Father Jonathan Robinson, C.O. the founding superior of the Toronto Oratory, has just gone to eternity, after a brief illness. Ordained in 1962, just as the Second Vatican Council was beginning, Father Robinson saw the writing on the wall, that there was a need to preserver ‘tradition’, in all that term means – not least, the liturgical. He joined the Congregation of the Oratory founded by Saint Philip Neri in the 16th century, which was in turn brought to England by Saint John Henry Cardinal Newman in the 19th, and brought to Canada, ultimately Toronto, via Montreal, in 1979 by Father Robinson.
He brought many gifts to his vocation as a Catholic priest – he received his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Edinburgh, specializing in the dense and difficult thought of Hegel, a Licence in Theology from the Gregorian, and was chairman of philosophy at McGill University in Montreal. Father wrote hundreds of articles as a long-time columnist for the Catholic Register, and is the author of a number of books (a review of his Walking to Heaven Backwards by Father Callam will is also posted). Father Robinson was also no half-hearted harpsichordist, and had a great and deep love of beautiful and transcendent music, especially of the liturgical sort.
At the Oratory, Father Robinson gathered other very gifted men, and its wide-ranging apostolate – running two parishes, Holy Family and Saint Vincent de Paul, as well as the Seminary of Saint Philp Neri, forming hundreds of future priests, spiritual direction, preaching, retreats, conferences, musical and communal events. The Oratory has always been a somewhat hidden treasure as Saint Philip always wanted, amare nesciri being his motto, ‘love to be unknown’ (which the seminarians would jokingly transform into amare nescire, love not to know). But, once found, what a treasure it was, and continues to be, with their fidelity, again, to Tradition, in the Mass, in Confession and all the sacraments, in their spiritual direction and teaching, in their way of life, founded on that vinculum caritatis, the bond of charity – radiating outwards from their humble abode in the neighbourhood of Parkdale, Toronto.
We all owe Father Jonathan Robinson a great deal of gratitude, more than we could ever repay, more than we will likely ever know, and this writer as well, on a very personal level. He will be sorely missed, and, even though Saint Philip always said that ‘God has no need of men‘, it will be a difficult task to replace Father Robinson.
May God, whom he served so well and faithfully, reward him, in the presence of Our Lady, Saint Philip and all the saints and angels.
Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei . Requiescat in pace. Amen