Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 24, 2000
Yukon bishop killed in plane crash
Lobsinger one of 3 Western bishops to die over 3 days
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
Two words instantly come out of people's mouths when asked their thoughts on the late Bishop Thomas Lobsinger - humour and humble.
"Tommy Lobsinger was a very happy man," said long-time friend Oblate Father James Carroll. "He liked a little joke every now and then.
"But he was serious when he had to be - people could relate to him. He was humorous and serious. He was human. People liked him."
Lobsinger, 72, and Brother Hoby Spruyt, the diocese's financial administrator, were killed April 15 when the Cessna aircraft Lobsinger was piloting crash landed on Fox Lake north of Whitehorse. The two were headed to Dawson City.
Lobsinger is one of three Western bishops who died within three days. Retired Archbishop Paul Dumouchel, 88, of Keewatin-Le Pas, Man. also died April 15.
Two days before Lobsinger's death, Archbishop Antoine Hacault of Saint Boniface, Man., died of lung cancer in Winnipeg at the age of 74. He was one of the few bishops still in office who had attended the Second Vatican Council.
He served as an expert at the early sessions of the council and became an auxiliary bishop in 1964, attending the last two sessions of the council in that capacity. He was named archbishop of St. Boniface in 1974.
Carroll, who lives in Edmonton, described Lobsinger as a simple man. "He didn't have a lot of education, or travel everywhere. He was a very humble man."
"He loved to fly. He was a very good pilot," Carroll said. "He's been doing it for more than 30 years.
"When his sister heard about (the crash), she was very upset of course, but she said, 'He died doing what he loved.'"
The cause of the crash has not yet been determined, said Niall Sheridan, a permanent deacon who oversees Our Lady of Victory Parish in Whitehorse.
Sheridan said, "I don't think I'll ever work with someone as good or as nice as (Lobsinger). He always introduced me as the pastor. But I knew he was really the pastor here.
"I remember once he rang me up to ask me my permission to do something here - the sheer humility of the man, he was a good man. He never let being bishop go to his head."
Born in Ayton, Ont., Lobsinger earned an arts degree from St. Patrick's College (Carleton University). In 1946, he joined the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, St. Paul's Province and was ordained a priest eight years later.
He served in various missionary posts on the West Coast. He was formation director for his order in Edmonton from 1982 to 1985 when he moved to Vancouver to become provincial superior.
He was named bishop of Whitehorse in 1987.
As bishop, Lobsinger apologized to native people who were abused in Church-run residential schools.
He was "a balm for the Yukon," said Michael Dougherty, co-chair of the diocese's social justice committee. "He took initiatives in the healing process."
Lobsinger was supportive in inviting native speakers to lead healing workshops.
"He made attempts to get beyond the hurt," Dougherty said. "He didn't try to hide or ignore the problem."
Lobsinger was also chair of the seven-member northern bishops' conference, which presented married native men as candidates for the priesthood.
During their plenary assembly in 1997, Lobsinger addressed his fellow bishops saying, "We do feel, as the northern bishops, that should the occasion come up again - as it has come up before - that in a particular village if there is a suitable candidate, married or unmarried, that we could still present such a person a candidate to the Holy See for ordination."
Lobsinger headed a diocese large in area, but with few clergy. He tried to ease this problem by challenging parishioners to become more active.
He was also supportive of diocesan projects and initiatives not only verbally, "but he would signal his support by his presence," Dougherty said. "His presence was constant."
Dougherty said the community, both Catholic and non-Catholic, was shocked and saddened by Lobsinger's death, but they will always remember him.
"He has a legacy of healing, calming, pastoral service," Dougherty said. "I will miss his openness and support. He had a willingness to let you do what was necessary.
"He did not put the bishop's mitre or crosier out front. He did not walk in front of us, but always with us."
Ain Leetma, a seminarian at Edmonton's St. Joseph's Seminary who is studying for the Whitehorse Diocese, is saddened Lobsinger will not ordain him. Lobsinger was not only Leetma's sponsor and teacher, but also "a second father to me. He was like a father to everyone."
Leetma remembers the bishop with great fondness.
"He was a very kind man," Leetmas said. "He always finds a way to get to people . . . people always felt comfortable with him. His humility was the thing that really struck me most."
Sister Margaret Coyle, chancellor of the Whitehorse Diocese, also remembers Lobsinger's humility and dedication to the Church and his office.
"I had never seen anyone who was so accessible to the people," said Coyle.
"He was interested in everybody. He was a very humble, open, loving man."
A service for Lobsinger and Spruyt will be held April 25 at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Whitehorse. The bodies will be transported to Vancouver, B.C. for a second joint funeral.
The deaths leave five of the 18 Latin rite dioceses in Western Canada without bishops - Whitehorse,.Kamloops, Grouard-McLennan, St. Paul and St. Boniface. As well, Archbishop Leonard Wall of Winnipeg is 75, the mandatory age for retirement and the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Saskatoon is also without a bishop.