Bishop’s Letter for March

This is my first update in my new role as Bishop of the diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith. March was a full month of joy and celebration. Let me share with you some of what has been going on.

I am writing from my downtown office in beautiful Yellowknife, NT, a long way from Inuvik and the Arctic Coast which I left at the end of February. The 4-day drive from Inuvik was an ordeal unlike anything I have experienced before. Several early spring blizzards left me stranded for long periods waiting for roads to be plowed and at other times I could only proceed with white knuckles grasping the steering wheel, praying that my little SUV towing its heavy load would not lose traction on the snowy, steep grades of the mountain trail. Eventually I made it to Yellowknife without any serious incident and grateful for the hospitality along the way; the road crew on the Dempster Highway who brewed coffee for me while I waited, the priests in Whitehorse who gave me a bed in the rectory so I could lay my weary head overnight, and Fr. Joe Daley who eagerly gave me a tour of the new church in Fort Simpson on my way through.

Brian Fletcher guides me to his camp for a pre-ordination retreat

First order of business once I arrived in Yellowknife was final preparations for the Episcopal Ordination. There were so many details to look after I would have been overwhelmed were it not for the efficient and very competent organization committee who had things well in hand. Thanks to the help I was free to spend a few days on retreat in a rustic, cozy camp hidden away in the pine forests a couple of miles by snowshoe, north of my home on Trapper’s Lake.

Papal Nuncio, His Grace Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi

As the ordination day approached many worlds came together in wonderful harmony. The pastoral leaders from across the diocese showed up first to take part in our annual Spring Retreat led by Bishop Gary Gordon of Victoria. Then my Redemptorist brothers gathered from across Canada and even from across the ocean as the General Superior of the Redemptorists, Fr. Michael Brehl, made a side trip for the occasion on his way to Mexico from Rome. Next came my first family, including my father, siblings and a few nieces and nephews arriving from Alberta and British Columbia and finally my new family, my brother Bishops including the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi.

Chief Ernest Betsina
Chief Ernest Betsina, Yellowknives Dene First Nation

The ordination itself was, for me, a bit of a blur but all the feedback I heard afterward made note that the celebration was a very moving and intimate affair, this despite having to hold it in a school gymnasium because of space limitations in the church. We were greeted and welcomed warmly by two chiefs from the local Dene people. Archbishop Gerard Pettipas of the diocese of Grouard McLennan presided over the ceremony and Redemptorist Fr. Michael Brehl broke open the word at the homily. The beautiful symbols of ordination were made more so that they were mostly all made by people that I know. The ring was made by a family friend and presented by my father and siblings. The mitre was made of sealskin, a gift from the people of the Arctic, sewn and beaded by hand. The staff, presented by the Parish of Our Lady of Victory in Inuvik, was hand carved by a master woodcarver from Vancouver and he even managed to carve my coat of arms into the luxurious Teak wood.

Blessing with water
New Bishop blesses the congregation with water

A diocesan retreat and an ordination would have been enough to fill my week but before I could say, “Holy Oil”, the Chrism Mass was upon us. We use the opportunity of the spring retreat each year to celebrate the Chrism Mass with the pastoral leaders so that they can be present to bring the newly blessed oils back to their communities. I have taken part in many Chrism Masses, but it brings a new perspective when I am the one who is doing the blessing. It is an awesome responsibility but an even greater privilege.

Holy Thursday
Washing of the feet on Holy Thursday

It was now time for a breather, but not for long. With the arrival of Palm Sunday our Holy Week began and of course the great Pascal Triduum which is the highlight of our church year. I stayed in Yellowknife for the celebrations and was very happy to share duties with Fr. Marek, the pastor of St. Patrick’s parish. I preached and presided at the Mass of the Lord’s supper, the celebration of the institution of the Eucharist and the showcase of Jesus’ great example of service, the washing of the feet of the disciples. For me it is this gift of service that gives purpose to what I do and to imitate the Master in this great act is always a joy.

Fr. Stefano
Chief Coreen Sayeze, Fr. Stefano and Jean Sha’ole

The Easter celebrations across the diocese would have not been entirely possible were it not for our visiting missionaries. I am grateful to; Fr. Stefano Penna who travelled to Black Lake, SK, Fr. Leo English, C.Ss.R. who looked after the good people of Inuvik, Fr. David Purcell, C.Ss.R. who ventured as far as Paulatuk and Fr. Juan Solorzano who covered the entire Sahtu Region during the Holy days.

One other diocesan note to share is about Sr. Fay Tromblay from Tuktoyaktuk who travelled to Victoria, BC after our diocesan days in order to receive the Polar Medal from the Governor General in recognition for the work she has done in the mission over the past 13 years. We are very proud of her and cannot think of anyone more deserving.

Now that the celebrations have come to an end it is time to go to work. My next weeks will begin to see me reaching out beyond Yellowknife as I begin to venture into the surrounding communities, many of which I have never visited before. It is at once both exciting and daunting, but my experience so far tells me that the people will be ready to welcome me with open hearts and to support me in the next steps that need to be taken. I look forward to sharing the journey with you if you would like to tag along for the ride.

Until next time


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