Local priest helps northern mission during Holy Week

Fr. Don Stein

Fr. Don Stein

May 18, 2015

This past Holy Week was the fifth one that I have spent at Our Lady of Grace Mission in Tuktoyaktuk, NWT.

I missed last year because of a serious hip surgery, but was able to find a replacement in the person of Oblate Father Joe Gouthier of Foyer Lacombe in St. Albert. He not only replaced me for Holy Week, but remained there for one month.

Because of the shortage of priests in the northern dioceses, they are dependent on volunteer priests to assist them for Christmas and Holy Week. Otherwise, the pastoral leaders in those remote areas have to celebrate these important feasts with lay-led liturgies and Communion services. The Diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith is no exception.

The missions have been close to my heart since I was a little boy. My maternal grandmother used to read articles from mission magazines to me.

Although I am a diocesan priest and have spent 48 years of active ministry in the Edmonton Archdiocese, I am now free in my retirement to volunteer to serve in the North. It's a dream come true.

I am honoured to travel the long distance from Edmonton to Tuktoyaktuk by plane via Yellowknife, Norman Wells and Inuvik. I generally make an overnight stop on Tuesday of Holy Week in Inuvik to help Father Magnus Chilaka with Confessions. He is the resident priest in charge of the whole area.

Then on Wednesday, I usually take a smaller plane ride to Tuk. This year, Sister Fay Trombley, the pastoral leader in Tuktoyaktuk, came to pick me up in her jeep, travelling the ice road of the Mackenzie River.

This is a unique experience as the treeline ends just north of Inuvik, and the scenery is flat and barren until the Pingos near Tuktoyaktuk. It is a good three-hour drive.

This year, I was pleasantly surprised with the completion of the renovated church, which is the most remote northern mission church in the Western Arctic. Sister Fay organized the renovations with volunteers from Whitehorse and financial help from the Knights of Columbus and others.

In mid-March, Bishop Mark Hagemoen, the new bishop of Mackenzie, made his first pastoral visit to Tuktoyaktuk to consecrate the renovated church and to baptize, confirm and give First Communion to several parishioners of all ages. He was a big hit with all.

It is very costly to fly up North. I am blessed to have a benefactor for these trips. I donate my services to the mission.

My first priestly duty was to officiate at the funeral for Bob Steen of Tuktoyaktuk, who died in the palliative care unit at Inuvik. The funeral was held in the school gym to accommodate the large crowd.

My last duty was on Easter Monday as before my departure there was a Baptism of a 12-year-old girl in the church.

Holy Thursday was special as we had substituted the washing of the feet with the washing of the hands because some objected to the washing of the feet.


However, this year, after we did the washing of the hands, I asked anyone who wanted their feet washed to come forward. To our surprise, everyone came. In the missions, it sometimes takes time to follow the rubrics.

During the Good Friday service, I processed with the three invocations, "Behold the wood of the cross," before I invited the people to venerate the cross. I recited the prayer Hang it on the Cross. It made it more meaningful.

The Easter Vigil was impressive with the lighting of the Paschal Candle. In the sharing of the light, I lit the first candle for the first elder, Jean Gruben who is also a pastoral leader. The second time the light was shared by all the other elders.

Then at the third "Christ Our Light," all shared the light of Christ with one another, thus ushering in the Exultet. All seven readings of our salvation history were read.


Easter Sunday was attended by a large group. Many were from the Anglican parish which had no priest; they came and joined us for both Easter Sunday and Good Friday.

On Good Friday evening, we had the Way of the Cross, and I made myself available for Confession. Almost all who attended went to Confession; it was a true time of grace.

That evening, Sister and I were called to the community health unit to anoint a parishioner who had had a stroke.

So, once again I was blessed with a wonderful pastoral experience of Holy Week way up in Tuktoyaktuk.

I am impressed with the wonderful work of Sister Fay and the parishioners. They have an active St. Vincent de Paul Society and are trying to extend it to the neighbouring mission in Paulatuk.

Sister has a jeep available to help the young men learn how to drive a standard transmission, so they are able to drive when they leave Tuk for work elsewhere. She obtained a mini-school bus which is being used by the community school and is also available to the elderly to go berry picking in the summer.