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Born Clones Parish, County Fermanagh, Ireland, 1816. Died Toronto, Canada, 1888.

Author: Mark McGowan

While often considered a native of County Monaghan, Ireland, Lynch was in fact born in 1816 in the parish of Clones, in a small section in County Fermanagh. His father was a schoolteacher, so it was not unexpected that the young Lynch pursued his formal education with vigour. He was educated in Lucan (County Dublin) and Paris, where he became a member of the Vincentian Order of missionary priests. Ordained in 1843, he was eventually sent to the mission field in Texas, where he remained only from 1846 to 1848. Having contracted malaria, he was moved to Vincentian institutions in Missouri and New York. It was in Niagara that he founded Our Lady of the Angels Seminary (now Niagara University) and caught the eye of Toronto bishop Armand de Charbonnel. After preaching a mission in Toronto in 1858, Lynch was nominated by Charbonnel to be his coadjutor with right of succession. In 1860, Charbonnel resigned, and Lynch assumed control of a vast territory that stretched from the Niagara Peninsula to Georgian Bay. When Pope Pius IX elevated Lynch to the rank of Archbishop in 1870, his provincial territory much of southern and northern Ontario.

His influence across Ontario was as enormous, a fact recognized by the leading politicians of the day: Conservative Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald in Ottawa and Liberal Premier Oliver Mowat in Ontario, who sought his support. Lynch quickly became the leader in building the Catholic education system in Ontario. In 1863, he supported Catholic politician Richard Scott and his separate school bill, which gave Catholic schools greater access to public funds and extended their establishment into rural areas. When, in 1867, separate schools would be at the mercy of provincial governments under the new Confederation agreement, Lynch argued for a strengthening of the provisions of the Scott Act and supported formal protection for denominational schools by the federal government under the British North America Act, which created the Dominion of Canada. Lynch also fostered the creation of additional Catholic separate schools in the cities of central Ontario and supported the founding of educational institutes by religious orders of men and women. Upon Lynch’s arrival to Ontario, in 1860, there were 14,708 students in 115 separate schools across the province. By the time of his death in 1888, there were 260 separate schools educating 34,571 students. Much of this success in numbers was due to Lynch’s tireless advocacy and behind-the-scenes diplomacy. In a partnership with long-time Liberal Premier Oliver Mowat (1872–1896), Lynch secured numerous concessions for separate schools: the right of Catholic ratepayers to declare themselves separate school supporters only once, instead of annually; the appointment of special Catholic inspectors for separate schools; the right of Catholics to elect a separate school trustee to Public high school boards; the right of Catholic tenants to support Catholic schools; and the right of  Catholic businesses to direct their business taxes to local Catholic school boards. Protestant pundits and politicians denounced the so-called “Lynch–Mowat Concordat” and described Mowat, a Presbyterian, as being a mere pawn of the minions of Rome.

Lynch’s insistence that Catholic be accorded full rights as citizens came at a time when Ontario, particularly its capital Toronto, witnessed violent clashes between Catholics and Protestants. In 1864, members of the Orange Young Britons attacked a Corpus Christi Procession on the grounds of St. Michael’s Catholic Cathedral. In 1875, Catholic pilgrims parading on two successive Sundays, celebrating the Papal Jubilee, were attacked by mobs of Protestants who objected to such a “desecration” of the Sabbath. After the riots, Lynch praised the work of local police, Catholic and Protestant, who restored order in Toronto, and argued for patience on the part of Catholic Christians: “We tolerate what we cannot help, we endure what we cannot cure.”

Lynch disagreed with his fellow bishop, Thomas Louis Connolly, of Halifax, that Canada provided toleration and potential prosperity for Irish immigrants. Smarting from this periodic sectarian violence in Toronto, Lynch warned bishops in Ireland about the “evils of wholesale and improvident emigration from Ireland.” When it came to aligning himself with Irish nationalists, Lynch was careful to espouse his support for constitutional approaches to the Irish question which would award Ireland the autonomy within the British Empire that Canada already enjoyed. He publicly opposed the Fenians, who through their use of violence were “lawless men who, pretending to remedy the evils of Ireland, would inflict dreadful injury on the inhabitants of this Province.” Lynch had an uncomfortable relationship with physical force Irish nationalists, and he cancelled some St. Patrick’s Day parades for fear of violence and refused to meet Irish radicals when they visited his city. Ever professing Irish Catholic loyalty to the Crown, on St. Patrick’s Day in 1875, Lynch proclaimed that, despite the adversity they faced in Canada, the Irish had a Providential role in nation-building, particularly being God’s “co-operators in spreading His Gospel and saving those who were lost.” His sense of Irish spirituality was deep, as noted by his devotion to Our Lady of Knock, and the healing powers credited to relics from this Irish shrine. He was also a fervent ultramontane, who vociferously supported the declaration of papal infallibility at the first Vatican Council.

In the period leading up to the creation of the Canadian Confederation in 1867, Lynch was a strong supporter of the creation of the new Dominion withing the Empire. His political quid-pro-quo with provincial and federal politicians secured patronage posts for Catholics and political clout for the Church. When Lynch died in 1888, he left an impressive legacy as a skilled negotiator as well as a magnet for controversy.  His last request was that he not be buried in the crypt of St. Michael’s Cathedral, which was his right; instead, his remains should rest under the Cathedral’s north wall, where passers-by could see his resting place and say a prayer for the repose of his soul.

Further Reading

Humphries, Charles W. “Archbishop John Joseph Lynch.” Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Vol. XI (1881–1890). http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/lynch_john_ joseph_11E.html.

McKeown, H.C. The Life and Labors of the Most Rev. John Joseph Lynch. Toronto and Montreal: James A. Sadlier, 1886.

Stortz, Gerald J. “Archbishop John Joseph Lynch of Toronto: Twenty-eight Years of Commitment.” CCHA Study Sessions 49 (1982): 5–23.

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