SASKATOON — The Cathedral of the Holy Family echoed with joy and thanksgiving during a 25th anniversary celebration for Bishop Donald Bolen Oct. 12. The event also served as an opportunity to bid farewell to the bishop before his installation as Archbishop of Regina later in the week.
The celebration began with an anniversary dinner with family, friends and colleagues, and words of appreciation from Leah Perrault, who worked with Bolen as director of pastoral services for five years, and from Rev. Matthew Ramsay, who was ordained by Bolen in 2011. Two of the bishop’s sisters — Jeannette Moquin and Judy Corkery —also spoke at the dinner, presenting a short video of family memories.
Preceded by a smudging ceremony led by local elders, the celebration of eucharist included readings from Bolen’s ordination mass Oct. 12, 1991, at Holy Rosary Cathedral in Regina. The celebration also included a Cree honour song, and praying of the Great Amen in the four directions, and prayers of the faithful in a variety of languages.
In his homily, Bolen reflected on God’s call in light of the first reading from Micah 6: 6-8, which asks a fundamental question — “what does the Lord require of you?” — and gives a simple answer: “that you act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with your God.”
Striving to reach this goal has been “a blessing, a compass and a hope” over the past 25 years, Bolen said. But a much deeper question has been about “the Giver of Wonder,” he added.
“I had the privilege of growing up in a family and living in a time and place where I was allowed to open myself to wonder, and I was taught that there was someone who stretched out his hand to save me and to give me life,” he said, echoing the refrain from Psalm 83. “That community of faith gave the one who reached out to me a name, and gave him a face.”
The second reading — St. Paul’s hymn from Romans 8 about what God has done for us — traces the great gifts of God in Christ, and then ponders the vast implications, he continued.
“This reading too begins with questions. In the face of life and death and the complexity of human experience — in the face of the God who is revealed in the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus — what are we to say? If God has given us his very self, has sent us his son, if God in Jesus gives us his very life, will he not, in him, also give us everything else?”
That message resonated for Bolen 25 years ago, and at the centre of his life has been an experience of mercy.
“That mercy began with my parents, Joe and Rose, it began in the little community in which I was born. I have known that mercy in terms of support amidst struggle and bullying, amidst loss and grief. I have encountered it in a special way through mentors, teachers and spiritual guides, and I have known it deeply in my sisters, whom I sometimes have nicknamed ‘the sisters of mercy,’ with their husbands and families,” he said. “I have known it in terms of forgiveness, sacramentally and in daily relations. I have known mercy in the beauty of the natural world and I have felt it in friendships that abide.”
There has also been a darker side to his human experience, Bolen said, a side of suffering, doubt, brokenness and sin. “The passage at the end of Thomas Merton’s The Sign of Jonah from which my motto comes, acknowledges that dark side of human experiences but says that somehow it is dwarfed, swallowed up by God’s mercy.” Bolen then quoted the passage from Merton containing the words that he chose to put upon the back of his ordination program 25 years ago, and then later selected as his episcopal motto when he was ordained bishop of Saskatoon on March 25, 2010: “Mercy within mercy within mercy.”
Darkness, death and the crucifixion we encounter in daily life are not the last word, Bolen summarized. “The last word is mercy — and that word is so great that everything else is simply part of the great work of God transforming us in time. It is the Paschal Mystery and nothing less that enables us to say, in the end, it is all part of the all-embracing mercy of God.”
The Gospel passage from Luke about the disciples on the road to Emmaus encountering the risen Lord includes three of Bolen’s favourite things: walking, talking and asking questions.
“It is a conversation, it is a dialogue,” he said. “I am convinced that our lives are one long conversation with God. The Lord dialogues with us in ways that are often hard to recognize, ways which are hidden, and only at the end can we look back and say ‘it is the Lord; were not our hearts burning within us?’ We recognize him in the eucharist and in the many other ways that the Lord breaks bread out of and within our eucharistic, paschal lives.”
He described the gifts of walking ecumenically with brothers and sisters of other traditions, and the great hope that dialogue offers a broken church.
Bolen also addressed the priests, religious and laity of the diocese. “It has been such a gift to walk with you these past six and a half years. They have been the happiest years of my life, and walking with you has been the greatest privilege I have known. The privilege of sharing the great ministry, the great mission which the Lord gives us. God will continue to walk with you. I believe it with my whole heart.”
In a program after mass, MC Rita Taylor of the Catholic Pastoral Centre introduced guest speakers who brought greetings and messages of farewell, beginning with Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools board chair Diane Boyko and director of education Greg Chatlain; Emmanuel Care president and CEO Scott Irwin; and ecumenical partners Rev. Amanda Currie of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church and Pastor Eldon Boldt of Circle Drive Alliance Church.
“Bishop, you have had a profound influence on my life, and I believe on the lives of other evangelicals,” said Boldt, reflecting on Bolen’s overtures of friendship and the establishment of a Catholic-Evangelical dialogue in the community. “Reconciliation allowed us to appreciate one another without letting go of our distinctness or our convictions.”
Sister Teresita Kambeitz, OSU, spoke on behalf of consecrated women and men religious, bringing words of gratitude for Bolen’s friendship, support and presence.
Debbie Ledoux, parish life director of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Saskatoon, spoke “on behalf of your Aboriginal brothers and sisters in Christ,” thanking Bolen for his support and encouragement, and for recognizing the importance of indigenous spiritual traditions such as smudging, the drum, and praying in the four directions. Members of the parish leadership team then came forward to honour Bolen with the gift of a star blanket, placing it on his shoulders with care.
Rev. Kevin McGee, who served as vicar-general with Bolen in the Diocese of Saskatoon, spoke on behalf of the clergy, presenting him with an icon of Mary, Mother of Tenderness. “The name Donald Joseph Bolen will be forever etched on the hearts of the priests of Saskatoon,” he said, citing words of appreciation from his fellow priests about the bishop’s humble leadership, affirmation and closeness to those on the margins.
Rev. Lorne Crozon of the Archdiocese of Regina also spoke, thanking Bolen for saying ‘yes’ to God throughout his life.
“Thank you too, to the people of the Diocese of Saskatoon, because we know you have formed our new archbishop. We want to assure you that we are going to love him as you have loved him,” Crozon said. “We want you to know it is not our intention to steal your bishop — we are just getting him back.”