TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION — During Rev. Donald Bolen’s time as bishop of Saskatoon, a Truth and Reconciliation national event was held in the city, one of many TRC gatherings across the country held to address the painful legacy of Indian residential schools. (Photo by Kiply Yaworski)
Highlights of Donald Bolen’s tenure as the seventh bishop of Saskatoon have included construction and opening of a new cathedral and Catholic Pastoral Centre; the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) national event and followup; dialogue with other Christians, faith traditions and the wider community; strategic planning and restructuring of diocesan structures; and a focus on justice and outreach.
Appointed Bishop of Saskatoon by Pope Benedict XVI in December 2009, and ordained to the episcopate on March 25, 2010, Bishop Don Bolen came into the diocese just as construction was beginning on a new diocesan cathedral and Catholic Pastoral Centre, after years of planning and fundraising under the leadership of his predecessor, Albert LeGatt, who was appointed Archbishop of St. Boniface in 2009.
“It was a great blessing to me to be bishop during the whole process of building, opening and blessing the new cathedral,” Bolen says.
One highlight of that building process was the chance to work with Canadian glass artist Sarah Hall, including co-authoring a book with her about the inspiration, theology and meaning of the stained glass windows at the cathedral. “It was a memorable and exhausting experience.”
Bolen notes how the new cathedral and Catholic Pastoral Centre has quickly became a hub of ministry and outreach — including events of reconciliation and healing that involve and have an impact on the broader community. “When we opened the cathedral I think 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 says.
As an example, he pointed to a Holocaust memorial event held at the Cathedral of the Holy Family in April 2016, which brought some 2,400 students together for a testimony from Auschwitz survivor Nate Leipciger.
Bolen also cites the recent installation of a treaty plaque at the cathedral as a highlight: “demonstrating how important it is that we walk together with indigenous peoples, genuinely and humbly seeking reconciliation and healing.”
The national Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) process to address the painful legacy of the Indian residential school system has also had an impact on 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, which included a national event in Saskatoon in June 2012, says Bolen.
Under Bolen’s leadership, the diocese has established a new consultative body, the Diocesan Council for Truth and Reconciliation (DCTR), which includes Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal leaders, who are praying and discerning together, and suggesting ongoing steps for healing and for fostering awareness and understanding.
Initiatives of the DCTR have included a pastoral letter and ecumenical event about the issue of murdered and missing indigenous women and girls, and the establishment of an annual day of prayer for reconciliation and healing in the diocese and Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools, to be held each year on Oct. 21 — the anniversary of the canonization of St. Kateri Tekakwitha. The canonization of St. Kateri was another highlight during Bolen’s time as bishop, with a diocesan celebration held at the cathedral to mark the historic moment in 2012.
This year, a Treaty Elder Series inviting indigenous elders to come to parishes and talk about their spiritual traditions has also been initiated in the diocese with Bolen’s encouragement.
Dialogue has been another ongoing priority during Bolen’s time 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 in the Diocese of Saskatoon,” Bolen says, listing events such as inter-faith forums about faith in the public sphere and about peace and terrorism, as well as a public discussion on compassion with a Tibetan Buddhist, and a memorable public conversation on the hymns/psalms of Leonard Cohen by Bolen and Rabbi Claudio Jodorkovsy.
A local Evangelical-Catholic dialogue has produced a joint statement and nurtured many discussions and friendships, while a unique Program in Ecumenical Studies and Formation has been established through the Prairie Centre for Ecumenism.
“We have also sought, in a spirit of dialogue, partnership within communities, with social agencies, organizations and institutions to work together for the common good — that also resonates with Pope Francis’ strong emphasis on justice and outreach to people on the peripheries.”
Justice and Peace has 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). At the diocesan level, after the retirement of volunteer co-ordinator Tony Haynes, through a process of restructuring and strategic planning, a full-time co-ordinator was hired for the diocesan Office of Justice and Peace under Bolen’s leadership.
Donations — first from the late Rev. Paul Donlevy and family, and then from Holy Spirit Parish — also led to the creation of a new diocesan Office of Migration to facilitate and support refugee sponsorship.
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 other issues addressed in the diocese and beyond during Bolen’s time as bishop.
Other milestones include the return of diocesan missionaries from Brazil (and an end to the 50-year diocesan/abbey mission there), a re-envisioned Christian Initiation and Catechetics office focused on the RCIA model of formation, 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 in the Diocese of Saskatoon.
In addition, the diocese’s consultative structure was revised and refined, bringing new energy, direction and discernment to groups such as the Council of Priests and the Diocesan Pastoral Council, says Bolen.
A new salary grid was introduced for parish and ministry employees in the diocese, and the work of the personnel committee now includes annual meetings with priests of the diocese and the invitation for feedback from parish councils. “We have intentionally created a better context for discernment, strengthening the collaboration of clergy and laity,” notes Bolen.
“One very moving experience has been the privilege of ordaining eight new priests,” he adds. “There’s a great joy in seeing young priests thriving in their ministry and committing themselves with great dedication to the People of God.”
In the area of communications, Bolen wrote several pastoral letters during his six-year tenure in the Diocese of Saskatoon, became well-known for using video as a means of connecting and engaging with people, and ventured into social media, launching a Twitter account during an #ibelievebecause initiative during the Year of Faith.
Bolen captured interest for local outreach by participating in a Food Bank challenge to live on the contents of a food hamper for a week in 2012, and in a Sanctum homelessness event to live on the streets for 36 hours while raising funds for a prenatal care home for high-risk, HIV-positive pregnant women in 2016. Bolen was also active in ecumenical efforts in support of an inner-city grocery store as part of the Station 20 West project, and participated in public events such as a community rally ahead of Paris climate change talks in 2015. Bolen’s decision to sell the bishop’s house on Spadina Crescent and move into an apartment in Columbian Place on 20th Street also generated discussion and interest in the wider community.
As for ongoing challenges for both the Diocese of Saskatoon and the Archdiocese of Regina, Bolen says 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,” he says. “Our church is being summoned by young people today to greater compassion and greater integrity in the way we live and preach the gospel.”
Bolen echoes the message of his 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.”
*for more coverage of the congratulatory issue for Archbishop Bolen, see the print edition.