The following is an excerpt from Citizens with the Saints, authored by Lyman Harding, © 1994 Diocesan Synod of Fredericton.
Fifth Bishop of Fredericton (1957-1971)
Metropolitan of Canada (1963-1971)
On October 2, 1956, on the sixth ballot, the Diocesan Synod, meeting in Fredericton, elected the Reverend Dr. A.H. O'Neil, then General Secretary of the Canadian Bible Society, fifth bishop of the See of Fredericton. Alexander Henry O'Neil was born in Lucan, Ontario, received his early education there, and studied at the University of Western Ontario and Huron College. Ordained deacon in 1929, and priest the year following, he served in three parishes in the Diocese of Huron, before returning to Huron College as Principal and Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew. There he provided outstanding leadership which led to the construction of the new Huron College buildings opposite the U.W.O. campus in London. He had served as Dominion Chaplain to the A.Y.P.A., so he brought with him a broad experience of church life in Canada, to which his service with the Bible Society added an ecumenical dimension. Arriving in Fredericton with his gracious wife, the former Marguerite Rowe and their son, Terry, Dr. O'Neil was consecrated, on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul (January 25), 1957. Bishop O'Neil entered on an episcopal ministry which focused on growth in the life of the Church—spiritual, material, and numerical. This emphasis was epitomised by his oft-repeated exhortation to clergy and laity alike to "reach out in loving concern".
Bishop O'Neil was honoured by several academic institutions, including his alma mater, the University of Western Ontario, which granted him the degree of Doctor of Laws, and St. Thomas' University which made him a Doctor of Civil Law. He was enthroned as metropolitan on May 3, 1963, the third bishop of the diocese to serve in that capacity.
The new bishop's concern for the extension of the church was immediately apparent. In his first charge he suggested the establishment of a Revolving Loan Fund to be used for building new churches and the renovating or expanding of old ones. He saw a need for the rearrangement of parishes so that resources, both human and financial, could be put to better use. In 1958, O'Neil appointed a building committee to consider the regulation of the erection of new buildings and the alteration of the old. An invaluable member of this committee was the Rev. Canon C. Alvin Hawkes, who had an extensive background in architecture, and provided plans for a number of rectories, halls and renovation projects in the diocese. The Bishop also suggested that a Committee on Church Extension be formed in each of the eight Deaneries. He had by this time added an eighth Deanery (Lancaster) to the seven established by Bishop Medley, and created the Archdeaconry of St. Andrews, naming the Ven. C.L. Mooers as its first archdeacon. The Diocesan Advance Fund, established in 1959, provided low-interest loans or outright grants to many congregations to make improvements in Church properties. Throughout his episcopate, O'Neil regularly reported the building, renovating or enlarging of churches, rectories and halls in the diocese.
O'Neil's focus on the growth and expansion of the church at home and abroad naturally led to an interest in and concern for evangelism. On his appointment there were 59,850 Anglicans on parish rolls in New Brunswick. The percentage of people attending church on Sundays was much the same as in other provinces, approximately 25%. Not satisfied with this situation, O'Neil implemented a Year of Evangelism in 1957. He wished the 1959 synod to be remembered as the " Recall to the Bible" synod. From September 1, 1961, the Rev. Canon J. Edison Lane, then appointed to the long-vacant office of Medley Memorial Canon Missionary, began work in promoting evangelism and stewardship through conferences, leadership training events, and visits to the parishes in which evangelism and Bible studies were emphasized. The Diocesan Board of Religious Education arranged a chaplaincy for U.N.B. students. Nevertheless, in 1965, declines were reported in almost all areas of church life in Canada which were reflected in the Diocese of Fredericton. Numbers reported on parish rolls, Sunday school scholars, and baptisms had declined, but there were increases in the average attendance on Sundays, total church giving, and expenditures beyond the parishes, as well as an increase in per capita giving. The diocese chose evangelism as its project to mark the Centennial of Confederation in 1967. During his last year in office, O'Neil continued to stress the need for evangelism as the number one concern of the diocese. September 1971 to June 1972 was designated as an intense period of evangelism in the diocese.
