On December 13, Bishop Dennis Drainville, of the diocese of Quebec, announced that he will “step aside” from episcopal ministry for an unspecified period of time due to health reasons, and that Coadjutor Bishop Bruce Myers will serve as commissary in the interim.
In a letter to his diocese, Drainville, 62, says that “as the months have passed it has been increasingly difficult to continue to put in the hours and continue travelling throughout the diocese,” and that his doctor has recommended he take this action.
While the letter does not disclose the nature of Drainville’s medical leave, in an interview with the Anglican Journal earlier in December, he said that he was suffering from a degenerative illness.
The news comes more than 16 months after Drainville announced his plans to retire , and more than a year after Myers’ election.
Drainville originally said he would announce his date of retirement by Dec. 1, 2016, but so far no date has been given.
During his interview with the Journal, he spoke about the challenges the diocese has faced during his time as diocesan bishop since 2008.
“What I’m happiest about is the fact that there is still a diocese of Quebec. Because it is not hyperbole for me to say to you that there have been several times when that issue has been on the table,” he said, noting that when he took over the reins, the diocese was hemorrhaging hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
“The diocese, because of the lack of numbers of English-speaking Quebecers, will never be out of the woods; we’re always going to be hard-pressed,” he said. He noted that while the diocese is engaged in ministry to French speakers, and has French speaking-congregations, they remain a small minority in what is already a small church. The diocese has 4,000 members on parish rolls, according to the 2016 Anglican Church Directory.
“But there is a difference between being hard-pressed and lurching from catastrophe to crisis-we’re not doing that anymore.”
Drainville said that the diocese is much more financially stable-pooled funds have grown from $9.2 million in 2008 to $17.5 million in 2016, in large part through the sale of church buildings.
Restructuring parish ministry and closing churches has also allowed for growth in other areas, Drainville said.
Churches in the diocese were in “rapid and difficult decline” in 2008, following an out-migration of English-speaking Quebecers that began in the 1970s, with the passage of the Charter of the French Language, which mandated French as the official language of the province.
There are now between eight and 10 churches experiencing growth, he said. “That is because, essentially, we’ve restructured ministry and put resources in where there were no resources before.”
But financial stability did not come without a cost. While the diocese didn’t close churches unilaterally, some congregations have filed lawsuits contesting diocesan ownership of certain buildings.
When asked how he feels now about some of the decisions he has made regarding diocesan property, Drainville said making unpopular decisions is sometimes part of the job.
“God help you if you feel you have to be loved by everyone. God help you if you can’t, when the time comes to make a decision, make a decision,” he said. “I can be criticized for many things, but no one will ever criticize me for being indecisive.”
Drainville said, however, that in the overwhelming majority of cases, decisions in the diocese of Quebec are made by consensus among members of the leadership team. The team rose to many challenges facing the diocese during his episcopacy admirably, he said. “They are the finest team I have ever worked with in my life. And I don’t expect I’ll ever see a team that is as good and committed and engaged.”
When asked to consider his episcopacy, Drainville has said his regrets are less about what he did and more about what he didn’t get a chance to do-teach.
Drainville, who has also been a member of provincial parliament in Ontario and a CEGEP [General and Vocational College] teacher in Gaspé, thought when he became bishop that education would be “a major part” of his ministry. Instead, he found himself “holding all the different parts [of the diocese] together to make it work.
“The very things that I felt I would be called to do are the very things I haven’t done. And the very things I least wanted to do, I have done. I had to,” he said.
When asked about the future of the diocese of Quebec, Drainville was cautious. He said that while his successor, Myers, will be left with a much healthier church than he himself inherited, no one can say with certainty whether the diocese will still exist in 30 years.
“If there is a diocese in 30 years, it will be as much of a miracle as there can be in terms of the church, because every indicator would indicate that there can’t be [a diocese here],” he acknowledged. “But because we are of the church, we believe in miracles.”