CATHOLIC REGISTER PHOTO | EVAN BOUDREAU
Fr. Joe Daley points out some of the places he's been in Canada's North.
TORONTO – After almost 19 years working in northern Canada, Father Joe Daley can't quite put his finger on what it is about the place that brings him closer to the hand of God.
"I still haven't got a clear answer for that," he said. "There is something about the North. Often I am really touched by the sense of the sacred amongst the people, the deep spirituality of the people.
"I have over and over again experienced the sense that I am on holy ground. You know that somehow God's hand is in there."
Daley, who is officially a priest of the Diocese of Saint John in his home province of New Brunswick, told The Catholic Register his story while in Toronto May 28 for a visit with his sister.
It all began in 1989 when Daley first experienced the North while serving at St. Patrick's Parish in Yellowknife.
In the early summer of that year the bishop of the diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith, then Bishop Denis Croteau, sent an open letter to all of his Canadian counterparts seeking assistance. As is the case today, priests in the Northwest Territories were scarce and the parishioners of St. Patrick's needed a shepherd.
Daley received a copy of the letter, as did every priest in his diocese, from their bishop – Bishop Joseph Edward Troy.
"When I opened the letter I knew it was for me," said Daley, accompanying his words with a fist thundering down on the table in front of him. "And I am not a spontaneous person. I find I am cautious, but there was something there."
By mid-September the priest who'd never been north of Edmonton was descending in a small propeller-driven plane onto a runway in the Northwest Territories.
"As they announced (we were landing) I can remember that my nose was against the window watching and all I saw was rock," he said. "Just rock and a few little trees and I wondered what is this about, where am I landing? I felt excitement and welcomed."
He was hooked before his feet even touched the ground.
Fascinated with his new home and admittedly not much of a cook, Daley passed the evenings at the diocesan house where clergy and community members would gather for dinner.
"This was a whole new experience," he said. "I was meeting people from strange-sounding places. They would tell me stories about what it was like living in the communities and, I don't know, I just found it fascinating."
This was how Daley spent the next two years of his life, ministering to the people during the day, embracing their culture in the evening and finding their communities on a map at night.
Before Daley knew it 1991 had come and it was time to say goodbye.
"I didn't specify clearly that I wanted to stay," he said. "When it was over, with some reluctance, I went home and everyone said. 'You'll get over it.' I didn't. . . . there was still the call of the North."
Even being honoured with an appointment as pastor of the Basilica of St. John the Baptist, New Brunswick's only basilica, didn't extinguish Daley's yearning for the North.
In 1996 the Maritime priest again found himself in the Northwest Territories; this time as pastor in the Dehcho region. Daley served in the region, which encompasses six different communities, before returning to St. Patrick's parish in 2002. He remained there until 2008.
"For almost five years I was in northern Saskatchewan," said Daley. "Then in mid-February, when Bishop Murray Chatlain was appointed archbishop of Keewatin-Le Pas, I was asked to come to Yellowknife to be in the bishop's office until the new bishop arrived."
That's where he is today, and where the 72-year-old hopes God keeps him.
"It depends on what God has planned for me," said Daley. "God works in strange and mysterious ways, way beyond me. I don't have a plan (because) I'm finding that I can leave it more in God's hands."