Roger Plouffe's volunteer and northern experience have led him to work for the parish at Fort Good Hope, N.W.T.

WCR PHOTO | THANDIWE KONGUAVI

Roger Plouffe's volunteer and northern experience have led him to work for the parish at Fort Good Hope, N.W.T.

August 31, 2015
THANDIWE KONGUAVI
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

As a young explorer in the 1970s, Roger Plouffe fell in love with the land of the North.

Many years later, as a volunteer at a Fort Good Hope, N.W.T., Bible summer camp, he fell in love with the people.

Apparently, the feeling was mutual.

Plouffe, 61, a layman from St. Thomas More Parish in Edmonton, will serve as a pastoral minister in the isolated community just south of the Arctic Circle for the next two years. The parish church is a national heritage site.

He is replacing Sisters Joan Liss and Pauline Girodat, School Sisters of Notre Dame, who recently retired after serving the community for several years.

Plouffe said he was being led by the Holy Spirit for some time for a bigger commitment to serve in the North. That call was confirmed when he heard the sisters were leaving.

"Something popped into my heart, this feeling I should be going there," said Plouffe. "Maybe I should see if they want me."

With the support of his wife Sandra and his parish, he approached Archbishop Richard Smith and Mackenzie-

Fort Smith Bishop Mark Hagemoen with his proposal.

In Fort Good Hope, at a community gathering to thank God for the years of the sisters' service, Hagemoen sought feedback about Plouffe's proposal.

It would be the first time the community, which has seen Oblate priests and sisters serve in the past, would have a layman from outside the community as a pastoral minister.

"I received their feedback fairly immediately," said Hagemoen. "People came up to me and said 'Bishop, we think that's a great idea. We know Roger, we respect him and we would welcome him here.'"

NORTHERN PRESENCE

Deacon Patrick Hessel, chair of Edmonton's archdiocesan Mission Council, said Plouffe's presence in the North will certainly help in developing the twinning agreement signed in 2014 between the Edmonton and Mackenzie dioceses.

While the Fort Good Hope appointment is not a formal part of the twinning agreement, Plouffe, a member of the council, has played an essential role in the covenant project, Hessel said.

"Few people in the South understand the North, know the North, love the North like Roger does," said Hessel. "He understands the people. He loves the people. Without him, I think we'd have a much tougher time with the twinning."

Little has been done to implement the twinning agreement, but concrete steps may be taken in the next year, said Hagemoen.

"I am happy with the spirit of Archbishop Smith and people like Roger and others who are wanting to look at real, helpful, positive pastoral ways to realize the twinning arrangement," he said.

Hagemoen said he is grateful Plouffe responded to the need in the community.

"He has a real heart for ministry, he has a real heart for trying to build capacity, and he comes with considerable talent and experience in a range of things," he said.

Plouffe, whose first language is French, said he is both nervous and excited about the move.

Born in Germany where his father was based in the Air Force, Plouffe had attended 12 different schools by the time he was in Grade 12, so he learned to adapt to new places.

Plouffe has experience as a geophysicist, geologist, geostatistician and pilot, and is confident he can keep plumbing and electrical facilities running at Our Lady of Good Hope.

He studied theology at Newman Theological College and once served as the institution's IT director. Plouffe also has official experience with sacraments, reflections and preaching.

Plouffe volunteered with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Returning to Spirit organization, sits on the board of the ecumenical On Eagle's Wings organization, recently served as president of the Duggan Community League and has worked as a consultant for the federal prison system.

WORE MANY HATS

The active volunteer has also been a Scouts Canada leader for more than 10 years and a first aid trainer. Plouffe hopes to use his cooking skills to hold social activities in the community.

His role in the parish is still vague, Plouffe said, but will involve helping with sacramental preparation, liturgies and being a presence of the Church.

"In my mind, I'm not there; Christ is working through me," he said.

Plouffe's goal is to be redundant by the end of his two-year appointment, as community members pick up the ball.