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Archbishop Hayes one of Canadian eye-witnesses of Vatican II dies in Halifax

By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News


OTTAWA (CCN) — Halifax Archbishop-emeritus James Hayes, one of the last remaining Canadian participants in the Second Vatican Council, died in Halifax at the age of 92 on Aug. 2.

Hayes attended the first session of Vatican II as the secretary of Halifax Archbishop Gerald Berry, and as a Council Father as an auxiliary bishop for the second session in 1965. He was named Archbishop of Halifax after Archbishop Berry’s death in 1967. He retired as archbishop in 1990.

During his episcopacy he served as president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops from 1987-89. He hosted the 1984 visit of St. John Paul II to Nova Scotia.

Through his commitment to Christian unity, he was one of the founders of the Atlantic School of Theology that offers theological training in an ecumenical Christian environment.

“He did something pretty radical at the time, and took a bold step for Christian unity,” said Rev. James Mallon, a priest in the Halifax archdiocese. “You can debate the model, but he took a principle of Vatican II and moved on it.”

The archbishop also “took a move on priestly formation,” with underlying principles of a more “incarnated experience,” as opposed to a more monastic, academic priestly formation, Mallon said.

“He was definitely a pioneer in that respect,” he said.

After Hayes’ retirement as archbishop, he worked full time until 2012 as a palliative care chaplain at the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre in Halifax.

“He basically spent his entire time visiting the sick, the dying and doing funerals,” said Mallon. “He was seen around the hospitals at all hours of the night. He never stopped.”

Mallon said that when Hayes was brought to the hospital the week before he died, he asked for his hospital ID. When asked what he would need it for, the archbishop-emeritus reportedly said, “You never know when someone might need a priest.”

“In the 10 years I’ve known him here in Halifax, I’ve always found him to be a welcoming, gentle and kind man who has always been supportive of bringing the church forward to a credible expression of the gospel,” Halifax-Yarmouth Archbishop Anthony Mancini said in a statement.

When Mallon was 19, he asked to see Hayes over a “troubling theological question.”

“It was quite preposterous, this young guy went to see the bishop about my participation in an event not 100 per cent on board with the Catholic faith,” said Mallon. “He assured me I was not compromising anything by being involved in the way I was involved.”

“Here he was Archbishop of Halifax and he made time for this 19-year-old!” he said.

A couple of years later, when Mallon had begun studies for the priesthood as an independent student in Mission, B.C., Hayes was supportive, even though he had no formal ties to the diocese.

One Christmas, however, when he was home visiting with his family, the archbishop called him and asked him if he would drive him to the Valley. When they returned from the trip, Hayes asked to come in to meet his family. “My mother’s ironing, and here’s the archbishop walking in!”

“He had a great presence with the people and he remembered everyone’s name,” he said.

Mallon notes that Hayes was ordained a priest in 1947 when he was 23 years old, the same day Mallon’s mother was born. “He was a great scholar,” he said. “He had a tremendous memory, mostly on liturgical details.”

Hayes’ funeral took place Aug. 5 at St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica in Halifax.

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