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Fr. Ted Colleton… A Radical Priest For Life

July 14, 2017 Featured Today No Comments


What does it mean to be a “radical”? One might think of the sixties when hippies identified themselves in this manner. In addition, radicals are usually understood as people who have “leftist” views.
Fr. Ted Colleton, C.S.Sp., was an orthodox Catholic priest and resolutely pro-life. Could he ever see himself as a radical? The question haunted him when a newspaper reporter asked him, “How do you feel about being considered a radical?” Like a good soccer player, he sidestepped the issue: “Most people who call us radicals do absolutely nothing themselves. It is merely a copout.”
Later, alone in prayer. Fr. Ted put the question to himself: “Am I a radical?” Well, he thought, “radical” refers to the root, whereas its opposite refers to the surface. Therefore, it is better to get at the root of an issue, than remain a superficial onlooker. “I don’t mind being called ‘stupid’ or ‘dumb’ or ‘ugly’,” he mused, “but I would hate to be considered shallow.”
Thus, was the planted the inspiration for the titles of two of his three books: Yes, I’m a Radical (1987); Yes, I’d Do It Again (1990); and I’m Still A Radical (2001).
Edward (Ted) Colleton was born and raised in Ireland. At the age of 27 he was ordained a Catholic priest in the Spiritan (Holy Ghost) order, in 1940. The following year, he was assigned to Kenya in east Africa and spent 30 years there as a missionary until he was expelled by the dictator Jomo Kenyatta. The circumstances surrounding his deportation are worth noting since they reveal something of Fr. Ted’s heroic character.
On one particular occasion Kenyatta spoke disparagingly about the missionaries before a large gathering of people. It was clear that his speech was a gross insult to the various missionaries, Protestant as well as Catholic, who had been dedicated to the progress of the local people. After much mental turmoil, Fr. Ted dispatched a letter to Kenyatta in which he included the following words: “No doubt we missionaries made many mistakes in the past, but I do not think we deserve to be publicly insulted by the First Citizen of Kenya. May I remain, Your Excellency, Respectfully Yours. . . .”
The response was something other than what Fr. Ted had hoped for. He was given 12 hours to leave the country. His letter marked him as an “undesirable alien.”
As he was about to be driven to the airport that would take him out of Africa, he found himself looking at the faces of about ten policemen and a few woman secretaries. Fr. Ted never made a secret about his flair for the dramatic. When he was a high-schooler, he was equally at home in comedy, tragedy, and Gilbert and Sullivan musicals. In his senior year, he felt pulled in opposite directions. “Should he become an actor or a priest?”
Facing his opponents in Kenya, he braced himself for what may have been his finest hour:
“Ladies and gentlemen. After 30 years in Kenya, I am leaving. I am taking with me my pajamas, a shaving set, and a Bible. I hope that everyone who comes to your country puts in as much and takes out as little. Good night.”
From Kenya, it was off to Canada where he began a second career, this time as a pro-life missionary. In all of his years in Kenya, he had never heard of an abortion. He spoke two African languages — Kikuyu and Ki-Swahili — and did not know the word for abortion in either language.
Babies were regarded as a gift from God. The notion of killing a baby, born or unborn, to avoid inconvenience, never entered the minds of any of the people he knew.
Having come from a place where pregnant women were honored and revered, Fr. Ted was shocked at what he found in Canada. “To find that a doctor could set up an illegal abortuary where babies are murdered every day and it is guarded by the ‘Forces of Law and Order’ twenty-four hours a day!”
His new mission was to teach Canadians about the sacredness of life that his friends in the Third World had already known. Having ministered to those living in material poverty, Fr. Ted would spend the rest of his life ministering to the spiritual poverty of Canada.
He would endure calumny, slander, persecution, and imprisonment. What was most unsettling for him was being heckled from the pew while saying Mass.
Yet, he remained ever kind and forgiving, though he was “thoroughly ashamed” of the abortion-promoting work of “Catholic” politicians.
Two months before he turned 90, Fr. Ted sent me a letter thanking me for mailing him a copy of my book, The Heart of Virtue. Consistent with his concern for others, he had lent it to a fellow priest who was recovering in hospital from a broken thigh. “He is more spiritual and intellectual than I am,” he stated, in keeping with his modesty. He expressed the hope that we would meet again, soon. It was not in God’s plan, however.
I treasure his letter. It remains a permanent part of my memorabilia.
My memory of him is a happy one. He was a master after-dinner speaker and had audiences howling with laughter over his repertoire of jokes and anecdotes. I marveled at his energy and his attempt, not always successful, to remember the names of everyone he had met.
He enjoyed amusing children with an assortment of card and coin tricks. I always found him to be both cheerful and hopeful.
On her deathbed, Fr. Ted’s mother whispered: “Edward, be a good priest.” And that he was throughout his priestly tenure of 70 years. Fr. Ted passed away peacefully in 2011 at the age of 97, his last days spent in quiet prayer. He was lauded by Jim Hughes, Campaign Life Coalition president, as “one of the great heroes of the Canadian pro-life movement…giving everything he had for the unborn and vulnerable.”
Natura il fece e poi ruppe la stampa (nature made him and then broke the mold).

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