By Wayne Campbell
Michael Power, a triple-award winning Catholic historical writer, began his career as a philosophy and history grad looking for a living.
In 1979, he offered to write a book review for his hometown newspaper, the Windsor Star.
“From book reviews then things moved outward,” Power, 68, said of his specialized writing field in Canadian Catholic history.
This year, he became a rare recipient of all three parts of the G.E. Clerk Medallion. The Canadian Catholic Historical Association usually awards it in just one category. Power was honored in all three: research and writing; service to the CCHA; and, exceptional work in the preservation and promotion of materials in Catholic archives. The announcement was made recently.
Power, interviewed at his Welland home, said his “big break” came in an offer to write the history of his parish, Church of the Holy Name of Mary in Windsor, and a history of the diocese of St. Catharines.
He also joined the CCHA, which he called the biggest bonus.
“There are a … lot of great historians there…that’s the bedrock,” he said.
“It’s all about connections” in building a career as a contract writer. People saw his writings and offered him projects.
They would include: 18 books, a history of the Roman Catholic Church in the Niagara Peninsula, parish histories, historical features in the Catholic Register newspaper, general newspaper articles, chapters in historical books, articles in academic journals and pamphlets. He may be best known for A Promise Fulfilled: Highlights in the Political History of Catholic Separate Schools in Ontario.
“Darn, I worked on that,” he said about the 525-page book. “There are always bumps on the road as a contract historian.”
In its 2020 award announcement, the Canadian Catholic Historical Association said A Promise Fulfilled “stands as perhaps the most readable and comprehensive history of Catholic schools in Ontario in a single volume… a model of historical research on Catholic education.”
Reflecting on his major study, Power does wonder if a funding deal for Ontario’s Catholic and public schools may become a poisonous gift.
Both Catholic and non-Catholic students can attend either. They seem to be seen as financial assets as boards compete for numbers, he said. It distracts from the religious purpose of Catholic schools.
In general, as a Catholic historical writer, Power said he strives to keep the story of the Catholic Church in Canada alive and told “with warts and all.”
He would like to see a more loving and forgiving Church that sticks to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, such as reflected in the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount. It should shy away from the continually shifting trends in society by providing a consistent Christian example.
Power and his family have lived in Welland for almost 31 years. His life of research, writing and historical association work has taken him all over Ontario and Canada visiting archives, libraries, churches, universities, colleges and hundreds of homes.
For his love of history, he credits his father.
Each evening after supper, Power said his father would read the Bible to his family of eight children, an unusual practice for a Catholic family.
He still has the Bibles from which his father read.
Over his career of more than 30 years, Power said his writing style has improved.
“To get better, you have to pay attention to your editors,” he said. “You have to learn to write. Few people are natural writers. You have to read attentively.”
He suggests “trying out your limits” by attempting different forms of writing such as short stories, poetry, journalism and even family history.
Power has a Master of Arts in Philosophy from the University of Windsor, a Master of Library Science from the University of Western Ontario, London, years of experience reading documents, letters, journals, legislation, minutes of meetings and organizing historical materials.
What does Power do to relax?
He tells a story of how he began school in Grade 1 knowing how to read and assuming his mother taught him.
“Reading is my hobby,” he laughs, holding up a thick biography of King Edward III.
(Wayne Campbell, a long-time journalist now retired, is an occasional contributor to the blog.)