This emphasis on evangelism encompassed the wider world. Archbishop O'Neil stressed the importance of the diocese having a "great missionary vision". He generated a revival of interest in overseas missionary work, in helping the poor, the sick and the hungry in developing countries. At the request of the bishop, a Diocesan Missionary Society Committee was appointed in 1958, to give leadership in missionary education, co-ordinate deputations to the diocese by missionaries, and to act in a liaison capacity between the diocese and the Missionary Society of the Anglican Church in Canada. In 1960, this committee planned to have overseas missionary work presented to the deaneries and parishes, as well as work in the missionary areas of Canada. That year, the Yukon became the Companion Diocese of the Diocese of Fredericton. O'Neil was particularly interested in encouraging the diocese to support the Primate's World Relief Fund, created by the General Synod in September, 1959. In October, 1963, he chaired a diocesan committee to support the Anglican World Mission programme which had emerged from the world wide Anglican Congress, held that year in Toronto, at which the diocese had been represented by the bishop and the dean, the Very Rev. H.L. Nutter. In 1965, the diocese exceeded its objective of $15,000 by several thousand dollars. Money was used for projects in Mount Kenya, Karachi, Nairobi, and Ghana.
These years saw an intensified focus on the social ills related to our modern society. Issues which concerned the diocese included abortion, jail and hospital chaplaincy, alcohol, the aged and family life. As a result of an increasing number of older people, the diocese became interested in geriatric work. In the mid-sixties, the Anglican Church Homes for senior citizens were built in Sussex and the Annie I. Lockhart Home, the gift of Dr. James Lockhart, began its operation in Bath. Questions relating to the problems of the family were studied leading to the Department of Social Service and the Anglican Church Women sponsoring a Family Life Conference in May 1970, to give deanery delegates the tools to lead family life education in their districts.
O'Neil felt strongly that, in a diocese which was largely rural, an emphasis on training for rural ministry was important, and he set out to make conferences on rural church life a regular part of the diocesan programme Conferences were held regularly in different areas of the diocese, emphasizing such topics as forestry, fishing, farming and poverty. On June 1, 1959, in co-operation with the national Church, the Eastern Rural Resource Centre was established in Richmond. The resource leader, the Rev. E.T. Spencer, was to spend two months a year outside the parish conducting rural conferences, and aiding clergy and students in preparing for work in rural areas.
O'Neil continued the diocesan emphasis on youth work. At the start of his ministry, a Leadership Training Course was held at Camp Medley. The camp continued to flourish, with record attendances reported. A Junior Auxiliary Girls' Camp was inaugurated in 1957, and a new recreation building was opened in 1958. Later in O'Neil's episcopate, Dr. James Lockhart provided a second gift to the Church, the site of Camp Brookwood at Bristol, which was originally a project of the Deanery of Woodstock, but has since taken on a larger role in the life of the diocese. In 1958, Synod made financial provision for a youth worker in the diocese, and Miss Rosemary Vernon (later Mrs. John Moorhead) began work in September of that year, in co-operation with the Diocesan Board of the W.A.
The first Diocesan School of Church Music was held during the summer of 1958 at Rothesay Collegiate School. Among those involved with its founding were R. Douglas Murray, organist at St. George's, Moncton, Mrs. F. Lansdowne Belyea, of the Cathedral in Fredericton, and Miss Ruth Clarke, of Trinity Church, Saint John, and several clergy of the diocese, including the Rev. H.L. Nutter and the Rev. R.E. Farnham. The first director, Gerald Wheeler, organist and choirmaster at Christ Church Cathedral, Montreal, served with distinction for many years. After a number of years at R.C.S., the school moved to Camp Medley, but has in more recent years returned to Rothesay under the able direction of Dr. Willis Noble of Mount Allison University, organist at St. Paul's Church, Sackville. The experience provided for choristers, both junior and adult, has made an impact on church music in many areas of the diocese. The annual closing services, held either at Trinity Church, Saint John, or Christ Church Cathedral, are always memorable. Once one of many such diocesan programmes in Canada, the Fredericton school is now said to be the sole survivor and, with large enrolments, it appears to have a bright future.
In 1958, the A.Y.P.A. was reorganized with better deanery representation. In October 1966 and April 1967, two of the best A.Y.P.A. conferences in the history of the diocese were held, and the number of young people in the organization was increasing. In the late 1960's there was a further effort to improve work among younger people. In 1967, Canterbury House was acquired to provide a centre for the chaplaincy work at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton. A Task Force found many youth programmes in the diocese, but a need for better training of committed leaders. By the early 1970's, youth work had been updated. Over Christmas of 1970, two young men attended the Maritime Christian Youth Parliament. In 1971, the Synod invited four Youth Observers to attend its meeting.
