For the new bishop-elect of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon, God’s call has often been gentle and compelling, but at other times, it has been more insistent.
“There were times when I put God on hold, and he became more like the Hound of Heaven,” says Bishop Mark Hagemoen, citing poet Francis Thompson’s image of God’s persistence.
Hagemoen’s faith was first nurtured in the heart of a Catholic family.
Born Sept. 4, 1961 in Vancouver, B.C., he is the eldest son of Myra (nee Longworth) and Eric Hagemoen. His late mother has a Saskatchewan connection — she was born in Crystal Springs, SK, moving to Vancouver in 1955, where she met and married Eric Hagemoen. The couple had two sons ¬ Mark and his brother Daniel. Daniel is married to Lori and they have three children: Alana, Matthew and Jacob.
Parish life and Catholic education were important to the family, and helped to nurture Hagemoen’s faith in his early years.
“I was certainly active and comfortable in my home parish,” Hagemoen recalls.
“I was an altar server and very much involved in my Catholic school of Holy Trinity elementary, and then later on, I went to a Christian Brothers high school, Vancouver College.” He is still connected to Vancouver College today, serving as a board member of the Catholic elementary and high school for boys and young men, founded in 1922.
“The life of both those schools was also one of faith and community, and in many ways supported the discernment of a vocation or a call to priesthood,” Hagemoen describes.
Another important influence were pastors such as Rev. John Kilty, who served as a pastor at Holy Trinity Parish in North Vancouver for 33 years, and other pastors there, including Rev. Rufin Mika and Rev. John Tritschler. “I think the lives of pastors and priests are important in the life of the people. That was certainly true for me,” says Hagemoen.
“Certainly through my teen years I thought about priesthood, but I also thought about many other things — I thought about teaching, about social work. I also considered business,” he says. “I was compelled by the possibility of maybe doing some entrepreneurial work and intrigued by the ability to carry out special projects.”
After attending the University of British Columbia for his undergraduate degree, Hagemoen found that higher education had raised more questions than answers. “At the end of getting that degree, I wasn’t really sure about what I wanted to do. Along with that, personal questions about faith came up and I needed to pursue those.”
Hagemoen worked for a year in geological mining exploration, raising money to take another year to travel around the world. “That trip was about seeing other places and countries, but it was also a pilgrim search.”
As he experienced other cultures and learned about other faiths and religious practices, Hagemoen underwent a powerful formative year of personal discernment.
Bishop Mark Hagemoen with whole family at St. John The Apostle Parish.
“In a nutshell, it was during that trip that I was really compelled to look at the person of Christ in a very personal way,” he says, describing how he purchased a Bible and turned first to the Gospel of Mark — partly because of the connection he felt in sharing the name of the Evangelist, but also because he knew it was the shortest gospel.
“Reading the life of Christ in the Gospel of Mark, the whole person of Christ really came alive for me in a renewed way,” says Hagemoen. “It was then that I became convinced that really, in whatever I did, I needed to hear Christ’s call to me.”
During that trip, the priesthood would persistently come to mind for Hagemoen. “The priesthood, the priesthood, the priesthood — it was not a loud voice, it was a soft voice. It was not an urgent voice, it was just a steady voice,” he describes. “Eventually I knew that I had to at least check out the possibility of the priesthood. It was not going to go away.”
Back in Vancouver, he approached Vancouver Archbishop James Carney in a letter, “kind of hoping that he would take a couple of months to respond to me.” The archbishop called him the same day. After several meetings, 23-year-old Hagemoen entered St. Peter’s Seminary in London, ON, where he completed his masters of divinity in 1990.
“I found the studies surprisingly intriguing and refreshing, and really very interesting. I didn’t really expect that. It was another affirmation for me,” says Hagemoen, describing how academics at the seminary — the study of philosophy and theology — opened up a whole new world. “This was really speaking to my heart, and certainly to my mind, and I wanted to pursue it.”
During those years in the seminary, he also began to gain pastoral experience in a variety of settings, including his yearlong internship and summer ministry opportunities. “It wasn’t until my very last year that I said that I really feel this is what God is calling me to do. I said yes, not having all the questions answered — but I knew that was true in any life,” says Hagemoen.
On May 12, 1990, in Vancouver, Bishop Lawrence Sabatini of Kamloops ordained Hagemoen and his classmate Rev. Paul Than Bui on behalf of Archbishop Carney (who was ill at that time).
Bishop Mark Hagemoen and the National Evangelization Team
In addition to serving in parishes, Hagemoen worked for 10 years as the director of the Office of Youth Ministry in the archdiocese — an appointment that began shortly after he attended World Youth Day in Denver as a young priest. Hagemoen described how Vancouver Archbishop Adam Exner, OMI, had a strong vision of diocesan youth ministry existing to offer support and formation to the local parishes, who would then minister with and for their own young people.
It’s a solid vision that applies to most diocesan ministry, he adds. “There is this sort of wonderful relationship between the diocesan church, and the local parish community. That relationship is so important. The diocese provides what it is appropriate for it to provide, and the local faith community is where the relationships are really fundamental and dynamic. It is a vision that speaks to the living dynamism of the People of God.”
Hagemoen completed the national certificate in youth ministry studies and the diploma for advanced studies in ministry in 1997 and earned a doctor of ministry program at Trinity Western University in 2007.
Beginning in 2004, he served in a number of administrative roles in the archdiocese, including vicar of pastoral services, moderator of the curia, and vicar-general. He also served as principal of St. Mark’s and president of Corpus Christi Colleges in Vancouver from 2011-13.
In October 2013, Pope Francis appointed Hagemoen as the sixth Bishop of the Diocese of Mackenzie - Fort Smith. The episcopal ordination and installation took place on Dec. 15, 2013 at Saint Patrick’s High School in Yellowknife.
“When I came up here, and sort of got over the numbness of being called to being a bishop, I found that I was very excited about coming north,” says Hagemoen. “I had always dreamed about the northern frontier, and perhaps that is what the Oblates and the religious women of decades ago, experienced too.”
At the same time, he was rather overwhelmed at becoming a bishop, and all the learning his new role entailed. “That included the call to really learn about a people and a life that I knew very little about — in particular, the life of indigenous brothers and sisters in the North,” he says.
In a huge northern diocese — with many needs and few resources — it soon became clear to the new bishop that he had to start by getting to know the people. “That has been a big feature of my work here as a bishop in the diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith. At its heart, it was about trying to be present and to build relationship.”
After four years of encounter, activity and growth for Hagemoen as bishop of Mackenzie-Fort Smith, he is now being called to serve in another diocese. On Sept. 12, 2017, it was announced that Pope Francis had appointed Hagemoen as the bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon, to succeed Donald Bolen, who was installed as Archbishop of Regina in October 2016.
A favourite Scripture passage from Philippians 2: 5-11 has resonated greatly for Hagemoen over the years. The verses are featured on prayer cards for his priestly ordination in 1990 and his episcopal ordination as bishop for the diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith in 2013, as well as for his upcoming installation Nov. 23, 2017, as bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon.
The passage offers both a vision and a challenge for his vocation: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave ... he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend ... and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
As for his episcopal motto — Pax, Servitus, Spes (Peace, Service, Hope) — it will remain the same as he takes up his new role as Bishop of Saskatoon. Hagemoen relates the three words to how the life of the Trinity challenges us to enter into a dynamic relationship with God and with others.
“The motto is a challenge for me too, as well as an inspiration: to believe the Holy Spirit is alive and well and leading us today in Hope, as the Father calls all creation and all peoples to ongoing Shalom (Peace), with the incarnate Son of God — Jesus Christ — who leads and inspires us in the Servant way to Truth and Life. The Trinity personifies something that is vitally inspirational to each one of us — including a bishop.”