SASKATOON — For the past nine years, the Bishop’s Dinner has been a fundraiser for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon. This year was another success and yet a major shift will take place next year.
The banquet began as a fundraiser for construction of the new cathedral and pastoral centre in the Diocese of Saskatoon, in conjunction with a new building for Holy Family Parish.
With the opening of the new diocesan cathedral and Catholic Pastoral Centre, funds raised by the annual Bishop’s Dinner have been directed to different ministries in the diocese, including the office of migration, community and prison chaplaincy, and poverty advocacy. This year, the funds go toward hospital chaplaincy.
Terry and Margaret Downey hosted the evening and welcomed everyone to the event. Sister Teresita Kambeitz, OSU, led the 275 participants in a sung prayer.
Bishop Donald Bolen shared how this was already his sixth banquet and noted that much has changed since his first year when he felt like a “deer in headlights.”
Bolen announced that the annual event will shift direction in the future, to become something more simple. The bishop thanked all those who have been involved in organizing the event over the years, highlighting the contributions of Jacquie Ackerman, who has chaired the event since its inception.
Bolen explained that in the future the annual event will still be focused on particular ministries but that they would be gatherings that could include a broader range of people. “Pope Francis is leading us as a church in a direction that isn’t so much spectacular, more, he is leading us to the peripheries,” Bolen explained. “To be a church that isn’t afraid to get messy. As a diocese we are making decisions that are leading us in that direction.”
Bolen added that one of the areas where the diocese is reaching out to those in need is through hospital chaplaincy.
“Our call is to be instruments of Jesus’ outreach and that is what our hospital chaplains do,” the bishop stated.
The keynote address was given by two volunteer visitors involved in hospital chaplaincy at the two secular hospitals in Saskatoon, along with the co-ordinator of hospital chaplaincy for the diocese, Céline Hudon.
“To me, it is a great honour and privilege to bring Jesus to people,” said volunteer Madeline Cooney, “people who are in great need of reassurance and support.”
Cooney, who works with patients in pediatrics, cardiac care and maternity, articulated how she sees her ministry as reaching out to God’s broken people in order to offer some sort of supportive presence.
“There is no pain greater than a parent watching their child suffer,” said Cooney. “We bring comfort and solace to them through conversation and the eucharist.”
A second volunteer, Gen Schulte, ministers at Royal University Hospital and has also volunteered at Samaritan Place since its opening. Schulte described the opportunity to visit with the sick, suffering, lonely and dying as an honour and one that she feels brings her into a deeper relationship with Christ.
Schulte described a conversation with a man who said he received the eucharist daily for 40 years and now, near the end of his illness, he felt he was ready to die. “What faith, love and acceptance in facing death,” she marveled.
Hudon ministers in many locations but she stressed her work at the Dubé Centre for Mental Health. “I see patients as young as 12 years old . . . university students, professionals, parents and grandparents,” Hudon shared. “I talk with them and pray with them.”
Hudon explained how although no one wants to be in a mental health facility, when it comes time to leave, many are afraid to depart.
“During their stay, they are surrounded by professionals who are available to them all the time,” Hudon said. “But when they leave, many don’t have that support in their families, communities or even churches.”
She also addressed the stigma of mental illness that still exists, which makes it difficult for people to talk about their illness even with their family and friends.
Hudon concluded by inviting those in attendance to recognize their role in supporting patients who leave the Dubé Centre. She invited them to be the continuing care of the Christian community.
“Don’t be afraid to hear their stories and offer support,” she encouraged. “Form a loving and caring group around them . . . help facilitate the continued healing they need.”