SASKATOON — After six years as bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon, Donald Bolen has been appointed Archbishop of Regina.
The appointment by Pope Francis was announced July 11. The Archdiocese of Regina has been without a bishop since the Jan. 15, 2016, death of Archbishop Daniel Bohan after a battle with cancer. Since Bohan’s death, Rev. Lorne Crozon has been serving as archdiocesan administrator.
Bolen will continue to serve as apostolic administrator in Saskatoon until his installation as Archbishop of Regina this fall; the exact date has not yet been set.
“Serving in the Diocese of Saskatoon has been one of the great joys and privileges of my life,” said Bolen, describing the mixed emotions that news of the Regina appointment brings.
“To be moved from the Diocese of Saskatoon is painful, because it has been such a grace-filled experience to live and to serve here as bishop, but, at the same time, to move to the Archdiocese of Regina is to go home. I am profoundly grateful to remain in my home province.”
Bolen was born Feb. 7, 1961, in Gravelbourg and raised on a nearby farm. He was ordained by Archbishop Charles Halpin Oct. 12, 1991, in Regina, and served at a number of parishes in the archdiocese over the years, as well as being on the department of religious studies faculty at Campion College. With the permission of Archbishop Peter Mallon, Bolen spent seven years (2001 - 2008) working at the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in Rome, before returning to Regina in 2009, serving as vicar-general for the archdiocese and chair of the Archdiocesan Ecumenical Commission.
Once Bolen is installed as Archbishop of Regina, a diocesan administrator will likely be elected for the Diocese of Saskatoon by the diocesan College of Consultors, to provide leadership until a new bishop is appointed.
There are 12 consultors in the Diocese of Saskatoon, including vicar-general Rev. Kevin McGee, chancellor Rev. Clement Amofah and judicial vicar Rev. Marvin Lishchynsky, as well as Priest Council chair Rev. Matthew Ramsay and priests who are presently serving as deans in the six diocesan deaneries.
During the last episcopal transition in September 2009, when Bishop Albert LeGatt was appointed Archbishop of St. Boniface, Rev. Ron Beechinor was selected to provide leadership until a new bishop was appointed.
Bolen’s first words about his appointment as Archbishop of Regina were words of gratitude for his time as bishop of Saskatoon. “Because of the dedication, faithfulness and wisdom of the Catholic Pastoral Centre staff, the clergy, religious, and faithful of the Diocese of Saskatoon, this has been a powerful experience for me of the Holy Spirit at work in the church,” he said.
Bolen is looking forward to building new relationships in the Archdiocese of Regina and renewing cherished connections. “When I think about returning to Regina, I recall with joy that Archbishop James Weisgeber has retired there — he was my pastor and then my spiritual director before entering the seminary, and has been a mentor throughout my adult life.”
Bolen also expressed his gratitude for generations of fine leadership in both dioceses that has created vibrant and healthy communities. “Like Saskatoon, Regina also has a strong commitment to lay formation, and to collaboration between lay leadership and clergy, to justice and to proclaiming the Gospel.”
Bolen’s tenure as Bishop of Saskatoon has included a multitude of initiatives and projects. He came into the diocese just as construction was beginning on a new cathedral and Catholic Pastoral Centre, after years of planning and fundraising.
“It was a great blessing to me to be bishop during the process of building, opening and blessing the new cathedral,” said Bolen.
The new cathedral and pastoral centre has became a hub of ministry and outreach. “When we opened the cathedral we expressed the hope that it would be a place of welcome, but also a place of healing and reconciliation — and I think it has become just that,” he said.
Bolen pointed to a Holocaust Memorial held at the Cathedral of the Holy Family this spring “that brought 2,400 students together for an event that directly addressed the horrors of the Holocaust and took steps of reconciliation between Christians and Jews.” He also cited the recent installation of a treaty plaque at the cathedral, “demonstrating how important it is that we walk together with indigenous peoples, genuinely and humbly seeking reconciliation and healing.”
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) process to address the painful legacy of the Indian residential school system and the June 2012 national event that was held in Saskatoon also affected Bolen’s tenure as bishop.
A long-standing diocesan commitment to walking with indigenous people received a “significant push” as a result of the TRC process, said Bolen.
“Thanks to exceptional leadership from within the indigenous community, our church has taken significant steps and is now clearly on a journey to a new way of living together in a healthy relationship grounded on truth and justice.”
Dialogue has been an ongoing cornerstone of Bolen’s time as bishop.
“It was a beautiful thing to be named a bishop by Pope Benedict, who is such a towering theological thinker. It has also been an incredible experience to be in leadership at a time when Pope Francis is giving a strong thrust toward dialogue and a culture of encounter,” said Bolen, noting that the papal transition of 2013 was a historic moment in the life of the church and in his life as bishop.
“At a time when Pope Francis called for a culture of encounter and said what was most needed in our world was ‘dialogue, dialogue, dialogue,’ we were able to foster dialogue on many fronts,” he said, listing events such as public inter-faith forums about issues such as faith in the public sphere or peace and terrorism, a public discussion on compassion with a Tibetan Buddhist, and a dialogue on the music of Leonard Cohen by Bolen and Rabbi Claudio Jodorkovsy.
In addition, a local Evangelical-Catholic dialogue has produced a joint statement and nurtured many discussions and friendships, while an Ecumenical Formation Program has been established through the Prairie Centre for Ecumenism.
Justice and Peace have been an ongoing priority for Bolen, both in the diocese and on the national stage, where he serves as chair of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB).
Persecution of Christians around the world, the scourge of human trafficking, the need to care for the environment, opposing the legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia, protecting conscience rights, and promoting the need for palliative care are among issues addressed in the diocese and beyond during Bolen’s time as bishop.
Other milestones have included the return of diocesan missionaries from Brazil, a re-envisioned Christian Initiation and Catechetics office, the renewal of the diocesan Covenant of Care and sexual abuse policies, the establishment of a Justice and Outreach Year of Formation (JOY) program, and a discernment about ordaining men to the permanent diaconate.
“One very moving experience has been the privilege of ordaining eight new priests,” added Bolen. “There’s a great joy is seeing young priests thriving in their ministry and committing themselves with dedication to the People of God.”
Bolen said that he longs to see more effort put into finding a way to speak faith to new generations and to share the beauty of the Gospel. “There is so much more to be done. Our church is being summoned by young people today to greater compassion and greater integrity in the way we live and preach the Gospel.”
As for ongoing challenges for both the Diocese of Saskatoon and the Archdiocese of Regina, Bolen echoed the message of a pastoral letter on hope written to the diocesan faithful shortly after his episcopal ordination: “As a Christian community, I believe we need to learn how to give an account of the hope that is within us, to find ways to speak the depths of that, so the life it gives is communicated to an increasingly secular culture. We need to be able to express why our faith in Jesus Christ gives us life and provides hope for the world.”