Collins’ faith, compassion informed public, private lifeWritten by Tom Konecny | | firstname.lastname@example.org
As the City of Toledo noted in a statement following his death, Mayor D. Michael Collins had titles aplenty: Marine, police officer, City Councilman, husband, father and grandfather.
Another that was listed may have arguably guided the rest: devout Catholic.
“He was a faithful parishioner here,” said the Rev. Marty Lukas, pastor of Gesu Roman Catholic Parish on Parkside Boulevard. “You just got a sense that when he came to Mass on the weekends, that he came to pray, to worship, to build community.”
Lukas came to Gesu three years ago, where he encountered Collins regularly. The late mayor typically attended the 11:30 a.m. Mass on Sunday, or the 4 p.m. Mass on Saturday, depending on his schedule. Though Collins also worshipped at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church near the Anthony Wayne Trail — which was closer to his residence — he called Gesu home.
“He always went to coffee and doughnuts (after Mass), and stayed and talked to people,” Lukas said. “You didn’t know he was the mayor, unless you knew he was the mayor. He and [his wife] Sandy had a pew they usually sat in, and sometimes he would get recruited to take up the collection. They often would tap Mike to do that, and he’d walk up the aisle just like an ordinary parishioner.”
Although he may have looked ordinary, Lukas said fellow parishioners thought it was neat having the Mayor of Toledo attend Gesu.
“I think everyone was really respectful of Mike and as to why we were all at church, as a fellow Christian and parishioner,” Lukas said. “That was his time, not as mayor, but as a parishioner.”
That didn’t mean some people didn’t try to bend his ear. However, longtime Gesu member Dennis Isabell Sr. of Ottawa Hills said Collins tried to avoid mayoral talk.
“He wanted to engage with people more as a parishioner, and not as mayor,” Isabell said. “He seemed like he was under too much stress for one guy, and he would always say, ‘It’s just part of the job.’”
Isabell said he immediately connected with Collins when they met about six years ago. The two always talked after Mass about things they had in common, including their Irish ancestry and how they had both lost a child.
“He always acted like he had time to listen to you,” Isabell said. “I really didn’t know him other than at Gesu, and he was very engaging and incredibly kind.”
Collins attended the October installation of Toledo Bishop Daniel Thomas, and the two once met at Collins’ office. Lukas said the two were beginning to forge a relationship.
“I think they were both very much of the same ilk, both men that were going to be very good for Toledo and Northwest Ohio in their respective roles, and I think they resonated together,” Lukas said.
Thomas also offered a statement reflecting on Collins’ faith.
“Mayor Collins often spoke of the importance of his Catholic faith and the many ways the Lord had blessed his life,” Thomas said. “I will count among my blessings the opportunity to have come to know him, to have met his family, and to have prayed with his wife at his hospital bedside.”
Isabell believes Collins’ religion positively influenced his work as mayor, where his day-to-day public decision-making often revealed his devout faith.
“Every article you’d pick up talks about his compassion,” Isabell said. “You could just tell by the aura around him that he was a very caring and compassionate guy. He cared about people and that was very obvious. When he found out I lost a son, there was a real sense of commonality, even though I wasn’t a politician.”
The Rev. David Ritchie, pastor at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, who distributed communion to Collins at Mass the morning of his cardiac arrest, saw Collins’ religion impact his work.
“I think he probably did bring God into it a lot,” Ritchie said. “But he was not perfect, and could be feisty, but the biggest thing was how unassuming he was. He didn’t walk into church and say, ‘Hey, the mayor’s here.’ And I’ve seen politicians not do that, they walk into a room and think everything should stop. So I think the humbleness is very important.”
Gesu Parishioner Bob Savage of Toledo also noticed that Collins’ faith influenced his public life.
“I think he had great personal respect for all people, and I think that is really a reflection of his Catholic faith,” Savage said. “I always noticed his gentle manner, and you don’t always see that in public officials often.”
Savage said Collins was well-liked and respected by all.
“In leaving he would always linger in the back in the vestibule, and usually we’d have a chance to talk,” Savage said. “There’s no question he was very sincere as a person and that carried over certainly into his religious life. He enjoyed the tranquility that the sanctuary offered. He was easy to talk with, and he fit in very well with the congregation. Mike was just a great guy.”
Lukas recalled a recent story from a parishioner, who noticed Collins smiling at Mass while a baptism was taking place.
“For some reason, [this parishioner] focused on Mike,” Lukas said. “And [Collins] was just beaming. He was just so happy and so proud that there was this new member of our Catholic community. [The parishioner] said he couldn’t get that out of his mind, that [Collins] was just so into it, that this baby was baptized. I think that represents the interior of Mike’s faith life, because it was very private and yet it was very real.”
Lukas said Gesu has lost a good member of its faith community.
“He was an ordinary man, a great member of our parish family,” he said. “And we were proud of him.”