By Father Steve Morrisey, C.SS.R.
What an awesome gift—from December 20 to January 3 (from the Thursday of the Third Week of Advent until the Thursday following Mary the Mother of God)—I was blessed to offer pastoral ministry to a few missions in the Mackenzie-Fort Smith diocese.
Here are my reflections of those days:
A week in Paulatuk, Northwest Territories, and then just under a week in Tuktoyaktuk, two of the most Northern locations one could ever imagine. They are also two of the most faith-filled locations I have ever had the pleasure of ministering with. Paulatuk and Tuktoyaktuk are two small communities that border on the Beaufort Sea. They are also two communities filled with God’s grandeur.
The first place that was home for me was Paulatuk, a community about an hour’s flight from Inuvik. Inuvik is the hub location for these two smaller missions in the Northwest Territories. After some travel in a Twin Otter aircraft, I arrived in Paulatuk and immediately fell in love with this beautiful place that God created. I know that God created each and every one of us and each location we call home, but to witness the excitement in the Paulatuk airport, I knew that God was present there.
Upon arriving at the mission trailer (my home during my stay), I was invited and given a quick tour of the mission office then over to a parishioner couple’s home for a wonderful caribou meal. Pastoral leader Marlene Wolki and her husband Hank showed me incredible hospitality. The caribou meal was followed by a tour of the community. I was blessed to meet many that first evening, and the hospitality was only just beginning. The following morning, I met many more locals as well as a few members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (R.C.M.P.) who also now call Paulatuk home.
Saturday afternoon was filled with the Sacrament of Reconciliation, followed by the evening Mass for the Fourth Sunday of Advent.
After the celebration of the Eucharist, I was blessed with another culinary experience: a goose dish. Marlene and Hank and all of their family took good care of me. Sunday morning began with Mass and then I was blessed to meet two more wonderful people as Marlene asked me to bring Communion to a few shut-ins. The day continued with several hours of meeting people who are all full of laughter and joy. It did not take long to go from there to the preparations for Christmas Midnight Mass.
Mass on Christmas Eve saw most of the small community coming together. As soon as we left church that night, the winds began to blow and the thermometer began to drop even further.
Christmas Day was met with the morning celebration of the Eucharist and a wonderful turkey meal with a few parishioners. Boxing Day—the first day in a few with no great blizzard-like winds—saw the entire community gathering for drum dancing, a big feast, and conversations until late in the evening.
The following day was filled more joy and levity. It was then that I had an opportunity to bless the community youth centre and meet a few more who call Paulatuk home and one last opportunity for some Arctic food, as I was invited to a supper of Arctic char, caribou, and goose—just three of the Arctic joys that I will always remember. Friday came, and phase two of my Beaufort Delta experience was just beginning. Time in Paulatuk was complete and the days in Tuktoyaktuk were waiting for me.
I got off the plane in Inuvik and was met by pastoral administrator Sister Fay Trombley, a member of the Sisters of Charity of the Immaculate Conception, as well as one of the mission parishioners. The three of us drove on the ice road and after a few hours, arrived at Sister’s house.
Before I begin talking about my days at Sister’s house, I need to first talk about an unlikely coincidence.
A few years ago, I was blessed to be stationed at St. Joseph’s parish in Grande Prairie, Alberta. During my six years at St. Joseph’s, I was blessed to work with many wonderful teachers. A teacher at St. Gerard’s French Immersion School was just one of those many. Her husband is an RCMP officer and they now live in Tuktoyaktuk. I had no idea that her life had brought her to the Far North and she had no idea that I would be walking back into her world as the visiting priest for those blessed days. As we reacquainted ourselves in the Inuvik airport, blessings and surprises abounded. She was a parishioner of Our Lady of Grace mission parish in Tuktoyaktuk where I was to serve during my days there. Many old stories were shared as we both were blown away at God’s incredible mystery. While I was in Tuktoyaktuk, I, along with Sister Fay, had a meal and many laughs at her home.
Catechism and faith development classes, baptisms, a very active St. Vincent de Paul Society, and the Sunday Eucharist to celebrate the Holy Family were just a few of the activities that led up to an amazing New Year’s Eve celebration. Altogether, the days in Tuktoyaktuk saw great celebrations of faith, several baptisms, one celebration of First Reconciliation and First Communion, and many blessings.
Tuktoyaktuk is a community of young and old. Like Paulatuk, it is a community of great faith, a faith which first came to the region from the Oblate Fathers of France.
The two weeks in the Arctic were far too short. One day I will go back, but for now I know that the people of the Artic are filled with God’s love and God’s grandeur and they want to share that gift with everyone. I am so glad I was blessed to share in their hospitality and generosity over the days of Christmas.
Redemptorist Father Steve Morrisey is associate pastor of St. Mary’s parish in the Diocese of Saskatoon and is a member of St. Mary’s parish/Redemptorist Evangelization Team. In addition to his hospital, school and prison ministry, he is also chapter chaplain of the Knights of Columbus in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.