Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 24, 2007
Prairie boy grows up to lead massive northern diocese
Chatlain turns to prayer in quest for direction in life
By LASHA MORNINGSTAR
"When I would walk into the chapel I would be immersed in these feelings of being loved and beloved."
"St. Therese of Lisieux - the Little Flower. She feels like my sister."
High school "was rough" for Chatlain. He had skipped a year, and "I was pretty young, quite immature and did not deal with peer pressure easily."
Nudgings towards the priesthood bubbled up in Grade 10.
But these were squelched with dreams of test driving for Maserati. Grade 11 it was working in social services. Grade 12's dream was to become a doctor.
Girlfriends happened along the way and Chatlain remembers, "I wanted to do something normal - get married and have kids."
But neither of the two girlfriends he dated felt as though they were the other half of the apple.
Now 17, he was left at home for the summer to work at a restaurant while his family stayed at the cottage. At the same time, a great-aunt who "had kind of adopted us as a grandmother" fell ill with terminal cancer.
Chatlain and she were close and, as she lay dying, her "concern was always for other people, asking them, 'How are you doing?'"
"She would repeat, 'Jesus, I love you.'"
Witnessing her faith impacted the searching teen.
Finally when Chatlain first mentioned his thoughts of entering the seminary to his parents, "They became very, very quiet and were conscious of not pushing me one way or the other. They later told me they were praying for the 'best decision for you.'"
Chatlain completed a degree in philosophy at the University of Saskatchewan and then entered St. Peter's Seminary in London, Ont.
The beginning was blessed.
- Photo supplied
Fr. Murray Chatlain visits Fr. Jean Megret at the Stony Rapids Hospital.
"God really wooed me. I know it is probably different for everyone, but when I would walk into the chapel I would be immersed in these feelings of being loved and beloved. I would go in to pray for a few hours, soaking up this light and being the beloved."
This lasted for four months.
"And then back to reality."
For Chatlain, the six years in the seminary were like "a desert with the odd cactus flower. . . . Mostly I just wanted to be a good Christian - praying, being a person of integrity, honesty and kindness. I had to be dragged kicking and screaming through some of it."
He was ordained May 15, 1987. His first postings were to St. Paul's Cathedral, four rural parishes and chaplain at a city hospital.
Duties changed and part of his work included being chaplain at a high school. "I got a sense of how teens see things."
Chatlain realized one of his biggest challenges was loneliness, "so I pour myself into the parish and community and really get involved."
One parish decided to mark their priest's 30th birthday with a Hawaiian dance.
Chatlain willingly reminded parishioners to make sure to wear sunglasses to the party and their wild Hawaiian shirts.
Come the night of the do, the birthday priest donned his wild shirt and sunglasses. But when he entered the hall, he discovered everyone was dressed in black and it was actually a surprise over-the-hill-party as he was leaving his 20s.
Obviously his parishioners loved their priest.
But Chatlain still wondered about his spiritual direction.
So again he turned to prayer and God and made a 40-day Ignatian retreat in Guelph, Ont.
"It shook my direction," says Chatlain. "It shaped the kind of priest I should become. The guidance was 'Marry the poor and all that entails.' It had a dramatic affect on my priesthood."
"The guidance (from the retreat) was 'Marry the poor and all that entails.'"
When Chatlain returned to Saskatoon, he went to eat at a downtown food kitchen called the Friendship Inn twice a week.
He found it difficult - yet rewarding.
As the obedient priest came to know the people, he volunteered to help them learn to read and write. As expected, most were Aboriginal.
Chatlain took the next step and volunteered to become the priest at Saskatoon's Guadalupe Parish. It is a Roman Catholic faith community composed of Aboriginal, Metis and non-Aboriginal people that experience the Catholic faith with an Aboriginal focus.
Chatlain served there for three years, finding the work "challenging, intense." It also instilled a desire in him to learn one of the Aboriginal languages and live on a reserve for awhile.
So he asked permission to take a sabbatical and went to live at La Loche and learn the Dene language.
The priest learned the language the Oblate way, "getting help from different people to learn all the expressions."
Chatlain describes his attempts to learn Dene as a "big stretch, humbling. I'd make mistakes and people would laugh."
A Dene woman was tutoring Chatlain one day and she called out to a passing friend, "Look, I only have Grade 2 and I am teaching Father."
The Dene people's "grace and generosity" overwhelms Chatlain as they work to bridge the gap between their culture and that of the white man.
"We presume they must make the effort towards us and that costs them in many different ways. We assume our way is the right way."
He returned to Black Lake for four years, then to Saskatoon for a year "which did not make a lot of sense to me."
But whispers came to him that a change was on the way "and that I could be made bishop and that I should pray about the possibility." So he did.
"God has done many positive things and, rooted in that power, I am going to be OK - more than OK."
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