Power, Prestige, and Politics: Unpacking the High-Stakes Drama in Toronto’s Elite Circles

Power, Prestige, and Politics: Unpacking the High-Stakes Drama in Toronto’s Elite Circles

Two Affluent Men Confront a Greater Authority

This steamy day in Toronto brings a few scattered thoughts. At the National Magazine Awards on Friday night, Peter C. Newman was honored for his authoritative coverage of the Conrad Black trial in Toronto Life. Newman expressed his gratitude to Black himself from the stage. In his Saturday column for the Post, Black described the recent anniversary celebrations of the 1968 student riots in France as “a sentimental rehash of left-wing, self-congratulatory, historically mythologized rituals.” This comment also succinctly captures his probable view on Newman’s award.

James Robinson, media editor at The Observer, commented yesterday on Black’s ongoing ownership of the Catholic Herald, a small-circulation weekly:

The paper, influential beyond its modest weekly reach of 20,000, faces uncertainty. If Black, currently serving a sentence, is compelled to sell, employees fear the Catholic Church might acquire it and repurpose it as a church mouthpiece, stifling its independent voice. Despite his flaws, Black may resist selling for this reason.

In related news, The Globe and Mail reported last week that the Catholic Church declined a $19-million donation from business tycoon Frank Stronach: founder of Magna International.

Reportedly, the rejection was due to Stronach’s demands for exterior architectural control, a say in the interior design, proposing an overly grand structure, limiting parishioner involvement, and dismissing a counteroffer from the archdiocese to match funds raised by the congregation instead of covering the entire cost.

This brings to mind the biblical verse Matthew 19:24:

“It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

Yet, it seems, the wealthy still endeavor.

Power, Prestige, and Politics: Unpacking the High-Stakes Drama in Toronto’s Elite Circles

In the saga of Frank Stronach, a billionaire in the auto-parts industry, and his efforts to donate a church to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto, a touching moment unfolds. The scene is set a few months back when 75-year-old Stronach, the founder of Magna International, is in a conversation with his trusted aide Dennis Mills, a top executive at Magna.

Mills suggests to Stronach, “Frank, perhaps we should abandon this idea.”

However, Stronach firmly responds, “Dennis, my intention isn’t for the archdiocese. I’m doing this for someone else.” He then points upwards, signifying God. Yet, it seems that God is either not noticing or is in a state of indecision, or perhaps working in enigmatic ways.

This follows two years of planning for the new Our Lady of Grace church in the affluent Aurora suburb, where Stronach, not a regular church attendee, spontaneously increased his initial donation from half a million to a million dollars, ultimately agreeing to cover the full cost and provide the land. But Archbishop Thomas Collins gently declines the offer, and the parish priest, Rev. Tim Hanley, is tasked with informing the church members that the Stronach proposal is not suitable.

This decision has caused discontent both within the parish and at Magna’s nearby headquarters.

Our Lady of Grace, located on Yonge Street around 50 kilometers north of Toronto’s center, is a prosperous parish facing space constraints. A parishioner living near Stronach in Aurora once asked him at the Magna Golf Club if he had land to sell for the church.

Stronach’s interest in the project grew quickly, and he even hired an architect for the design.

Mills viewed this as part of Stronach’s personal journey and noted his deep connection with the parish’s then-pastor, Rev. Don MacLean.

Everything seemed on track until Father MacLean retired around 18 months earlier. Archbishop Collins was appointed to lead the archdiocese, Canada’s largest with 225 parishes, and Father Hanley became Our Lady of Grace’s new pastor.

A meeting involving Stronach, Mills, the archbishop, Father Hanley, and other officials from Magna and the archdiocese became somewhat tense, according to Mills.

Diocesan spokesperson Neil McCarthy dismissed rumors that the rejection was due to Stronach’s daughter Belinda’s, a Liberal MP, views on abortion and same-sex marriage, which contradict church teachings. He also refuted suggestions of personal animosity from Father Hanley towards Stronach and his company as the reason for the refusal.

The official reasons for declining the offer include concerns about Stronach’s insistence on controlling the exterior architecture and interior design, proposing an overly grand building, limiting parishioner input, and rejecting the archdiocese’s suggestion of matching funds from the congregation instead of Stronach funding the entire project.

John McGrath, the archdiocesan chancellor of temporal affairs, expressed discomfort with Stronach funding the entire project, fearing it would leave parishioners without a sense of ownership of the new church.

Mills disputes these reasons, stating, “We were committed to serving the pastor, parishioners, and church-building guidelines. Frank’s only directive was to create something inspiring, not resembling a military barracks. This was his most sincere act of philanthropy among the various donations I’ve seen him make.”

The situation has somewhat divided the parish, with some members disagreeing with their priest and the archdiocese. They plan to meet with Magna’s director of architecture, Stephen McCasey, to discuss the Stronach church plan further.

Mills notes that Stronach remains open to suggestions, though the archdiocese believes otherwise. The real situation, it seems, is known only to God.

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About the Author: Bernard Aybout

In the land of bytes and bits, a father of three sits, With a heart for tech and coding kits, in IT he never quits. At Magna's door, he took his stance, in Canada's wide expanse, At Karmax Heavy Stamping - Cosma's dance, he gave his career a chance. With a passion deep for teaching code, to the young minds he showed, The path where digital seeds are sowed, in critical thinking mode. But alas, not all was bright and fair, at Magna's lair, oh despair, Harassment, intimidation, a chilling air, made the workplace hard to bear. Management's maze and morale's dip, made our hero's spirit flip, In a demoralizing grip, his well-being began to slip. So he bid adieu to Magna's scene, from the division not so serene, Yet in tech, his interest keen, continues to inspire and convene.