Most Rev. John Joseph Lynch, D.D., Third Bishop and First Archbishop of Toronto
By Monsignor Vincent Foy
In our first Toronto Archbishop we were singularly blessed. Archbishop Lynch deserves grateful remembrance. These brief notes are a tribute to a great and holy bishop.
John Joseph Lynch was born near Clones, County of Monaghan, Ireland, on February 16th, 1816. Early in life he had an intense desire to become a priest and to devote himself to missionary work. As a boy he was noted for his piety, his fidelity to the sacraments and devotion to the Blessed Virgin. After his early education in Ireland, he felt called to the Lazarist Order- the Congregation of Priests of the Missions. In 1837 he went to the Seminary of St. Lazare in Paris. On completion of his studies, although he begged to be sent to the Foreign Missions, he was ordered to return for work in Ireland. He was ordained at Maynooth in June of 1843 by Dr. Murray, Archbishop of Dublin.
In 1846 Bishop Odin, Vicar Apostolic of Texas, a Lazarist, went to Ireland searching for priests for his vast missionary territory. Father Lynch eagerly applied and his superiors reluctantly gave permission. In June of 1847, with one companion, Fr. Fitzgerald, also a Lazarist, he landed in New Orleans. They were assigned to Houston and were the first priests to be stationed in that area. Soon Fr. Fitzgerald was sent elsewhere and Fr. Lynch was left alone.
In 1847, after tireless missionary work in the whole area, traveling by horseback and sometimes sleeping in the open air, Fr. Lynch came down with a severe fever and was near death. After a period of partial recovery in Galveston and New Orleans, he was sent north in March of 1848 to a Lazarist College in Missouri, St. Mary of the Barrens. Here he regained his health and was named President of the College. He held that post for seven years, when he was again stricken by a fever and suffered a temporary partial paralysis. It was decided that he should go further north, to a place not ravaged by fever and ague.
It was just at this time that Fr. Lynch received an invitation from Bishop Timon of Buffalo to establish a church and seminary at Niagara Falls. Having received permission from his superiors, in 1855 he proceeded to his new appointment. He began the arduous task of building the Seminary of Our Lady of the Angels, situated at a fifteen minute drive from the Falls. This institution was a great success. Of the total number of students in its first twenty-five years, about 300 became priests.
On a visit to the Irish College at Paris, Bishop de Charbonnel of Toronto learned of the good work of Fr.Lynch at the Seminary of Our Lady of the Angels. On returning to Toronto, he invited Fr. Lynch to preach a retreat to the St. Joseph Sisters in Toronto and to give a mission at St. Michael’s Cathedral. This was in the summer of 1858. The bishop was so impressed that he asked Pope Pius IX to appoint Fr. Lynch as his coadjutor. In September of 1859 Fr. Lynch received the bulls appointing him coadjutor bishop of Toronto with the right of succession. He loved the work he had been doing and it was after much prayer and misgivings that he accepted, what were to him, the dread responsibilities of the episcopate.
Father Lynch became Bishop Lynch in August of 1859, and upon the resignation of Bishop de Charbonnel, became Bishop of Toronto in April of 1860. At that time there were 43 churches in Toronto diocese, served by 22 secular priests and 4 Basilians. In 1861 the number of Catholics was listed as 43,971.
Here are some of the principal events during the administration of Bishop Lynch:
1. Loretto Convent was established in 1862.
2. St. Joseph’s Convent was established in 1863.
3. St. Michael’s Cathedral tower and spire were completed in 1864.
4. Loretta Abbey, Wellington Place, was extended in 1867.
5. St. Nicholas Home was established in 1869.
6. De La Salle Institute was established in 1871.
7. The Convent of the Precious Blood was established in 1874.
8. Magdalen Asylum was opened in 1875.
9. Convents of St. Joseph were established in St. Catharines, Thorold, Barrie, and Oshawa.
10. Forty-nine parishes were established and seventy priests were ordained for Toronto.
Writing on the life of Archbishop Lynch in 1886, J. C. McKeown said: “From the day the mitre was placed on his head, he has never spent an idle hour”.
In 1870, when attending the Vatican Council, Bishop Lynch became Archbishop Lynch. Toronto became the Metropolitan See of Upper Canada, with Kingston, Hamilton, and London as suffragans.
In 1875 Archbishop Lynch presided at the first provincial council of Toronto. Among other regulations it drew up decrees for the erection of seminaries, created deaneries, and established the devotion of the Forty Hours Adoration.
Archbishop Lynch preached at St. Michael’s Cathedral on Sunday May 6th, 1888, and seemed in vigorous health. The next day, although feeling unwell, he left Toronto to attend a conference of priests at St. Catherine’s. On Wednesday he was urged to return to Toronto for medical help, but he insisted on going to Merritton on Thursday to fullfil a commitment to conduct confirmations. Immediately afterwards he returned to Toronto and a physician was called. The diagnosis was that he was dying of pneumonia. After receiving the last sacraments from his Auxiliary Bishop T. O’Mahony, he died early in the morning of May 12, 1888, aged 72.
An immense throng attended the Archbishop’s funeral mass on the Wednesday after his death. Cardinal Taschereau, who had been consecrated Archbishop of Quebec by Archbishop Lynch, officiated. Present also was the Archbishop of Montreal and many other bishops, priests and dignitaries. After mass the body of the Archbishop was laid to rest, as he had requested, in a plot on the cathedral’s north side. He had asked not to be interred in the cathedral crypt, but outside, in the hope that those who visited his grave might say a prayer for his soul.
About 1943, after I had said the 10 A.M. mass at St.Michael’s Cathedral one Sunday, a group of four or five came into the sacristy. They said they were from Ireland, were relatives of Archbishop Lynch, and would like to see his grave. I took them to the backyard and showed them the grave enclosed in an iron grating. It was overgrown with weeds, and in truth was a disgrace. I reported this visit to the rector, Fr. McQuillen. Shortly afterwards he had the grave properly groomed and I believe it has been properly tended ever since.
Perhaps, when or if we have the chance, we could pause at the grave of Archbishop Lynch to say a prayer as he requested. He was a truly great and holy missionary, seminary founder, bishop, and priest.