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Gerard O’ConnellFebruary 11, 2023
Pope Francis greets Msgr. Frank Leo Jr., general secretary of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, during a meeting with representatives of the conference at the Vatican Dec. 6. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Cardinal Thomas Collins, 76, as archbishop of Toronto, and appointed Bishop Francis (Frank) Leo, currently an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Montreal, to succeed him as the 14th archbishop of Toronto, Canada’s largest diocese. The Vatican announced this today, Feb. 11.

The 51-year-old Montreal-born, polyglot, archbishop-designate served as secretary general of the Canadian Bishops’ Conference from 2015 to 2021 and in the Vatican’s diplomatic service from 2006 to 2012. He will now become the chief pastor and spiritual leader of some two million Canadian Catholics in one of the most diverse faith communities in North America, whose 400 priests celebrate Mass in more than 30 languages each week at 225 parishes.

In a letter to the faithful of Toronto diocese released today, Archbishop-designate Leo said:

It is with great humility that I accept this appointment from the Holy Father to serve the faithful of the Archdiocese of Toronto. I thank Pope Francis for the confidence he has placed in me. This was a most unexpected appointment, yet I have learned throughout my priesthood and service to the Church that God’s special plans for us unfold in unexpected moments that lead to tremendous blessings.

He thanked Cardinal Collins, who has governed the diocese since 2007, “for his ongoing support and years of faithful and inspiring service to the Church.”

Archbishop-designate Leo called on the the faithful of the archdiocese “to please pray for me as I prepare to join them and journey together in celebrating and sharing the joy and beauty of our faith. Be assured of my prayers for all of you.”

Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Cardinal Thomas Collins, 76, as archbishop of Toronto, and appointed Bishop Francis Leo to succeed him as the 14th archbishop of Canada’s largest diocese. 

Cardinal Thomas Collins, a biblical scholar, was appointed to be archbishop of Toronto by Benedict XVI in December 2006 and given the red hat by the same pope in February 2012. He participated in the 2013 conclave that elected Pope Francis and submitted his resignation to Francis on reaching the age of 75 on Jan. 16, 2022, the age at which all bishops are required to submit their resignation. Pope Francis accepted his resignation a year later and appointed his successor.

The cardinal, who will continue to reside in the Toronto area after his resignation, offered his “prayers, best wishes and full support” to his successor “as he prepares to serve the people of the Archdiocese of Toronto.” He said, Archbishop-designate Leo’s “knowledge of the Church, both in Canada and around the world, as well as his unfailing service over many years, demonstrates his commitment to serve joyfully and faithfully.” He invited the Catholic community in the archdiocese “to join me in giving thanks to God as we pray for our new shepherd.”

Archbishop-designate Leo was born in Montreal in 1971 to Italian immigrant parents. He entered the Grand Séminaire de Montréal in 1990, was ordained a priest for the Montreal archdiocese in 1996 and served in different parish assignments in the archdiocese until 2006 when he went to Rome to enroll in the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy and subsequently entered the Diplomatic Service of the Holy See. He served in the Holy See’s diplomatic missions in Australia and Hong Kong before returning to Canada.

Upon his return to his homeland, Monsignor Leo joined the formation team of the Grand Séminaire de Montréal, teaching theology and philosophy while providing spiritual direction, training and accompaniment to candidates for the priesthood. In the fall of 2015, he was appointed general secretary of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, a mandate which came to an end in the fall of 2021. A source who knows him but asked not to be identified described him as a man with “an incredible work ethic,” who “lives simply, loves Mary,” and whose service to the bishops’ conference was “really appreciated.” Cardinal Collins “greatly respected” him, too, the source said.

As of Feb. 1, 2022, Monsignor Leo was named vicar general and moderator of the curia of the Archdiocese of Montreal. On July 16, 2022, Pope Francis appointed him as auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Montreal. His consecration as a bishop took place on Sept. 12, 2022. Pope Francis visited Canada at the end of July 2022, and seven months later, in a surprise appointment, chose him to lead the Archdiocese of Toronto.

A press release from the archdiocese of Toronto stated that in addition to his extensive graduate studies in canon law and diplomacy and international law, Archbishop-designate Leo holds a doctorate in systematic theology with a specialization in Mariology, a licentiate in philosophy, a diploma in classical studies and a graduate certificate in spiritual direction. He has taught, among other places, in Montreal; Canberra, Australia; Dayton, Ohio; and Ottawa. He speaks English, French, Italian and Spanish.

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