Whale Cove, Nunavut

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Priestless mission manages to survive in the Arctic

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We have to organize our lives without groceries and mail coming from the South.

By Sister Dorica Sever, F.M.M., and Sister Fernande Rivard, S.A.S.V.

In September 2015, Oblate Bishop Tony Krotki of the Diocese of Churchill-Hudson Bay, confirmed Sister Dorica Sever of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary and Sister Fernande Rivard of the Sisters of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, in their ministry of forming pastoral leaders as well as in their service to the local Christian community at Holy Spirit mission in Whale Cove, Nunavut.

Holy Spirit mission in Whale Cove, Nunavut, was established on November 30, 1960. The first missionary was Oblate Father Rogatien Papion. He was a very devoted and respected man, a humble priest fluent in Inuktitut, always ready to teach children their own language and to respect their own culture. Fr. Papion passed away three years ago in France. He is still remembered today for his work and his teachings. Since 2008, the mission in Whale Cove has been without priest in residence.

Since December 2010, Sister Dorica Sever, of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, together with Inuit pastoral leader Mike Panika, carries the responsibility for this mission.

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Parish leaders’ team: Sister Dorica Sever, F.M.M., with lay leaders Cecile and Mike Panika, and Sister Fernande Rivard, S.A.S.V.

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Whale Cove has 400 people, 98 per cent of whom are Inuit and belong to either the Catholic or Anglican denominations. Praying together for Christmas and funeral services reinforces our common Christian values.

The pretty little hamlet of Whale Cove is situated on a long point of the Canadian mainland, in Kivalliq region, on the western shore of Hudson Bay.

The English name for this sheltered cove and its community comes from the great abundance of beluga whales that congregate there.

The permanent settlement of Whale Cove was created during the Keewatin Famine in the winter of 1957-1958. Many Inuit living traditional life style on the land faced starvation as the caribou disappeared. The federal government relocated survivors of the famine to Whale Cove on the shore of Hudson Bay, where it was believed that wildlife resources would allow these people to live off hunting, fishing and trapping.

Like many Nunavut communities today, Whale Cove relies heavily on fishing and hunting for a living. Seal, walrus and beluga meat are the main fare provided by the men, as well as lake trout and Arctic char, augmented by seasonal caribou and polar-bear hunting.

During the summer months, temperatures range from 5C to 20C. The wind coming from North Pole keeps us fresh even in these months. The low humidity and the long stretches of cloudless days without precipitations are common.

006_FINALDSCN3926_resizedThe sea ice breaks up end of June, when the sun shines 20 hours a day. Snow starts to accumulate end of September. With many windy days, huge snowdrifts are common. The shortest days of December have four hours of daylight.

An almost nine-month-long winter with many days of blizzard and blowing snow is slowing down our life.

There is time to rest, to pray, and to read. Temperatures of minus 58 below allow kids to stay home; there is no school, or plane coming in. We have to organize our lives without groceries and mail coming from the South.

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Women’s group: Seated, from left to right Cecile Panika, Maureena Itigaitok, Marie Okalik, Rachel Teenar, Eva Angoo, Cecile Panika. Standing, left to right, Shirley Kabloona, Sister Fernande Rivard, S.A.S.V., Terry-Rose Teenar, Sister Dorica Sever, F.M.M., and Lu-Anne Itigaitok.

Most months, the shelves in our only Co-op store remain empty for some days. Thus, we have to look after each other more and share the basics we need to feed the families.

People are very welcoming. Children speak English and Inuktitut. They love to come to the mission house each day after school and spend time in a safe environment where they can grow spiritually. We provide them also healthy snacks and are always open for the needs of families in distress.

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We would like to thank Catholic Missions In Canada, especially Father Philip Kennedy and his staff, for being a channel of goodness and kindness. Through them, the precious help of benefactors reaches our mission and improves people’s lives.

Sister Dorica Sever, F.M.M., and Sister Fernande Rivard, S.A.S.V., coordinate pastoral ministry at Holy Spirit mission in Whale Cove, Nunavut, in the Diocese of Churchill-Hudson Bay.