Paul Feheley, principal secretary to three primates, bids farewell to national church office
April 30 marked the end of an era at Church House as Archdeacon Paul Feheley concluded 16 years of ministry as principal secretary to the primate.
During his lengthy tenure, Feheley served under three primates: Archbishop Andrew Hutchison from 2004 to 2007, Archbishop Fred Hiltz from 2007 to 2019, and Archbishop Linda Nicholls from 2019-20. He also served as managing editor of the Anglican Journal from 2013 to 2014.
Nicholls describes Feheley’s ministry of support as “a gift to the primates.” She cites his work across the worldwide Anglican Communion and his role as staff person for the House of Bishops, which provided continuity for episcopal relationships.
“Paul approached these roles with a highly personal, ecumenical and pastoral approach that has been greatly appreciated inside Church House and with our partners in ministry,” Nicholls says. She expresses her personal gratitude to Feheley for his support in her own transition to the primate’s office.
Feheley describes his departure as part of a “natural evolution that is beginning to take place at the national office.” He notes the recent decision of Michael Thompson—Feheley’s predecessor as principal secretary to the primate—to step down from his own position as general secretary.
“In many ways, I think Church House had begun to go through some changes, and I think the dealing with the COVID virus will probably advance that,” Feheley says.
A graduate of Trinity College, Feheley was ordained as a deacon in 1978 and a priest in 1979. He served with various parishes and committees in his native Toronto before his appointment as principal secretary in 2004 following Hutchison’s election to the primacy.
The two had known each other since the 1970s, when Hutchison was a rector at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Mississauga and director of the Toronto parish training program where Feheley was a student.
“One of the reasons I chose him was my experience with him as a student and as a recently ordained priest,” Hutchison says, noting Feheley’s “remarkable attention to detail”.
“The style of our relationship was one of close collaboration,” he adds. On more than one occasion, Feheley filled in at speaking engagements when Hutchison was ill, such as for a series of lectures at Trinity College. When Hutchison was unable to attend the 2006 General Synod of the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil, he says, “I sent Paul in my stead and he acquitted himself very well indeed.”
In reflecting on his own time working with Feheley, former primate Hiltz highlights three major areas of work in their 12 years together.
First was Feheley’s role within the primate’s office itself, where he regularly assisted Hiltz in drafting addresses, sermons, calls to prayer, pastoral letters to the church and the primate’s monthly column for the Anglican Journal.
“All of those sorts of things I wrote myself, I drafted them and then I unfailingly would run them by Paul,” Hiltz recalls. “We would have some really good conversations about those and how what I had written we might strengthen or we might streamline…. He was very eager to do that and very supportive.”
The second area was Feheley’s work supporting the House of Bishops. In this capacity, Feheley handled tasks from working on the agenda committee to preparing worship booklets to ensuring refreshments and treats were available.
“He really did enjoy his work in serving the House of Bishops,” Hiltz says. “And I think there’s probably not a bishop in the church that wouldn’t want to say in their own way, ‘Paul, thank you for all you did for the House of Bishops in serving us.’”
The third area Hiltz highlights is Feheley’s “absolute delight” in planning international trips, such as their annual meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury or visits to the Anglican Communion office.
“Every single time we made those visits,” Hiltz notes, “we would say on the way home, ‘That was well worth it,’ from the perspective of building and nourishing and strengthening relationships between our church in Canada and the rest of the communion.”
For Feheley, serving under three different primates offered diverse experiences during his time as principal secretary.
“Each of them is substantially different, and that’s part of the fun of the whole thing,” he says.
“There’s that sense of being friends, of being confidantes, of mentoring, of sharing in the ministry in the way that one can,” he adds. “The privileges of being where the primate is, sharing in that work, reflecting with the primate after an event—those are some of the real highlights for me.”
No decisions have been made regarding the position of principal secretary following Feheley’s departure.
For the moment, Feheley is still discerning what future opportunities he might pursue in the church. He plans to continue in his role as a part-time parish priest at St. Michael and All Angels Church in Toronto, where his wife Jenni serves as a lay pastor.
“It really has been a wonderful privilege to be able to serve God as I serve the church as the principal secretary,” Feheley says.
“The heart of that ministry for me has always been about relationships; about creating friendships; creating opportunities to share with people, either as staff, in parishes, in dioceses, in the episcopate, or even around the communion—to share, to listen, and to learn from each other.
“For the opportunity to have the relationships that I’ve been able to develop, I simply thank God from the bottom of my heart.”