancient faith and practice. His devotion and reverence, as well as his teaching, raised considerably the standard of "churchmanship" in the Diocese, and he favoured a dignified and moderate ritual in all his churches. All these, and ministries dedicated to missionary work like the Archbishop himself, accounted for the Algoma personnel of clergy over whom the Archbishop presided as a faithful and beloved Father-in-God.

Further these characteristics of fatherliness, kindness and unfailing courtesy were extended to the whole "flock of God." The Archbishop never seemed to forget that his best was due even to the lowliest. His visits to the Indians around Lake Nipigon and elsewhere were faithfully carried out with as much care and concern as to his own more fortunate white population. These visits also revealed his true missionary spirit. It was the happy privilege of the writer to accompany the Archbishop on one of his trips around Lake Nipigon. The memory will ever abide of a loving parent dealing gently with and speaking simply to his children. It was no wonder that the Indians had great affection for him, and around the camp-fire loved to dwell upon his preaching of the "Good News'' and his words of kindly counsel. During this visit there were baptisms of little brown papooses, Confirmation service, and administrations of the Holy Communion, when hands, some young, some old, some horny with toil, some trembling with age, were outstretched to receive the Bread of Life. The Archbishop always kept a special Diary when visiting Lake Nipigon and these booklets make most interesting reading.

Perhaps mining camps test more severely than many other places the ability of a bishop or any missionary in dealing with men. Fortunately the subject of our sketch had the saving grace of humor, which helped him greatly. On one occasion when coming down the Helen Mine trail the Bishop met a certain Mr. G. who had what might be called a "High pressure vocabulary." Mr. G., not knowing who the Bishop was, promptly greeted him with: "Now where in H--have I met you before?" Without loss of time the Bishop replied: "Well, I cannot say. Just what part of H--did you come from last?" In another mining area there was a certain Irishman, Mike S, who when he first saw the Bishop was much taken by his episcopal garb. He asked a bystander: "Who is the ould felly with the running pants on?" The bystander, inspired by the description of the Bishop's dress and knowing that Mike accounted himself a swift runner, replied that he was a foot-racer from Toronto who was challenging anyone to race for $50. and would give a 10 yards start. "Begorrah," said Mike, "I'll challenge the ould feller." What was the Bishop's surprise to have this challenge flung at him with the 10 yards indignantly spurned! But, equal to the occasion, the Bishop explained to chagrined Mike that he only raced with the devil, and that for the winning of souls. Nevertheless, had the Bishop raced Mike there was every likelihood that Mike would have been the loser, for the Bishop was known even in advanced years to be very light and fleet of foot. To meet men on their own level is a great gift and a great advantage. This afforded one of the reasons why throughout the mining country of his Diocese the Archbishop became such a well known and welcome figure winning the esteem and confidence of even rough and hardened men.

But the Archbishop moved with perfect ease among people of all ranks. Whether conversing with friends in private or speaking publicly from some platform he always proved himself, with a certain dignity which he never lost, a delightful conversationalist, a brilliant and witty speaker. So recognized was his gracious manner, his courtliness, his speech, that one writer wrote that Archbishop Thorneloe suggested "ecclesiastical aristocracy." Another gave his opinion that "it was a pity the Archbishop was not located where he could take part in state functions instead of labouring in the endless stretches of a missionary Diocese." These writings, if they ever came to the Archbishop's eye, must have amused him. For he, more than any Prelate of his generation at least, had opportunity to "go up higher," as the world counts promotion. He was elected Coadjutor Bishop of Ontario, he was in a fair way of being elected Bishop of Toronto till he sent a discouraging telegram to the Synod, he was requested to allow his name to stand for the election of Bishop of Rupert's Land which meant also being Archbishop, he was under unique circumstances elected Bishop of Ottawa, and yet, in each and every instance, he could not bring himself to leave his work in the Missionary Diocese of Algoma! In his first sermon as Bishop, preached in the Cathedral of his Consecration and referred to at the beginning of this sketch, he said at its close: ''Therefore, holy brethren, cease not as you labour for Algoma, and give to Algoma, and pray for Algoma, also to pray for Algoma's Bishop that he may be found faithful." It was that sacred purpose to serve Christ, the Head of the Church, with loyalty and faithfulness in the work entrusted him to do, that ever guided and decided him all through his long episcopate. Never did he allow honours, promotions, rewards to change him or to deflect him from the course which he believed had been marked out for him. When his brother-bishops of the Ecclesiastical Province of Ontario, wishing to reward such faithfulness and high merit, elected him Metropolitan, which gave him the title of Archbishop, it was characteristic of him to say in his next Diocesan charge: "It was no slight proof of the consideration now accorded to the work of Missions, that the Bishops of the Province were willing to make the Missionary Diocese of Algoma for the time being the Archiepiscopal See."

The motive of George Thorneloe's whole life and ministry stands forth crystal clear,--a determination in his love and service of Christ to be found faithful. From this flowered out his great devotion to duty for which he was so noted, and that beautiful saintliness of life which was the secret of his power and influence. That his inspiring example, his unremitting ministrations as priest and bishop, his companionship and fellowship, his leadership in the Church proved a blessing to countless lives there is ample and affecting testimony. The day of his passing will never be forgotten by the many who felt what an obligation they were under to the life and work of this saint of God. And yet there was "no sadness of farewell." An infinite peace seemed to pervade the Pro-Cathedral, where he loved to worship, during the funeral service. It was as though the hearts of those who filled the edifice, who knew and loved their Father-in-God and friend so well, prayed with one voice in grateful love unto the Father of all Spirits:

O grant unto the labourer, Rest,
And to the traveller, Home.

Words of the address given at that service by the successor of the Archbishop in the See of Algoma, the Rt. Rev. Rocksborough R. Smith, might well bring this very imperfect and inadequate sketch to a close. He said in part:

There are many who die full of years and laden with accumulated wealth, heavy and worldly honours and distinction. But none of these things attracted him. . . . He passes on to the life beyond full of good deeds, of high example, of noble fortitude, of deeds performed solely for the glory of God and the good of His Church. In the years to come his name will shine even more brightly than it does today, when this part of Canada has developed, as it will develop, when its wonderful resources are being utilized fully,--then the unique part which he has played in building up the Church of God in Algoma will prove to be a very interesting page in the history of the Anglican Church. ... In his passing I am reminded of the words of the author of Pilgrim's Progress, when he describes the death of Mr. Valiant. When the day that he must go was come many accompanied him to the riverside; and into it as he went he said, Death where is thy sting? And as he went down deeper he said, Grave where is thy victory? So he passed over, and all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side. So we can also say of our dear friend's passing, that the trumpets have sounded loud for George Thorneloe. And it is fitting when we think of his life and example to say, "May I die the death of the righteous; and may my last end be like his."

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