Image: St. John’s Anglican church, Tuktoyaktuk
Dear Confreres, Associates, Family and Friends
It is good to be writing to you again as I settle back into Inuvik after a month of travel, rest, and catching up with family while on my vacation.
September was a month filled with highs and lows. The first low spot came as I prepared to set off on my epic kayak trip to Tuktoyaktuk that I was hoping to share with you in this letter. Unfortunately, it never came to pass. The weather leading up to my departure had been beautiful blue sky and warm temperatures, but the night before I was to leave the rain and wind settled in. I had built in a few extra days for just such an eventuality, so I waited, and the weather worsened. In fact, the whole week that I was to have been on the river and ocean the winds kept up, so eventually I had to call it off. I did make it to Tuk (and enjoyed blue-sky days while I was there), but I flew there and back. They say “better to be safe than sorry” and that goes double when travelling on the land so I don’t regret my decision and I am determined to try again next year.
But then I flew south and my woes disappeared as I had a wonderful chance to catch up with family members in Grande Prairie as well as with my Redemptorist brothers in the St. Joseph Parish community. I joined the Redemptorist provincial in what is called a “canonical visit” visiting with the priests and seeing how their life and ministry is fairing. For me it was a chance to reconnect with the life of a community dedicated to service and to living a life in common. I have been attracted to this way of life from my teen-age years and now, living alone so far away from other members of my community, I do miss it. It was a true blessing and I am grateful to have had the opportunity. On a weekday evening at Mass we gathered together in front of those present at the church and renewed our vows as Redemptorists.
After Grande Prairie it was a quick trip to Edmonton to visit my brother Colin and his family and then I was off to Yellowknife for our annual diocesan study days. Our time together in Yellowknife was also tinged with a bit of sad news, at least from our diocesan perspective. While I was in Grande Prairie it had been announced that our bishop, Mark Hagemoen, whom we have only had in our diocese for a little less than four years, was to be reassigned to the diocese of Saskatoon. For our meetings this was very fresh news and some were only hearing it for the first time. Bishop Mark has done an incredible job with us and has accomplished so much in his short time, we are really going to miss him and his mukluks will be very hard to fill. I did feel a certain pride that my other favorite diocese, Saskatoon, would be receiving such a good leader and I trust that his gifts will be put to very good use there.
The topic for our Study Days this year was Faith and Family. This was a timely topic as the Church has recently had two synods of the life of the family and Pope Francis released his reflections on those synods in his Apostolic Exhortation, “Amoris Laetitia” (The Joy of Love) just last year. It was also a topic that seemed close to people’s hearts as we began the first evening by presenting a picture of our own families both literally and with words. One by one those present came forward and laid a picture of their families at the foot of a statue of the Holy Family and then took their time sharing what their family was like and how faith and values had been passed down to them. It was a very moving experience which lasted through the evening. What became apparent was that, in a room of 30 people, every family was unique. There were; traditional families, blended families, single parent families, multi-generational families and the list goes on. Some family experiences shared were joyful, some were painful and most acknowledged that family life was a mixture of those. Yet even in the saddest of times, whether talking about experiences of separation or suicide, God’s presence could be discerned. It was a real testament to the faith of the people and to the gift
of family life in forming us in that faith.
The following days were taken up with discussing how family life today could continue to be used as a vessel for sharing our Christian faith. We discussed the difference between family life then and now and what things remained the same. We pledged to take personal action when we returned home that would strengthen not just our own faith but might also, in some way, strengthen our families and the families in our communities.
We closed our time together with a business meeting, as usual, but also with celebration as we had a festive meal with four Jubilarians in our midst. Br. Prince and Sr. Celeste, celebrating 50 years of religious profession. Fr. Wes celebrating 25 years of ordination and Fr. Joe celebrating 50 years of ordination. 175 combined years of dedicated service to the Joy of the Gospel. I can also tell you that they are much more joyful then this picture makes them out to be. Blame the photographer.
So now it is back to the routine in Inuvik, if there is ever really such a thing. Meeting with parish council to organize the fall, slowly unloading the new sea-can which arrived from St. Vincent de Paul “North of 60” project, visiting the sick, preparing families for children’s baptism, getting to the communities, all things that need to get done. But in the middle of that there is the subtle plan of God unfolding and it takes time and quiet to get the best view of that. For that reason, I love this time of the year which inspires contemplation and stillness as the beauty of summer decays into the gray and chill of autumn. We will soon celebrate Thanksgiving for the abundance of gifts we have received yet I am conscious that, for many in the north and around the world, this past year has been very difficult. Major storms, terrible violence, loved ones lost on the land. Yet we remain grateful for God’s grace which is often unseen but continues to sustain us none-the-less through those most difficult times.
Until next time, Peace
2 thoughts on “Pastor’s Letter for September”
Hi, Jon, Bishop-Elect,
We just heard this morning at Mass (Fr. Leo) of your appointment by Pope Francis as Bishop of McKenzie Fort Smith. A big congratulations!
Immediately after hearing of your appointment it struck me that the Redemptorists will have to include in their Mission Statement – Preparation of candidates for Bishop. I understand that you are the third Redemptorist currently. I believe that there is a Cardinal in the States along with you and Archbishop Pettipas.
I just looked at the McKenzie Fort Smith Diocese. Area – wise it is no doubt the biggest in Canada. I was surprised, however, to learn that there are 32 parishes with a Catholic population of just over 20,000, and seven priests. The lay pastoral workers will be a great support.
Following looking at the region, and the announcement of the appointment of a new Bishop, I came across your Oct. Pastoral Letter. It was good to see the picture of the Redemptorists renewing their vows. We were at the ceremony but did not get a picture. I was very impressed with the content of your letter and the reflections. I believe I learned more about you through the letter than what I knew hearing about you over the past years. We did know your parents for many years and I taught Theresa in her first year at College. All were cherished experiences.
Again, congratulations in your appointment and we ask God’s blessing and direction in your works.
Paul and Myrna Lemay
Greetings Paul, Myrna
Thank you for your sharing, it is really great to hear from you. It may surprise you Paul, to know that not only did you teach Theresa but you also taught me. During an extracurricular course in elementary school I was with a small group of students that went to visit the science labs at GPRC and you taught us all about chlorophyll. Still a vivid memory for me as it was the first time I had ever met a real scientist. I tried to go the science route in college but ultimately found it was the humanities for which my talents were better suited but I will never forget what makes a leaf green. In North America there are 3 bishops, one as you say is a Cardinal now. Around the world there are many more. Our founder St. Alphonsus must be shaking his head as he made it clear that no Redemptorist should entertain accepting such an honor. That was of course before he went on to become a bishop himself. The important thing for me, and especially being appointed to a diocese such as this is that it is not just an honor but an important responsibility to which I must now commit myself with God’s help. I am looking forward to the challenge and confident that I am where I am supposed to be. As far as the size of my territory, there is only one diocese larger in the world, geographically speaking, and it is also in Canada. That diocese is Churchill-Hudson Bay which is 50 per cent larger again. Merry Christmas to you thanks again for writing.
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