Our family first met Father Mark Hagemoen through Bishop Gary Gordon when he was bishop of the Yukon diocese. Bishop Gary later put us in contact with Bishop Mark, newly appointed bishop of the Diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith, expressing the great need in this northern diocese.
Bishop Mark invited us (my husband Ray and I, with our five children at the time) to serve as lay ministers in a small community north of the Arctic Circle, Tsiigehtchic, Northwest Territories.
Bishop Mark led us with patience and understanding through our time of discernment, and we eventually headed north. We lived with the people of Tsiigehtchic for a year. This time was a great blessing for our family, and has had an immeasurable impact on our family. Since then we have worked with Bishop Mark on other projects in the diocese.
When you have left family and friends to serve in an isolated northern community, your diocesan family becomes very important to you, as does the openness of your new community. Bishop Mark was always a very supportive father figure to us. He often called to check in on us and each of our children. He always made time to guide us on challenging pastoral issues providing clarity and compassion. Many times he made the distant journey to Tsiigehtchic to be with and pray with our family and the community. Our children would be counting down the days until his arrival.
Our home in the mission house, or rectory, was a busy place. Children from the community would drop in from noon till night. Others would call or stop by with various struggles. The phone rang often. There was dust and sawdust all around as my husband, Ray, tackled the many overdue repairs to the house and church. And this is not to mention the continuous noise and activity of our own children (aged 14, 10, 7, 3 and newborn at the time) and our family dog underfoot.
Arriving with five pounds of coffee under his arm, and groceries to share, Bishop Mark would move in to this grace-filled chaos.
We marvelled each morning as we watched Bishop Mark, a greatly organized person by nature, manage to say his prayers, keep up with his emails, conference calls, and major projects, and still fit in staring contests with our three-year-old daughter, Theresa. Much of this was done from the couch in the living room, as we had no space for an office.
He helped restore order to the mission house that had long sat empty, hauling load after load of garbage to the dump, with his simplified academic advice, “when in doubt, chuck it out.” He happily crammed in at the crowded table filled with our children and others from the community as we shared a pot of soup or fried loche liver from a fresh catch from the river.
The children would giggle at Bishop Mark’s enthusiastic comments of “oh, baby” and “holy noodle!” They still laugh about competing with him at table tennis, though when it comes to Bishop Mark and sports, the word competing doesn’t tell the whole story. He would also join in making music mesmerizing the children when he cut loose on the piano.
Though undeniably different from his daily life, Bishop Mark joined in our family’s life with apparent ease.
One great memory of our time with Bishop Mark was late in the summer of 2016. Bishop Mark was again in Tsiigehtchic to celebrate confirmation and to lend a hand with the renovations. Toward the end of his stay, we pleaded with him to take a day to rest and go to the mountains — he finally agreed.
We spent a beautiful day in the Richardson Mountains. At our first stop, we lost Bishop Mark, as he wasted no time in ascending the nearest ridge, with the teens in hot pursuit. At our next stop, we asked Bishop Mark if he would like to carry our little Daniel in the backpack carrier. It was our ploy to slow Bishop down enough to keep pace with him.
Up in the mountains, as a storm brewed in the distance, Bishop Mark celebrated mass. It was a beautiful and powerful celebration together. It was a day we won’t forget.
In working with Bishop Mark on other projects in the diocese, he demonstrated time and time again his leadership. He was never afraid of making necessary decisions. With his tireless enthusiasm, he had a way of making projects happen, never discouraged by the challenges that arose along the way, rather trusting in God’s providence.
In his willingness to serve God and God’s people, Bishop Mark would do what needed to be done from the loftiest assignments to the most humble tasks. He set the example for others, particularly young adults, to not be afraid to live their faith, but rather embrace the adventure of bringing God to others by reaching out and serving those in need.
As sad as we were at the news that Bishop Mark would be leaving the diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith, we were happy for the Diocese of Saskatoon. Bishop Mark is dynamic leader full of joy and zeal with ceaseless energy and ideas. He will guide the diocese with great care.
We love you Bishop Mark and wish you all the best in the Diocese of Saskatoon. Steady as she goes.
As for what advice can we offer the Diocese of Saskatoon: make the coffee strong, and encourage your bishop to take a day of rest every now and then. Join with him on the journey of building the Kingdom of God. You will be greatly blessed with Bishop Mark as your shepherd.