Bishop Mark Hagemoen speaks with children (Catholic Missions in Canada photo)
Reflections by Bishop Mark Hagemoen about his life as shepherd of Mackenzie-Fort Smith have been shared on the diocesan website over the past nearly four years, offering a concrete picture of life in the northern diocese, complete with compelling and beautiful photographs.
“My experience of the diocese of Mackenzie- Fort Smith is one of finding in this cold place a people of warm hearts!” writes Hagemoen in his first blog entry at http://mfsdiocese.org/bishops-blog in March 2014, a few months after he was appointed bishop of Mackenzie-Fort Smith by Pope Francis.
“I have been welcomed and received enthusiastically and warmly, and people have been gracious and patient with their new bishop who comes from the lotus land area of south-western British Columbia.”
The vast diocese “features so much blessing amidst the diverse communities and circumstances of this great territory and land,” observes Hagemoen in inaugurating the blog.
“However, I am thankful to Almighty God for the constant blessing of encountering warm hearts in this great cold place. It is this chief feature which is for me a great source of hope and inspiration.”
The appointment of the Vancouver-born priest as the bishop of Mackenzie-Fort Smith was announced by Pope Francis in October 2013. Hagemoen’s episcopal ordination and installation took place on Dec. 15, 2013 at Saint Patrick’s High School in Yellowknife. He succeeded Bishop Murray Chatlain, who in Dec. 2012 was installed as Archbishop of neighbouring Keewatin-Le Pas.
For Hagemoen, the first several months in his northern diocese — geographically one of the largest in the world — were spent learning more about the realities of his new community.
Those early days included travel, celebrations, and “getting to know the talented and dedicated diocesan staff the make up the ministry team in service of the parishes and communities of the diocese.” He also spent time getting to know his brother bishops at retreats and assembly meetings across Western Canada and beyond.
Bishop Mark mixes with his parishioners after celebrating confirmation on Church Hill, Tsiigehtchic, NT. (Therese Steiner photo)
In September 2014, Hagemoen travelled to Rome for “bishops’ school,” where newly ordained bishops participate in presentations from prefects and secretaries of Vatican curia offices. “Highlights included meeting with the various Bishops from Propagation of the Faith dioceses in Africa, Asia, India, and South America, including Bishop Anthony Krotki, OMI, from the Diocese of Churchill-Hudson, and the meeting with Pope Francis on the last day of the conferences,” writes Hagemoen. Another eventful visit to Rome would occur near the end of his time in the diocese, in the spring of 2017, when he joined the other bishops of Western Canada for their ad limina visit, which included a meeting with the Holy Father.
Throughout the bishop’s blog, Hagemoen’s priorities are evident. These priorities include walking in relationship, learning from indigenous peoples, encouraging active faith and youth ministry, and supporting Catholic education.
“Our Catholic schools in Yellowknife are also a great treasure in our diocese, and I have had the opportunity to visit and get to know the school communities through several visits,” notes the new bishop in his first blog in March 2014.
Shortly after Hagemoen’s appointment, diocesan leaders gathered with their new bishop for a “working retreat” that focused on major features of the new evangelization for the 21st century, as reflected on by Pope Francis, Saint Pope John Paul II, and Pope Benedict XVI.
“It was also an opportunity for leaders to bring forward various issues and needs of the six major communities throughout the diocese — the Tlicho, the Sahtu, the Decho, the South and North Slave, the Delta and Artic Coast, and the Athabasca regions of the diocese,” explains Hagemoen in the blog.
At that early retreat, several priorities were confirmed for the diocese, including the need for further programs and support for healing, family life, addictions recovery, and youth and young adult ministry.
As his time as bishop unfolded, Hagemoen continued to share his insights and experiences. “The Dene peoples of this diocese have taught me much about walking with Our Lord during the sacred and holy time of Lent and now Easter,” he writes in the spring of 2014.
“Lenten devotions are strong among the Sahtu Dene people, as I experienced in the communities of Deline, Tulita, Fort Good Hope, and Colville Lake. In addition to celebrating many masses, hearing many confessions, praying many rosaries, and blessing many homes, we were faced with a tragic death of a young woman in Fort Good Hope. However, I am grateful for the lessons shown me regarding how we need to support one another in crisis through prayer, presence with family and community,” says Hagemoen.
“I am also in awe regarding the remarkable and amazing contribution of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, who established many churches and provided pastoral ministry for decades to the peoples of this region. The Oblates were not only priests to these people, but also teachers, builders, and caregivers.”
As his term as bishop continued, Hagemoen shared insights into the devout faith of the people across the diocese, including the Athabasca Dene peoples of Fond du Lac, Black Lake, and Stony Rapids. “God has indeed blessed the Dene people with a deep faith and spirituality, and hunger for all that is sacred and good,” he writes.
During the long summer days of his first July up north, Hagemoen visited the “vast and wondrous Arctic region,” a land of sun, ice and snow. It is also the home of the Inuvialuit people, whom he describes as robust, warm-hearted and welcoming, living in a land that is “beautifully picturesque and harsh.”