During the late 1950's and early 1960's, there was a reorganization of laymen's work. In 1956 an increase in the number of men's clubs was reported and, in 1958, the Diocesan Laymen's Council laid plans to organize a Laymen's group in every parish. A new Deanery Laymen's Council was formed in Shediac in 1959, and the 1961 Laymen's Weekend at Camp Medley showed a 30% increase in attendance. The Diocesan Lay Readers' Association was reorganized in November 1963, with the Archbishop attending its first meeting at the Cathedral Hall. In 1967, the Diocesan Laymen's Council prepared a new constitution, to give better area representation.
In both the W.A. and the men's groups there was an increasing interest in Christian education in the early 1960's. More than 2,000 Sunday School scholars were reported. The preparation of a new curriculum by the national Church led to a series of leadership training sessions.
O'Neil initiated a changing role for women in the life of the Diocese of Fredericton. In his 1967 charge, the archbishop recommended a committee be appointed to "meet with the ladies of the A.C.W. [as the W.A. had now become] to discover their views regarding membership of the synod, leading to greater participation in the administration of the Church." A motion allowing women to become lay delegates to synod was passed and, shortly afterwards, the archbishop commented on the historic occasion when Mrs. Helen Burton was able to present and move her A.C.W. report as the first woman member of the synod. Since that time, women have played a role of increasing significance in the counsels of the diocese, many following in the footsteps of the late Mrs. Laura McCain, the first woman member of the Diocesan Executive, rendering invaluable service on the various boards and committees. At the 1967 annual meeting, the Diocesan W.A. voted to adopt the proposed new name, "Anglican Church Women", the first of many changes in the organization which reflect the changing role of women both in society and within the Church. The focus of their work shifted, to a keener interest in local social action, though support of outside mission work retained its importance.
In the later 1960's, diocesan organization underwent a fairly radical reform. In 1965, the committee on diocesan organization recommended "the Synod elect one Executive which in turn would appoint various departmental boards and committees, which would report to the executive." That year the executive adopted the resolution that the annual session of synod be dispensed with for 1966, opening up the way for the now familiar biennial residential synods. At the 1967 synod, six new departments were put in place: Finance, Missions, Christian Education, Ministry and Pastoral Care, Social Service, and Growth and Expansion. Subsequent changes have reduced that organization to the two Boards—Finance and Programme, under which all other committees operate, with the exception of those dealing with ministry as such, which are directly responsible to the bishop.
Archbishop O'Neil had inherited a difficult situation in the staffing of the diocese. He immediately began a vigorous campaign, recruiting clergy and students from other areas of the Canadian church, as well as in Great Britain and Ireland, and a good number, some of whom had been his students at Huron College, were brought to the diocese. Needless to say, every effort was made to foster vocations to the priesthood within the diocese. As an extraordinary step to meet the shortage of clergy, the Archbishop instituted the Medley Hall programme for the training of mature candidates for Holy Orders. Under the direction of Archdeacon Arthur E.L. Caulfeild, an old friend of Bishop O'Neil, who had come from the Diocese of Ottawa to serve as rector of Trinity Church, Saint John, several experienced clergy from the Saint John area provided "night classes" for a number of men who studied for ordination while retaining their regular employment. This programme reached its culmination on Trinity Sunday, 1964, when a truly scriptural number of seven deacons was ordained by the Archbishop at Trinity Church, Saint John. The "Medley Hall men" have made significant contributions to the life of the diocese.
In August of 1966, the National Executive of the Anglican Church of Canada met at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most. Rev. and Rt. Hon. Arthur Michael Ramsey was in attendance. At a memorable Service of Witness, held in the Lady Beaverbrook Rink, in presence of the entire House of Bishops, Archbishop Ramsey was the preacher.
When Archbishop O'Neil resigned in 1971 due to ill health, he was lauded for his outstanding leadership and support of the church within the diocese, as well as for his contributions to the life of the entire Canadian church. During his last year of service, the clergy addressed him in these words: "You have given leadership that is second to none and our diocese is in a state of growth and expansion which will leave your mark on the Diocese for all time."
Archbishop and Mrs. O'Neil have lived in London, Ontario since his retirement.