+ James Martin Hayes, 1924-2016, Emeritus Archbishop of Halifax

by Bernadette Gasslein

“A self-effacing, quiet man, beloved of his own congregation, highly regarded by Catholic and Protestant clergy, vitally interested in people, and the youngest rector ever to be appointed to St. Mary’s Basilica is to be the new auxiliary bishop to Most Rev. J.G. Berry, Archbishop of Halifax.” Fifty-one years later, this description that appeared in the Halifax Chronical Herald in February, 1965, still describes James Martin Hayes, Emeritus Archbishop of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Archbishop Hayes died on August 2, at the age of 92.

ArchbArchbishop Hayes tirelessly promoted liturgical renewal in Canada. He had earned his doctorate in canon law in Rome, but liturgy and ecclesiology emerged as his true loves after he returned from the Second Vatican Council. Ordained a bishop in 1965, he was present at the first session of Vatican II, and returned as a Council father for the final session in 1965.

The late Leonard Sullivan, a former director of the National Liturgy Office of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, and a dear friend of Hayes, wrote of him in a festschrift honouring Hayes that was published in 1994: “James Hayes has the finest liturgical mind among the bishops I have encountered over the past four decades. He has read liturgy for fifty years: his library is filled with books by liturgical and church history masters” (Shaping a Priestly People, ed Bernadette Gasslein, 22 (Ottawa: Novalis, 1994).

His appreciation for liturgical scholarship is reflected in his membership in both the North American Academy of Liturgy, and Societas Liturgica. But equally significant is his appreciation and encouragement of those scholars. Over the years – and particularly since I have been editor of Worship – I have heard from scholars who wanted me to help them contact Archbishop Hayes to thank him for the encouragement that he had offered them, in some instances, decades earlier. University of Notre Dame’s Michael Driscoll wrote, on hearing of Archbishop Hayes’ death, “I remember meeting him on several occasions at Societas Liturgica meetings. I was in doctoral studies at the time. I was always impressed that he would talk with the young scholars and attend their sessions. I think that he knew that if the liturgical movement was to continue, you have to encourage younger scholarship. I was always humbled and delighted when he would come to my sessions and speak with me afterwards.”

He loved young people, and encouraged them at every turn. I remember participating in a celebration of Evening Prayer in his diocese, at which all the ministries were assumed by young people whose formation he had assured. They presided, they proclaimed, they led song, they served, they reflected, all with style and grace. Clearly they had been formed in reverence for the liturgy and the mystery it embodied. Hayes hated to see people not knowing and understanding the sacredness and meaning of the liturgy. He understood its pastoral and theological importance. But more than anything else, he understood its ecclesial meaning. He knew in his very bones that liturgy is an ecclesial, not a personal action; and that the diocese becomes the diocese in its fullest way when it gathers around its bishop to celebrate Eucharist.

Not only did James Hayes love young people; he had a particular love for the poor and those who were marginalized in any way. Stories abound of him giving rides to folks who were down on their luck, feeding them and listening to their stories. He welcomed those who were struggling in their marriages. Among those who were marginalized, he had a particular love for the sick. When he retired as bishop in 1990, he moved directly into another full time ministry: Ministry to the sick and dying at the Halifax Infirmary, a general hospital. In 1993, he wrote about this ministry, “To me spending time with the dying person is like the experience of spending time before the blessed sacrament. The Lord is there, and I am here. … If we understand a sacrament as a sign of God’s presence and power that communicates the inward spiritual strength we call grace, then the experience of being with and accompanying the dying is just such a spiritual reality. … In this case the sick person … becomes the sacrament” (Celebrate!, September-October 1993).

Throughout the years, friends recall that Archbishop Hayes never lost his sense of hope, even in the years when resistance to Vatican II became more evident. Pointing to a photo of his own cathedral clad in scaffolding for its renovation, he commented, “A church being renovated can look like it’s in ruins, but I will not let go of my optimism.”

Hayes had no patience for clericalism. His vision of the church emerged clearly in his preaching and writing on the Chrism Mass. In 1993, he wrote, “We are all anointed with the chrism and we are all anointed to share in the one priesthood of Jesus Christ.” This is what he called “Mutuality of ministry, based on a sharing of the one eternal priesthood of Christ.” (Celebrate!, March 1993, 23).

