Bishop introduces IPL during Russell Lake pilgrimage, before wildfires threaten area

Bishop Mark Hagemoen spent time with Elders and community leaders during a recent visit to the northern pilgrimage at Russell Lake, NT, to gather input about a diocesan online education program. (Photo by Liz Baile)

By Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News

Photos by Liz Baile

During the recent Russell Lake Pilgrimage near Behchokǫ̀, NT, Bishop Mark Hagemoen joined in the local celebrations July 18 and 19, as well as providing information and gathering feedback about an online Indigenous ministry education course offered in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon.

A few days after the pilgrimage, the area was under an evacuation order because of encroaching wildfires.

Bishop Mark Hagemoen introduced the Indigenous Pastoral Lay Leader Ministry Education program with a video, and then invited feedback and input. (Photo by Liz Baile)


(Photo by Liz Baile)

Saskatoon’s bishop was there as part of a process of evaluation for the Indigenous Pastoral and Lay Leader Ministry Education (IPL) program, launched in the diocese in 2020 in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Calls to Action.

A video overview about the IPL vision, methodology, objectives and impact provided context about the diocesan program, said Hagemoen. Indigenous Elders, Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaders, and local clergy were then invited for their input.

“The reaction generally was positive. They appreciated the efforts undertaken to build awareness around Indigenous studies, spirituality and world view; about the impacts of colonialization and Residential Schools; and about the ongoing efforts of reconciliation, in particular the relationship between Indigenous Peoples and the Catholic Church,” said Bishop Hagemoen.

“Discussions also focused on what local people were looking for from their own local Catholic Church in their own Dene context,” he added. This includes a strong desire for practical outreach to youth and support for elders, as well as an emphasis on the importance of learning to pray and helping young people to pray, he said.

The visit was one step in a larger process of evaluation for the online certificate program related to IPL’s Pastoral Study Grant from the Louisville Institute. The evaluation process also includes a number of other such sessions, including with the Our Lady of Guadalupe Circle nationally, as well as forums in Saskatchewan and British Columbia.

(Photo by Liz Baile)

IPL Background

Jointly sponsored by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon, St. Thomas More College, and Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools, the four-course online Indigenous Pastoral & Lay Leader Ministry Education program (IPL) is led by teams of Indigenous and non-Indigenous instructors, modelling respectful and reconciling relationships.

The next course in the online IPL program –  “Introduction to Reconciliation: The Church and Indigenous Peoples” – will be held Sept. 26 to Nov. 21 from 4:15 to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday afternoons. Registration is now open; cost: $200 per course (some funding assistance available). No prerequisite is necessary to take the course. (Those completing all four courses earn a ministry certificate.)

IPL Introductory Video:

Renewing acquaintances

For Bishop Mark Hagemoen, the visit to the Russell Lake pilgrimage was also chance to visit the northern diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith, where he served as bishop from 2013 to 2017, before being appointed to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon.

“I was happy to renew acquaintances, and spend time with people I know, including Fr. Mick Fleming, CSsR, who served in the diocese of Saskatoon, and a seminarian that I brought in, Peter Dai Nguyen.” Also present were Fr. Bill Bernard, CSsR, and Liz Baile, an IPL instructor from the Northwest Territories.

Bishop Hagemoen celebrated Mass during the northern pilgrimage with Redemptorist missionaries Fr. Bill Bernard, CSsR, and Fr. Mick Fleming, CSsR, both of whom served for a time in the diocese of Saskatoon. (Photo by Liz Baile)


Seminarian Peter Dai Nguyen and Fr. Mick Fleming, CSsR, (l-r) were in attendance. (Photo by Liz Baile)

Community threatened by fire

Shortly after the bishop’s visit, the Behchokǫ̀ community was one of those to be urgently affected by wildfires. The community of about 2,000 people, which is about 100 kilometres northwest of Yellowknife, was under an evacuation order as of July 24. While many residents left for Yellowknife, some stayed behind.

The Northwest Territories wildfire agency has reported that 4 homes were destroyed by fire at the edge of Rae (Behchokǫ̀), and as well as others along Highway 3.  “This is a serious loss for many and our hearts go out to everyone affected,” stated the agency in a report on the government website: NWT Fire noted that 48 structures were saved from the out-of-control wildfire by sprinklers and specialized gel.

“We pray for all those affected by the wildfires, and for the safety of residents and fire-fighters,” said Bishop Hagemoen. “We also give thanks that as the fire reached the edge of Rae (Behchokǫ̀), suddenly an east wind stopped it from coming into the town. Thanks be to God!”j


Kiply Lukan Yaworski is the communications coordinator for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon –