Bishop Mark celebrated mass near the water. In July 2015, a water conference hosted by Deline First Nation, with people from across the territories, discussed “the need to be good stewards of the God-given gift of water, which is so essential for life of people and all of creation, and which is threatened today by the global mismanagement and abuse of creation.” (Liz Baile photo)
It is not easy to say goodbye to the Diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith for Bishop Mark Hagemoen, who after four years in the northern diocese has been appointed as bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon.
“A part of me keeps wanting to say ‘I am sorry that I am leaving you so soon,’ ” he admits.
But the other emotion at this time of transition is a profound sense of gratitude, Hagemoen says.
“I am a changed man because of having experienced the life and the people and the ministry here in Mackenzie-Fort Smith, and I am very, very grateful for that. The People of God here will always be part of my life,” he says.
“I have heard that for some of the Dene people, there is no such thing as goodbye because we are still connected. I find that very helpful and refreshing as I take leave of this place for now.”
After his installation as bishop in December 2013, Hagemoen said he focused primarily on building relationships, learning new ways of being and thinking, and seeking how best to respond to great need across the diocese, with often very limited resources. “It became very clear that I just had to start by getting to know the needs, by getting to know the people, and building relationships. That has been a big feature of my work here as a bishop in the diocese of Mackenzie,” he says.
Eventually that led to greater clarity around the needs, and possible projects and programs for the Diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith. “One of the great challenges that we have had to deal with is the deterioration of buildings, especially with climate shift,” he says. “It is happening very quickly. Even in the last few years, the permafrost melt and the rainfall has so increased that it is really affecting the buildings and their foundations.”
There has also been a strong desire to respond well to the people’s requests for programs and support from the church. “I was quite surprised and delighted at the hunger for sacramental supports. I heard that right away in almost every community, from the people; they would say: ‘Bishop, we really want baptism, and confirmation, and communion, and marriage for our people.’ They were quite clear on that.”
Another recurring theme was healing. “It involved really trying to be present, and to understand and to hear peoples’ journeys, their healing journeys, and what that means for them. It meant trying to build the kinds of supports that they would find helpful from the church — this was a big thing.”
Hagemoen says that in terms of the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to respond to the damage caused by residential schools, he has found the northern diocese to be engaged and ahead of some other areas of the country.
“Two bishops ago, Bishop Denis Croteau, OMI, did not know that there would be a TRC, but he and the diocesan community certainly anticipated the need for healing and a response and support for people coming out of the experience of residential schools,” he notes.
Retired Bishop Denis Croteau, OMI, left, and Bishop Murray Chatlain, right (former bishops of Mackenzie-Fort Smith) placed a strong focus on Returning to Spirit programs in the diocese, involving holistic healing between indigenous people and non-indigenous people.
Under Croteau’s leadership and then under Bishop Murray Chatlain, there was a strong focus on Returning to Spirit programs in the diocese, involving holistic healing between indigenous people and non-indigenous people, including representatives of the church. “I would say that in the north in some ways, people have really anticipated some of the features of the healing calls of the TRC and are responding.”
Reflecting on what it means for Mackenzie-Fort Smith to be an indigenous diocese, Hagemoen stresses that it is not that the Catholic Church is merely reaching out to indigenous people — rather “it is that the Catholic faith community, which is indigenous, is looking at its ongoing life and journey as the People of God together.”
He adds: “It is a wonderful opportunity and such a fresh perspective ... there are many different gifts, and there are many ways of approaching, honouring and receiving those gifts. But you only become aware of that through relationship-building.”
Hagemoen says he has learned a lot serving in Mackenzie-Fort Smith. “I tend to be a guy that likes to ‘get at’ things, so one of my challenges is trying to suspend the desire to act, and not taking any action before it is really, really clear where the Spirit is leading,” he says.
“Again, with that challenge, one of the priorities has to be relationship building — relationship, relationship, relationship,” he stresses. “That’s not easy, given all the demands and the complexities that come with leadership and administration for everybody today, but relationship has to permeate all that we do, and I hope, all that I try to do.”
Building relationships will also be the way he hopes to learn more about his new home, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon.
“What I have already discovered is that there are just so many features to the Catholic diocese in Saskatoon that I am looking forward to experiencing and supporting as a bishop,” Hagemoen says. “I do value and recognize the work that the diocese has already done, especially in the leadership of my predecessors.”
Whether it is in the response to the TRC, youth ministry, evangelization, or continuing the diocese’s focus on ecumenism and interfaith dialogue, Hagemoen says: “I am looking forward to trying to continue that good work.”
He adds: “Being part of a pastoral vision that holds up the People of God is absolutely essential.”
Finding ways to communicate the Gospel in this time and place is also a concern for Hagemoen.
“Our world seems so angry today. There are many commentaries about why there is a rise of anxiety and anger and so forth, and one of the commentaries that strikes me, is that while we over-communicate with technology and other things, we actually communicate very poorly,” he observes.
“As the People of God we are called to look at how the Gospel calls us to communicate and share well — especially if we are going to be effective in evangelization with and for our people. In many ways, the new evangelization is probably largely about this issue of sharing the Gospel and communicating in a very blessed and human way.”
Hagemoen notes that he is excited about coming into a diocese that has such a vibrant Catholic community and culture.
“It seems that there is just such a range of wonderful groups and institutions in the Diocese of Saskatoon — Catholic education, and higher Catholic education, Catholic health care and the various social groups in the diocese. There is an awful lot of evangelization and outreach that has been part of the diocese of Saskatoon for many years.”
He adds that he already has a few concrete signs that he is coming into a vibrant community: “My calendar is already filling up, and I haven’t got there yet!”
An aerial view of the Cathedral of the Holy Family in Saskatoon. (Tim Yaworski photo)