Fisherman becomes a northern shepherd

For a few short hours on Wednesday evening, Vanier Secondary School’s gym became a cathedral. Beneath bright red and blue Crusaders banners…

For a few short hours on Wednesday evening, Vanier Secondary School’s gym became a cathedral.

Beneath bright red and blue Crusaders banners and raised basketball hoops, Gary Michael Gordon was ordained the fifth bishop of Whitehorse

Gordon, a self-proclaimed avid fly-fisherman, came north this month from his parish in Chilliwack, BC, to take the post, which has been vacant for almost six years.

“If this were a fishing rod I’d know how to use it,” said Gordon looking up at his curved wooden staff, an emblem of his new position.

“I trust that the Lord, our good shepherd, will show me how to use this to try and be a good shepherd, like Jesus.”

Raymond Roussin, archbishop of Vancouver, officiated at the three-and-a-half hour ordination flanked by 16 bishops representing dioceses from Anchorage to Labrador.

And hundreds of parishioners, politicians, First Nations chiefs and 50 priests gathered for a ceremony full of symbolism and, unexpectedly, humour.

For 24 years, Gordon served at parishes in Mission and Chilliwack, BC, where he focused on reconciliation and healing in province’s Sto:lo Nation.

Gordon supported the First Nation through struggles with sickness, family violence, funerals and baptisms and even a few weddings, Sto:lo Nation representative Shirley Leon told the congregation.

She travelled to Whitehorse for the ordination.

“You rolled up your sleeves and worked with us,” she told Gordon. “We are convinced you will continue this walk with the First Nations of the North.”

Gordon chose the word communion, communio in Latin, as his motto.

The word symbolizes the bridges he has built between BC First Nations and the Catholic Church.

“Bridges that are still standing,” said Gordon. “I hope to do the same here, in Whitehorse.”

“We hope you will continue the good work you have done,” Teslin Tlingit Council chief Eric Morris told Gordon. “As you know there are many challenging issues that lie before us.”

Through one ordination rite Gordon was led onto brightly coloured blankets spread out on the makeshift altar.

The blankets, which had never been used before, symbolized the four directions, the four elements and the four races.

The rite marked the beginning of Gordon’s new path in life.

After local parishes and First Nations presented Gordon with dozens of gifts laden with symbolism — a moosehide prayer scroll embroidered with a butterfly for change and a feather for spirituality, a carved mask representing those struggling with the effects of residential school and, from Sacred Heart Cathedral, a set of cross-country skis and a promise that it won’t always be minus 30 degrees.

“Whitehorse started off as a gold-mining country, you have found gold again in father Gary,” Gordon’s longtime friend, sister Helene Wood of Hawaii, told the congregation.

By the ceremony’s end, Gordon stood stately in pressed white linens, a curved wooden staff in his hand and a gold-embellished miter — a pointed white hat — on his head.

Pope Benedict XVI, from Rome appointed Gordon to the post in January.

The Whitehorse Roman Catholic diocese, officially designated in 1967, serves 8,000 Catholics in 20 parishes and missions throughout the territory and Northern BC.

It has been without a bishop since 2000, when Thomas Lobsinger, 72, died in a plane crash on Fox Lake.

Usually it takes two and a half years to fill the post, but the Vatican took six because of problems within the diocese, said father Jim Bleackley from Whitehorse’s Sacred Heart Cathedral on Steele Street.

Dealing with claims from its Lower Post residential school, the diocese passed through a time of strife and a brush with bankruptcy, but installing a new bishop heralds a time of renewal, said Bleackley after Gordon’s appointment.

Gordon, 48, was born in Burnaby, BC. He completed a bachelor of philosophy in Waterloo, Ontario, and a master of divinity in London.

Bishops usually hold office until they turn 75.

See photos pages 18 and 19.