Indigenous Pastoral and Lay Leader Ministry Education Program (IPL): second cohort awarded certificates

Indigenous Pastoral and Lay Leader Education Program (IPL) participants and leaders gathered Dec. 2 at the Cathedral of the Holy Family. Certificates were presented to 15 participants who recently completed four modules of the online program. New course offerings are being added to the diocesan program, starting with an "Introduction to Colonization: Social Justice" held online Tuesdays Jan. 9. to March 5, 2024. (Photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News)

By Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News

A second group recently completed the first four sessions of a diocesan online Indigenous Pastoral and Lay Leader Ministry Education Program (IPL).

Their achievement was marked with an in-person celebration Dec. 2, 2023 at the Cathedral of the Holy Family in Saskatoon, which included the presentation of certificates to the 15 graduates who most recently completed the program.

The IPL “mini conference” held on the final day of the Church’s liturgical year, included a keynote address by Deacon Harry Lafond, celebration of Mass with Bishop Mark Hagemoen, and a time for the group to share reflections and feedback about the program.

Those achieving an IPL certificate in 2023 are: Elaine Callow, Diane Coté, Heidi Epp, Lynn Eremondi, Nicole Gursky, Margaret Hitchcock, Marilyn Kotylak, , Carmen Lopez Folan, Patricia Pasloski, Ivon Prefontaine, Fr. Matthew Ramsay, Patricia Schiller, Terry Mae Sinclair, Jane Waldock, and Marie-Jeanne Will.

Video introduction to IPL program:

Launched in September 2019, the online IPL course was developed after much consultation and reflection on how to respond as a diocese to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Calls to Action, particularly those addressed to churches, said Bishop Mark Hagemoen. The goals include building greater awareness about the history of the interaction between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, including the impacts of colonization and the legacy of Residential Schools, while furthering understanding and respect for Indigenous culture and spirituality, all in a spirit of “right relationship.”

The program is in some ways unique, in that it has a particular focus on the relationship between Indigenous Peoples and the Catholic Church, and includes a focus on Catholic social and moral teachings and the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Catholics, noted Hagemoen.

The diocese of Saskatoon worked with partners — including Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools and St. Thomas. More College – and with a number of Indigenous and non-Indigenous educators and leaders to develop and present the program. Funding has included a Pastoral Study Grant from the Louisville Institute, and evaluation of the program and its content has been ongoing.

Although the sessions can be taken individually, and do not require pre-requisites, those who do complete all of the first four modules (18 hours each) are awarded a certificate. The first cohort graduated in November 2021, and the second in December 2023. IPL is now expanding to include four more new modules, starting Jan. 9, 2024. Those who eventually complete all eight modules will earn a diploma.

The next IPL courses include:  Contemporary Effects of Colonization II: Social Justice – Jan. 9 to March 5, 2024;  Introduction to Métis Studies – April 2 to May 28, 2024; and Introduction to Inuit Studies Sept. 24 to Nov. 29, 2024. There are also plans for a community placement experience to conclude the diploma program.

For more information and registration, please see:

Keynote address by Deacon Harry Lafond

In his address to the graduates, other program participants and leaders at the IPL event, Deacon Harry Lafond began with words in Cree, as a testament to the importance of language. “Language carries who we are as people, who we are as families, and who we are as community,” he said.

Deacon Harry Lafond presented a keynote address at the IPL event Dec. 2. (Photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News)

A member of Muskeg Lake Cree Nation, Lafond shared how his community has been living and moving forward for decades with the “word of the day” that is reconciliation, describing partnerships that have included establishment of an ongoing relationship with the city of Saskatoon, where many of the community’s members live. “It’s not the size of a community that makes the difference, it’s the attitude.”

“The same thing is true of my relationship with the Catholic Church,” said Lafond. “I and my family have worked at this understanding of Residential Schools.”

He also reflected on leadership as a call to service – which has been his goal in a range of roles, including serving as chief of his community, as well as serving in the Office of the Treaty Commissioner, at St. Thomas More College and the University of Saskatchewan, and as a permanent deacon ordained in the Catholic diocese of Prince Albert. Effective leadership “is not about telling people how to do things,” but rather about “opening doors for people to find their own answers.”

He also reflected on the messages of Pope Francis during his visit to Canada to apologize to Indigenous Peoples and described the work of a group of Indigenous Catholic leaders to find ways forward as a part of the Catholic Church. Most recently this has included praying the Rosary monthly online, with different Indigenous languages for each decade. The hope going forward is that there might someday be a formal structure in the Church that would provide a voice for Indigenous People, he said. “It is a big dream.”

Photo gallery:


Kiply Lukan Yaworski is the Coordinator of Communications for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskaoton