Having worked and, dare I say, suffered, with Bishop Mark Hagemoen for a number of summers now, I know that the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon will be blessed with a competent and eager bishop, filled with the joy of the Lord.
My journey and friendship with Bishop Mark began with a mutual interest in hiking. When he was president and principal of St. Mark’s and Corpus Christi College in Vancouver, he would organize student hikes. Some of these hikes were definitely not for the faint of heart.
One particular excursion, which testifies to the awe-inspiring sense of mission and commitment that Bishop Mark exudes, was described by a Jesuit as “a summit of pain.” It was a gruelling 13-hour hike that involved a slight detour, but it was a blessed time. This is but one fond memory.
Upon reflection, I realize that I have found myself involved with Bishop Mark during times where he was making some significant transitions.
While Bishop Mark was still at St. Mark’s and Corpus Christi College, he called me to assist him with moving to St. Augustine’s Parish. Soon after we had completed the move and he had finished repainting his new living quarters, news arrived of his appointment as the Bishop of the Diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith.
This was an unforeseen event because at the time he was in the process of establishing St. Mark’s Bachelor of Arts in Theology and Culture Program; yet, with much hope and resignation to the Holy Spirit, he began his transition into the north.
As the summer of 2015 began, he called me and offered me an opportunity to provide maintenance and hospitality at the diocese’s retreat centre, Trapper’s Lake Spirituality Centre. Similarly, he called and proposed that I return yet again during the summer of 2016.
Most recently, he called me last winter and proposed a project in Tulita, a community of 500-600 people. He asked me to be the team co-ordinator of a group of young men that resided at and worked on the restoration project of the Church of St. Theresa of Avila, which took place this past summer.
Bishop Mark is very effective at calling people, unabashedly for the love of God. Furthermore, in calling, he also proves to be a stalwart support and encouragement.
Personally, for a number of the projects, I did not think of myself as the best option. I reckoned he could have found someone more experienced or competent than I, but he called me by name. In his style of servant-leadership, he assisted me in my own growth in leadership and initiative; he trusted and genuinely considered my judgments and thoughts. For example, during the summer of 2015, my knowledge of concrete work was quite limited, and I had never needed to order any notable quantities of concrete. Despite concrete work not being in the initial job description, Bishop Mark gave me an opportunity to grow and supported me through it.
"Team Tulita" serving in Tulita in the Sahtu region, NWT
Throughout my experiences with Bishop Mark, I came to hear many of his phrases. One such phrase is, especially when he asks you to do “grunt-work” or something difficult: “I would never ask of you what I would not do myself.” During my time in Tulita, the basement flooded about four inches. This flood happened primarily because of the trench that our team had dug around the perimeter of the church in order to install a membrane to help prevent water from getting to the cracked foundation. We needed to backfill the trench as soon as possible, before the next rain, which was forecasted to come in a week’s time. After discussing the issue and its inconvenient timing with Bishop Mark, we knew what we had to do and he said, “I would never ask of you what I would not do myself.” He then made a spontaneous flight from Yellowknife to Tulita to assist us with the backfilling. As Bishop Mark would say, “He’s not just a pretty face.”
To me, Bishop Mark is not some distant bishop, or disconnected boss; he is a friend who has compassion (the etymology of which means to literally “suffer with”), and he carries with him a strong pastoral sensitivity that is deeply rooted in an incarnate Christ.
The people of the Diocese of Saskatoon, will be blessed by Bishop Mark’s presence and will soon know what it means to “shake and bake”!