SASKATOON — As the eighth bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon, Mark Hagemoen is “not presupposing anything. My first priority is to listen, meet and see.”
Born and raised in Vancouver, Hagemoen was intrigued with the idea of the priesthood as a youth, then put it out of his mind. “But God quietly, persistently called me to ministry, and when I said yes, I found great peace in the knowledge that I was being called to serve God’s people.”
He was ordained in Vancouver, where he served in several pastoral positions and spent 10 years as director of the Office of Youth Ministry before being appointed bishop of the northern diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith.
“The process of selection for the position of bishop is a lengthy one,” he explains. “Regional assemblies of bishops meet every two years in camera to discuss potential candidates for episcopacy. A list is forwarded to the papal nuncio and comes into play when the need arises. The nuncio oversees the whole selection process.”
The needs of the specific diocese come into play. Consultations are held to discern such things as the people within and beyond the diocese, and the current profile and features of the diocese in question.
“When I was appointed to Mackenzie-Fort Smith, for instance, the requirement was for someone who was comfortable working with indigenous people, someone with a background, experience, and competency in that area. My pastoral ministry had given me first-hand work and interaction with many indigenous groups in southern British Columbia.”
Hagemoen says job description requirements for bishop are set out in the Directory of Bishops, which is also a theological and pastoral document. It outlines the theological, pastoral, and fundamental qualities sought in candidates being considered for the role of bishop.
With feedback and input from bishops, priests, and laity — all done under the papal seal of strict confidentiality — the papal nuncio pulls it all together and suggests three candidates, who are then proposed to the Congregation of Bishops in the Vatican. After rigorous vetting, a recommendation is made to the pope, who, in turn, gives it his careful consideration.
“I had no idea I was being considered for the role of bishop of Saskatoon,” Hagemoen says. “It came as a big surprise, especially since I had only been in the North for four years.”
Hagemoen says working in the North changed him, especially in terms of pastoral process and pace.
“In Vancouver, I was very busy, had demanding pastoral jobs and college positions. In the North, the whole pace and approach was different. Any suppositions I had about what the North needs were quickly put to rest. Judgment was put on hold. Every region is different; contrasts are great. I had to learn what the real needs of communities were, and the appropriate diocesan responses.”
“Parishes there have very limited means and personnel,” he goes on. “How to come at existing needs is a big issue. I put a lot of energy into raising up and training lay leaders, especially indigenous leaders, and I also worked to augment the healing ministry in the areas of addiction support from a spiritual perspective and dealing with anger and grief. Solutions were also needed for deteriorating infrastructure. The buildings there are old, not well maintained, and severely affected by climate shift. Permafrost is melting under some of our buildings, causing them to sink into the ground.”
All things considered, Hagemoen says, leaving the North was bittersweet. He learned there is no word in Dene for “goodbye,” and he believes that’s a good thing.
“Because the Diocese of Saskatoon has a direct connection with missionary ministry in the North, I like to think that my work here and what I learned there will work together to have a direct benefit in the North.”
In the Diocese of Saskatoon he sees “a dynamic Catholic culture and community, and a strong legacy with many features. I am energized and very excited about serving as bishop, and I look forward to meeting with all the Catholic organizations and institutions, and with indigenous leadership and the ecumenical community as well.”
This article was previously published in the Saskatoon StarPhoenix.