By Fr. Steve Morrisey, C.Ss.R.
What an awesome gift, from December 20 to January 3 (from the Thursday of the 3rd week of Advent until the Thursday following the Feast of Mary the Mother of God) I was blessed to offer pastoral ministry to a few missions in the Mackenzie-Fort Smith Diocese. The following is my reflection on these days.
A week in Paulatuk, NT and then just under a week in Tuktoyaktuk, NT, 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, NT.
Paulatuk is a beautiful location, about an hour-long plane flight from Inuvik, NT.
Inuvik, NT is the hub location for these two smaller missions. After some travel in a Twin Otter aircraft I arrived in Paulatuk and immediately fell in love with this beautiful location that God created. I know that God created each and every one of us and each location that any of us get to call home but in witnessing the excitement in the Paulatuk airport, I knew that God was present there.
Upon arriving at the Trailer (my home during my stay) I was invited and given a quick tour of the office facilities, then ushered over to a parishioner’s home for a wonderful Caribou meal. Marlene and 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 R.C.M.P. who also got to call Paulatuk home. Saturday afternoon was filled with the sacrament of reconciliation, followed by the evening Mass for the 4th Sunday of Advent.
After the celebration of the Eucharist, I was blessed with another culinary experience of goose. 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 social 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, laughter and joy until late in the evening. The following day saw more joy and levity. It was then that I had an opportunity to bless the community youth facility and meet a few more who call Paulatuk home. The following day gave me one last opportunity for some Arctic Food, as I was invited to a supper of Arctic Char. Caribou, Goose & Char, just 3 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 I was met by Sr. Faye Trombley S.C.I.C. as well as one of the mission’s parishioners. The three of us drove on the ice road (an incredible experience) and after a few hours we arrived at sister’s house. Before I begin talking about my days at sister’s house, I need to first talk about an incredible coincidence.
A few years ago I was blessed to be stationed at St. Joseph’s Parish in Grande Prairie, AB. During my 6 years at St. Joseph’s I was also 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 R.C.M.P. officer and the two of them now live in Tuktoyaktuk. I had no idea that her life had brought her to the far Arctic and she had no idea that I would be walking back into her world as the visiting priest for these blessed days. As we reacquainted ourselves in the Inuvik Airport, blessings and surprises abounded. She was a parishioner of the mission parish in Tuktoyaktuk where I was blessed 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 Sr. Faye, 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, and one day I will go back; but for now I know that the people of the Arctic 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.