Fr. Bill Burke, also a former director of the CCCB’s National Liturgy Office, remembers walking with Archbishop Hayes after a regional workshop. The archbishop was reflecting on the event and mused, “Can you imagine a conference 50 years ago [before Vatican II] when the organizer was a woman, and the two principal speakers were women?” Archbishop Hayes valued the work and the ministry of women, and recognized the new day it heralded for the church. As early as the 1987 Synod, speaking in the name of the Canadian Catholic Conference of Bishops, he proposed that lay people participate in future synods.

In 1970, under Archbishop Haye’s leadership, the Archdiocese of Halifax, in cooperation with the Anglican and United Churches, established the Atlantic School of Theology.

Archbishop Hayes served the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops as its president. He served two terms as chairperson of its Episcopal Commission for Liturgy, and was a member of the National Council for Liturgy from 1968 to 1979. From 1976-1979 he served as Canada’s representative on the Episcopal Board of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL).

At the heart of the liturgical and ecclesial renewal that Hayes imbibed at Vatican II was the paschal mystery. He was ordained bishop on Easter Tuesday, 1965. That feast—“Tuesday of the Octave of Easter”—was what he always celebrated as the anniversary of his episcopal ordination, not the date itself. The gospel of the day is of the risen Christ commissioning Mary Magdalene to proclaim the resurrection to the disciples. May our brother James Martin Hayes now know the fullness of that mystery that he himself taught so many to proclaim and that he proclaimed with his life.

Bernadette Gasslein is editor of Worship journal.

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3 comments

  1. I received this memory from Fr. Thomas Krosnicki:

    In 1971, as a doctoral student at Sant’ Anselmo in Rome, I had my first article in the area of liturgy accepted for publication. To my delight, Godfrey Diekmann had the brief piece printed in Worship magazine (New Blessings in the Missal of Paul VI, Worship, 45, 199-205). Shortly after it had appeared in print, I received a totally unexpected letter from Archbishop Hayes in Canada. At that time we had never met; we did not know each other at all. Yet, the archbishop took the time to write to an unknown student of liturgy to express his gratitude for my small contribution which he had read in Worship. His acknowledgment and encouragement helped to set me off on some forty years of writing and publishing on liturgical issues. He didn’t need to do it; his action was an expression of both his personal kindness and his concern for the post Vatican II liturgical reform. Years later, while working at the US Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy, I met the kind Archbishop at a liturgical meeting in Halifax. That meeting ended with a dinner of freshly caught lobster which he and his brother had prepared. Regardless of how good the lobsters were, a true delicacy for a Midwesterner like myself, they could not meet the goodness the Archbishop served in 1971 to an unknown student of liturgy—when he offered an unexpected letter of support and encouragement! May his life of kindness to so many now be
    rewarded!
    Thomas A. Krosnicki SVD
    St Louis, MO

  2. In the fall of 1979 I participated In a class on the Eucharist taught by Jake Empereur,sj, at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley. The class of over 100 broke up into study groups composed of 6 students each. In the group I participated in we had a Franciscan Sister who was a RE director, a German seminarian, a Sister of St. Joseph who had been a missionary in Brazil, a Sister of Charity who taught high school, and an older priest on sabbatical. We met weekly and the professor visited each group for the oral midterm and final. We were half way through the semester before I found out that Fr. Hays was the Archbishop of Halifax. He participated in the class as a regular student and ALWAYS had good examples.

  3. In the fall of 1979 I participated In a class on the Eucharist taught by Jake Empereur,sj, at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley. The class of over 100 broke up into study groups of 6 students. In the group I participated in we had a Franciscan Sister who was a RE director, a German seminarian, a Sister of St. Joseph who had been a missionary in Brazil, a Sister of Charity who taught high school, and an older priest on sabbatical. We met weekly and the professor visited each group for the oral midterm and final. We were half way through the semester before I found out that Fr. Hays was the Archbishop of Halifax. He participated in the class as a regular student and ALWAYS had good examples.

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