Fr. Michael Busch directed the renovation project. Photo by Evan Boudreau

Beauty is in the eye of St. Michael’s rector

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  • September 23, 2016

If you’re going to pick somebody to spend $128 million for you, pick somebody who will enjoy the job. Over the last 10 years, rector Fr. Michael Busch has driven the restoration project at St. Michael’s Cathedral with relish, delight, enthusiasm and purpose.

Fr. Busch isn’t the sort of Catholic whose faith is cobbled together out of theological theories and doctrinal judgments. When he entered St. Augustine’s Seminary at age 32 he was a man who had just one finely honed instinct. He was a bloodhound for beauty. He still is.

Beauty isn’t bad theology. In the 13th century Meister Eckart said, “This then is salvation — when we marvel at the beauty of created things and praise their beautiful Creator.” In the 19th century Fyodor Dostoevsky said, “Beauty will save the world.” In our own time Bishop Robert Barron has written, “Beauty is the arrowhead of evangelization.”

Maybe that’s because Jesus drew His disciples’ attention to beauty as the lynchpin connecting us with God. “Consider the lilies of the field,” He urged. St. Peter spoke to the first Christians about “the lasting beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in God’s sight.”

Fr. Busch wasn’t thinking about theology back in the 1960s as a high school student in the full-time art program at Toronto’s Western Technical-Commercial School. From there he went to the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design where he was trained as a portrait and landscape painter. But he hedged his bets with a degree in graphic design under the heading “communication art.”

The degree did lead to a job in the art department at the advertising firm Ogilvy & Mather, the grand old Madison Avenue company which maintained an office in Toronto. Five years in the business of catching people’s eyes for money was enough to teach him some useful habits.

When he was pastor at St. Justin Martyr in Unionville, Ont., from 1995 to 2005, Fr. Busch knew how to run a meeting, how to motivate staff and how to maintain a positive, productive work environment.

“Regardless of what your position was in the parish, you felt an integral part of that team development,” said Marg Baker, who worked 10 years with Fr. Busch at St. Justin Martyr. “If I came up with an idea, he would say, literally, put your thoughts clearly on paper and come and see me. When that happened, he always supported you.”

St. Justin Martyr staff and parishioners knew where their priest’s priorities lay. His voice boomed as he sang the entrance hymns in the clear expectation that every parishioner was going to sing along. He loved opera.

He found money to ensure the liturgy was complemented with beautiful vestments, beautiful music, beautiful altar decoration.

When he decided to knock out a wall in the fairly new and spartan church to provide space for the choir, not every parishioner agreed.

“He saw beyond the money and saw what beauty would do for the parish, the changes it would make and how it would enhance liturgy,” said Susan Reid, former St. Justin Martyr lay pastoral associate.

With millions and millions already spent on the cathedral and dozens of men in hard hats and steel-toed boots tramping about the church, Fr. Busch is still looking beyond the money.

“It’s our heritage which you hang on to,” Fr. Busch said.

“You don’t get rid of your heritage, but we’re not a slave to it. We move with the times. The building is old. But what goes on in it and how we operate as a community is not.”

Whether it’s directing sculptor Farhad Nargol O’Neil or watching a Bobcat dig out the basement, Fr. Busch has seen in the rebuilding of St. Michael’s a glimpse of everything that is promised in a beautiful liturgy — ie. the communion of the saints.

“I have been edified by some of the things I have learned from these people (restoration crews),” he said. “I want to carry that forward from construction to community. I want them to work that same way. We’re all on the same page — we’re all one Church.”

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