By Thandiwe Konguavi
Staff Writer

With a chuckle, Cheryl Low, Board Chair for the Calgary Catholic School District, recalls how Bishop Frederick B. Henry opened his message last year on the district’s faith theme, ‘Walk humbly with God.’

Henry, the outspoken Bishop of Calgary who served as Liaison Bishop to the Alberta Catholic School Trustee Association (ACSTA), told the crowd that he was kind of dreading how he was going to speak to them about humility. So he opened with what was one of his father’s favourite songs: ‘Lord, It’s Hard to be Humble.’

“That was the type of humour and way he had of delivering his messages,” said Low. “I’m going to miss Bishop Henry’s stories.”

Henry, who has led the southern Alberta diocese for the last 19 years, announced in a memorandum sent to his priests and staff on Tuesday, January 3, that Pope Francis had accepted his resignation.

In an earlier letter to the Holy Father, the 73-year-old bishop wrote that after considerable prayer and reflection, he had concluded that the time had come for him to retire.
 
Henry, who suffers from a type of arthritis and autoimmune disease for which there is no cure, cited his medical condition as the principal reason. The condition had worsened to the point where he could no longer turn his head sideways. The pain, he said, was wearing him out and limiting his ministry. 

“I believe that someone younger with more energy, stamina and pastoral vision should take over the role of Ordinary for the Diocese of Calgary,” wrote Henry. “The needs of this ever-expanding diocese are enormous. I have given it my best and I am past my ‘best due date’ – it is time to retire.” 

Henry was very much involved with the school board as the district’s faith leader, said Low — strengthening the faith of board staff, meeting regularly with the board to discuss what was going on in Catholic education in the province, celebrating special masses with the students, and recently sitting down for question and answer time with high school students. 

“As a board, we certainly recognized the experience and the academic, social, moral and spiritual guidance that Bishop Henry provided to us,” said Low.  

“I imagine he meets many, many people in his capacity but he always knows my name,” she added. “He has definitely been very invested and a part of our district and a supporter of Catholic education.”

Henry often came under fire for his bold proclamations of the position of the Church on contemporary issues such as gender identity, LGBTQ policies in schools, and assisted suicide. 

“I once had a colleague say to me, ‘If we always agreed on everything, there wouldn’t be a need to have a conversation,’” said Low. “So there’s always been challenges and we’ve always worked through them with the Bishop to have the most positive outcome for our students and our families. He brings us a perspective and certainly challenges you to think of all aspects when we’re making our decisions.”

Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton, who has worked closely with Bishop Henry over the years, said he was pleased that the Holy Father had responded generously and kindly to the request to retire, yet expressed feelings of sadness and regret as Henry leaves office.

“Bishop Henry has served not only his diocese but also the Church in Canada exceptionally well,” Archbishop Smith wrote in a blog post. “Of particular note is the outstanding contribution he has made in the field of Catholic education in both Alberta and across the country. I consider it a blessing and privilege to have worked closely with Bishop Henry, from whom I have learned a great deal.

“Where others might be tempted to stay silent for fear of criticism or loss of popularity, Bishop Henry has not hesitated to speak the truths of our faith whenever required, however difficult the circumstances might be.”

Bishop Henry was born in London, Ontario, and entered St. Peter’s Seminary, London, after finishing high school. He was ordained to the priesthood on May 25, 1968. He graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a Master of Arts in Philosophy and from Gregorian University with a Licentiate in Theology, was Group Spiritual Director, Associate Professor of Theology and Philosophy and Rector at St. Peter’s Seminary from 1973-1986. He was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of London and Titular Bishop of Carinola, Italy, and ordained to the episcopacy in 1986. He was installed as the seventh Bishop of Calgary on March 19, 1998. 
 
According to a press release issued Wednesday by Archbishop Bonazzi, the Apostolic Nuncio in Ottawa, Pope Francis has appointed Bishop William McGrattan, Bishop of Peterborough, as Henry’s successor. 

A native of London, Ontario, McGrattan, 60, studied at St. Peter’s Seminary in London, obtaining a Master’s of Divinity in conjunction with the University of Western Ontario. He was ordained to the priesthood on May 2, 1987, and studied theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. He was appointed Rector of St. Peter’s Seminary, London, in 1997, and appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Toronto in 2009. He was appointed Bishop of Peterborough on April 8, 2014. 

The installation of Bishop McGrattan has been set for Monday, Feb. 27, at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Calgary.