Winter sky outside Fort Good Hope.
It was also in July 2014 that the Diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith under Hagemoen’s leadership, entered into a covenant relationship with the Archdiocese of Edmonton.
The partnering initiative came out of the invitation by Pope John Paul II to the church of the Western Hemisphere to look for opportunities for dioceses to work together in support of their common mission in Christ. Concelebrating with Archbishop Richard Smith and Bishop Hagemoen was Mackenzie-Fort Smith’s Emeritus Bishop Dennis Croteau, OMI, Vicar-General Rev. Joseph Daley and local pastor Rev. Ben Ubani, SMMM, of St. Patrick’s Church in Yellowknife.
A number of educational institutions, families, youth and individuals regularly visited the Diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith to live, learn, and engage in ministry and mission. For instance, Ray and Therese Steiner of Fraser Lake, B.C., were invited by Hagemoen to bring their family to the community of Tsiigehtchic to serve as lay ministers.
Other visits were shorter in duration. Students and teachers from Corpus Christi College in Vancouver visit the diocese as part of a service-learning program, which features a focus on Aboriginal culture and issues in northern Canada.
In 2014, for the fourth consecutive year, a group of undergraduate students from King’s University College in London, ON, came to the annual Pine Channel Spiritual Gathering in the Diocese of Mackenzie Fort Smith, one of several annual pilgrimage gatherings in the northern diocese. Pine Channel is located in northern Saskatchewan on Lake Athabasca.
The great gathering of pilgrims warmly welcomed the bishop to this place of retreat and sanctuary. “I was also immediately introduced to a team of talented and energetic students who seemed to be very devoted to their role and participation in this special spiritual gathering. Students were from the Catholic teachers program and social work program at Kings,” the bishop writes.
“Many afternoons and evenings featured a large group of children and young people huddling around the cooking fire, being entertained and inspired through their interaction with individual students — who were inspiring examples of servant leadership and caring friendship.”
Students from both of those Catholic colleges — Corpus Christi in Vancouver and King’s University College in London — continued to visit the Diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith in future years
Between October 2014 and May 2015, the National Evangelization Team (NET) also visited the Diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith for the first time, assisting with development of youth ministry in the diocese, and offering service at a retreat centre at Trapper’s Lake. NET also returned to the diocese again in the coming years, assisting with youth events and retreats at several faith communities.
At other times, youth from the Catholic boy’s school Vancouver College (a school that Hagemoen himself attended) have also visited the Diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith — for instance, as part of a retreat exchange with Yellowknife Catholic high school students.
Peter Dai Nguyen, a young man from Vietnam served at the Trapper’s Lake retreat centre during Hagemoen’s time as bishop, before eventually going on to study at Christ the King Seminary at Mission, B.C.
Often when Hagemoen visited the far-flung communities of his diocese, he would reflect on the experience and share photographs on the blog.
After a visit to the faith communities of the Sahtu, including a visit to Colville Lake when one of the community’s oldest members had just died, Hagemoen writes: “The faith of the Sahtu people is very strong — in part because of the heroic and treasured lives of the Oblate community, along with the deep faith and spirituality that has always been present in the lives and culture of the Dene people. This faith continues to be called deeper, as the Dene people of the communities call for a broadening of life and activity in their faith communities.”
In another entry, the bishop describes June 2015 events in Ottawa and Yellowknife to mark the end of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission process in Canada. Representatives of the diocese attended the Ottawa event, which featured the release of the TRC Report and its 94 Calls to Action, as well as presentations by Archbishops Gerald Pettipas, CSsR, and Terence Prendergast, SJ.
Diocesan Study Days in the fall of 2016 took a closer look at the TRC and the Calls to Action. “Various regions of our diocese reflected on pastoral priorities that addressed these, and planned how these would be approached in the various communities in these regions,” according to the bishop’s blog.
In July 2015, he described a water conference hosted by Deline First Nation, with people from across the territories discussing “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.” Hagemoen noted the encouragement provided by Pope Francis’s recent encyclical on care of creation, Laudato Si.
Changing climate was also having an effect on church buildings, with an increasing need to renovate and repair buildings across the diocese — projects which involved many volunteers and partners. Updates and photos were regularly published online.
Faith in Action was the theme for the diocese’s 2016-2017 ministry year. That included a group of young missionary volunteers known as “Team Tulita,” who were repairing and restoring St. Therese of Avila parish in Tulita, NWT, in the Sahtu region. It also included ongoing “faith in action” work on the Trapper’s Lake retreat centre, and the rebuilding of Sacred Heart Church in Fort Simpson.
Hagemoen blessed the new $1.3 million church building for Sacred Heart Parish in Fort Simpson on Sept. 17, 2017, just a few days after his appointment as the new bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon was announced.
The building project is an answered prayer for the people of Fort Simpson, who were also marking the 30th anniversary of the visit of Saint Pope John Paul II to their remote northern community. “The project featured many years of fundraising and planning, and included supporters from within and outside the diocese,” notes the bishop’s blog.