Catholic Vancouver Jan. 15, 2014

New shepherd leads one of world's biggest dioceses

By Agnieszka Krawczynski

Archbishops J. Michael Miller, CSB, Gerard Pettipas, CSsR, and Richard Smith lead the Litany of the Saints while soon-to-be bishop Mark Hagemoen lies prostrate during the ordination at a Yellowknife Catholic school. (BCC file photo)

YELLOWKNIFE—At the call of Pope Francis, a Vancouver-born has priest left his home town to shepherd the much larger, less populated, and colder diocese of Mackenzie - Fort Smith. Bishop Mark Hagemoen was ordained and installed Dec. 15.

"I hope that I can be a bishop who supports the people of his diocese to hear God's call and plan for their lives, and to provide what is necessary so they can honour His call," Bishop Hagemoen told The B.C. Catholic Jan. 3.

Archbishop Gerard Pettipas, CSsR, of Grouard-McLennan ordained Bishop Hagemoen, assisted by Archbishops J. Michael Miller, CSB, of Vancouver and Richard Smith of Edmonton.

More than 600 locals and visitors flocked to St. Patrick's School gymnasium in Yellowknife for the occasion.

"We've been waiting for almost a year" for a new bishop, said vicar general Father Joseph Daley. "There's a lot of excitement, and especially hope."

He said Bishop-elect Hagemoen visited the northern diocese soon after his Oct. 15 appointment.

"Among the things we noted was his great interest in learning and education. He really related so well to Yellowknife Catholic schools and the education here," Father Daley said.

"We also really sensed that he was very open to listen and to become familiar with life in the north."

The previous bishop, now Archbishop Murray Chatlain of Keewatin - Le Pas, presented Bishop Hagemoen with three gifts during his homily: pom-poms, a ski, and a rawhide chasuble.

"One of the most important jobs of a bishop is to be a cheerleader," the prelate stated. He encouraged the new bishop to help build up the spiritual strengths already present in the community.

The ski symbolized two things: getting out on the land, and not taking things too seriously.

"One of the best gifts that you offer our people is your priesthood," Archbishop Chatlain said as he haded Bishop Hagemoen a locally-made rawhide vestment with blue beading.

It symbolized "the honour the (native) people have shown for us priests and bishops over the years."

The Mackenzie - Fort Smith diocese has 20,110 Catholics spread over more than 1.5 million square kilometres, according to Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops records. At least half of the faithful are native.

Father Daley read an apostolic letter from Pope Francis at Bishop Hagemoen's ordination.

"After having heard the advice of the congregation for the evangelization of peoples, we consider you, beloved son, to be endowed with proven gifts and expertise in ecclesial matters, and you are seen worthy to govern the diocese," the Pontiff wrote.

Now a brother bishop to Bishops Steven Jensen in Prince George, Gary Gordon in Whitehorse, and Pope Francis himself, Bishop Hagemoen said he feels greatly honoured.

"It is a tremendous strength and consolation, and source of fraternal support! I have the sense of a remarkable privilege that also carries a great responsibility."