One of the wonderful things about the holiday season is reconnecting with old friends. Whether it’s a long overdue get-together or a simple note of gratitude, Christmas encourages us to reach out and strengthen our bonds. It has long been well-known that Bishop John T. McNally, the fifth bishop of the Diocese of Hamilton, maintained a close friendship with fellow Maritimer, Canadian Prime Minister Richard Bedford Bennett. Among our collection of documents kept by Bishop McNally are several warm Christmas greetings from his good friend R.B. Bennett.
The friendship was initially formed while both were in Calgary. Bennett had come to Calgary in 1897, as law partner to Conservative Senator James A. Lougheed. McNally was named the first bishop of the newly erected Diocese of Calgary in 1913. Their friendship continued throughout their lives, as can be seen in the few letters of correspondence and well wishes that exist in the Bishop Farrell Library & Archives. The letters also trace the trajectory of their careers, with stationary letterhead from the Hotel Palliser in Calgary dated 1925; House of Commons, 1926; Leader of the Opposition, 1930, 1937; Chateau Laurier, Ottawa, 1931; and Office of the Prime Minister, 1935, as Bennett went from Member of Parliament to Leader of the Opposition, to Prime Minister, and then following his loss to William Lyon Mackenzie King in 1935, again as Leader of the Opposition. The sentiments of congratulations from Bennet to McNally track his moves from Bishop of Calgary to that of Hamilton and then Archbishop of Halifax.
The depth of their relationship is evident in Bennet’s expression of sadness at McNally leaving for Hamilton, in which he writes: “…the thought of the loss of your companionship fills me with real loneliness, and distress.” (Telegram R.B. Bennett to J.T. McNally, August 30, 1924, B5.10)
The close nature of their friendship is apparent through Bennett’s kind salutations, signing off his letters with phrases such as “…believe me, I am Ever yours faithfully…” (R.B. Bennett to J.T. McNally, January 9, 1935, B5.10) or “…with affectionate regards I am, ever, your friend admirer,” (R.B. Bennett to J.T. McNally, 1927, B5.10).
It is also visible through Bennett’s thoughtful letters keeping Bishop McNally fully informed of his health during Bennett’s illness in the winter of 1935, with up-dates written by Bennett or his personal secretary Alice Millar.
One of Bishop McNally’s great accomplishments as a Bishop of the Diocese of Hamilton was the construction of our beautiful Cathedral Basilica of Christ the King. Built during the Depression despite many challenges, it stands out on the landscape as a testimony in stone and stained glass to the glory of God. Ever supportive, Bennett donated the Bourdon Bell, the largest of bells in the carillon tower and was present at the blessing and dedication of the Cathedral.
The letters from Prime Minister Bennett to Bishop McNally are treasured items in our collection. Just as I am certain the encouraging words and support were cherished by Bishop McNally. There really is nothing better than a thoughtful greeting from a “good, old friend”!
Merry Christmas to old friends and new from the Bishop Farrell Library & Archives!