Bishop James Mahoney remembered on the 25th anniversary of his death

James Patrick Mahoney Dec. 7, 1927- March 2, 1995

Fourth Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon, 1967-1995

By Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News with files from Margaret Sanche, Diocesan Archivist

Monday, March 2 marks the 25th anniversary of the death of Bishop James Mahoney, who served as fourth bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon for some 27 years.

“He was our shepherd for a long time and his passing came too soon… He was deeply loved  by so many people.” – Donna Rogal

A memorial Mass for Bishop Mahoney was celebrated by Saskatoon Bishop Mark Hagemoen at noon hour March 2, 2020 at St. Paul Co-Cathedra in Saskatoon — the church where the late bishop was ordained both a priest and a bishop, and from which he served the diocese for more than 27 years as its shepherd.

Bishop Mahoney’s history, contributions and legacy are the focus of a reflection recently undertaken by Diocesan Archivist Margaret Sanche to mark the anniversary of the well-loved bishop’s death on March 2, 1995.

“Bishop Mahoney was much respected in the Catholic community and beyond, and was able to forge important links with people of non-Catholic churches and faiths, as well as with the civic leaders of Saskatoon, many of whom participated in the celebration of his 25th anniversary as bishop in 1992,” says Sanche.

The son of Denis and Anna Mahoney, James Patrick Mahoney was born in Saskatoon on Dec. 7, 1927. He was educated at St. Paul’s Elementary School and City Park Collegiate in Saskatoon, and at St. Peter’s College in Muenster. After his seminary studies at St. Peter’s Seminary in London, ON, James Mahoney was ordained to the priesthood at the age of 24 years by Bishop Francis Klein of Saskatoon on June 7, 1952.

Fr. James Mahoney visits a classroom in the 1950s. As a priest and as a bishop he was always an advocate for Catholic education. (Photo courtesy of Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon Archives)

During the first 15 years of his priesthood, Mahoney served pastorally at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Saskatoon, as well as at parishes in Delisle, Colonsay and Blucher. He also taught at St. Paul’s High School, and was the first principal of Holy Cross High School in Saskatoon. He also pursued studies in Family Life and Counselling at Catholic University of America in Washington, DC.

Soon after returning to Saskatoon in 1967, he was named fourth bishop of Saskatoon by Pope Paul VI and was ordained to the episcopacy on Dec. 13, 1967 at the age of 40. Bishop James Mahoney chose as his motto: Fidelis Deus: “God is Faithful.”

James Patrick Mahoney was ordained the fourth bishop of Saskatoon on Dec. 13, 1967. (Photo courtesy of Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon Archives)

In his 27 years as spiritual leader of the Roman Catholics of the Saskatoon diocese, Mahoney undertook and supported a number of notable works within the Catholic church and in the larger community related to Catholic education, ecumenism, health care, vocations, the spiritual formation of priests and laity, the Knights of Columbus and Catholic Women’s League, the Brazil mission, and social justice endeavours, describes Sanche.

His commitment to Catholic education and his contributions to the community were recognized in a special way with the naming of Bishop James Mahoney High School, which was officially blessed and dedicated in 1985.

“Over the years, Bishop Mahoney’s faith provided a strong witness to the People of God in the diocese of Saskatoon. His genuine love of people, young and old, his insightfulness, his compassion and his warm and wonderful sense of humour were gifts which enabled those who saw and heard him to receive the deeper message — the Good News of Christ — which it was his mission to proclaim,” she says.

When priests from across the diocese gathered for days of reflection and recollection during the first week of March this year at the Cathedral of the Holy Family in Saskatoon, their celebration of the Eucharist included Mass with prayers of remembrance and thanksgiving for the well-loved bishop.

Fr. Kevin McGee, diocesan Vicar General, has fond memories of the late bishop. “I would not be in the diocese of Saskatoon if it were not for him,” he says.

“I came to Saskatoon at a stage of formation still discerning where I was being called. One major reason I stayed in Saskatoon was because of the hospitality and generosity and graciousness shown to me by Bishop James Mahoney. It set the trajectory of my priesthood.”

Bishop Mahoney’s regular visits to Pius X Seminary were a highlight for McGee and other seminarians: “He brought so much joy and laughter into the seminary.”

Donna Rogal, who has worked at the Catholic Pastoral Centre in Saskatoon since 1972, recalls Bishop James Mahoney as a friend, a pastor and a great leader.

“It is with profound  gratitude that I give God thanks for the gift of Bishop Mahoney to our diocese and the privilege I had to know him, work for him and call him friend,” says Rogal. “When  I started out as a very young staff member, I noticed that Bishop Mahoney was great at affirmation, empowering others, and listening with his heart.  This included the staff, the clergy, and whoever walked through the door.”

His contributions include being instrumental in helping to establish Saskatoon Friendship Inn, setting up a diocesan office of justice and peace, launching the Lay Formation (Adult Faith Enrichment) program, and the Bishop’s Annual Appeal, which has supported a range of ministries and outreach in the diocese and beyond for more than 30 years.

A gifted speaker, known for his humour and accessibility, Mahoney gained the respect of those from other faiths and from the community at large, both urban and rural, recalls Rogal, who noted his incredible memory for names. “He had a persona  that attracted people wherever he went.  His laughter was infectious.” She remembers the bishop giving the weather report on the ‘Wall and Den Show’ on local radio. He was also well-known for his marriage preparation advice of “PPF” – put your partner first – that many couples recall decades later.

“He was our shepherd for a long time and his passing came too soon,” says Rogal. “He was deeply loved  by so many people. Personally, he was very kind to me and my family and I will never forget his love.”

Bishop Mahoney died on March 2, 1995 at the age of 67 years. Following his funeral on March 7, 1995, his body was interred in Woodlawn Cemetery, Saskatoon. The James. P. Mahoney Institute for the Family was established in his memory to support projects designed to strengthen families and family life.