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He got the call on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, 8 December 2009. “The Holy Father would like you to be bishop of Saskatoon.”
It is significant then, that his ordination as bishop take place today, on the feast of the Annunciation, 25 March 2010.
In between these two events, I had the privilege of being the bishop-elect’s student in Rome for his half of a course on Methodism and its dialogue with the Catholic Church. I even wrote up a short blog article about the class and my first encounter with Msgr. Bolen, here.
I had offered some first impressions at the end of that blog. Over lunch on his next-to-last day in Rome, Father Don mentioned that someone had directed him to my blog about him, and he suggested that perhaps I should revisit my impressions now that we had gone through an entire class together. Fair enough.
The people of Saskatoon are blessed among Canadians. That is all there is to it.
Most bishops have no training or formation to become bishop, not really. They see how their bishop acts, think what they would do, and that’s about it. Bishop Bolen spent years on the Vatican desk covering the dialogues with the Anglicans and the Methodists, where episcopacy and authority, indeed ecclesiology in general, are the major issues of discussion. What better formation than to be a theologian-pastor studying the highest level conversations about what it means to be a bishop, ecumenically, especially when Ratzinger is Pope and Kasper is President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity? Granted, it is one thing to engage in discussion about the episcopacy, and another to live it out, but what an opportunity!
So that’s the leadership aspect. What about teaching? At the end of our course, (team taught by Bishop Don and the Rev. Dr. Trevor Hoggard, the Methodist Representative to the Holy See) several of us had concluded this was one of the most valuable courses offered, in terms of both method and content. It was pretty straightforward: Get a solid introduction to the Methodist church from a Methodist pastor/theologian, get a thorough overview of the dialogue from the Catholic perspective, and culminate in a mock-dialogue with actual participants from the international dialogues, complete with Anglican observer.
The celebration of his ordination as bishop in Saskatoon was attended by several ecumenical leaders locally, and by a delegation from Rome that included Bishop Brian Farrell, Secretary of the PCPCU, Fr. James Puglisi, SA, Father-General of the Friars of the Atonement and Director of the Centro Pro Unione, Very Rev. David Richardson, ChStJ, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Representative to the Holy See, and others. I have included a link to the pictures that the diocese has put up about the event, including a slide show.
His motto is “Mercy within Mercy within Mercy” and his coat of arms and biographical information are here. Weslyan hymns specifically chosen by the bishop were a central part of the ordination liturgy, as was an ecumenical prayer service that looks to have been very well attended.
Being bishop is no easy task and my prayers are with this newest of Canada’s episcopate. Coming from a diocese that has not seen a ‘normal’ transition of episcopal leadership since before I was born, I can especially appreciate what it means for a local church to find a shepherd that makes such a good fit, and I hope the coming years are fruitful and filled with the Spirit.
I think John Allen, Jr. said that if you stand in the same place in Rome long enough, you will meet every Catholic you have ever known, or at least someone who knows them.
Nancy left for home on Thursday after three weeks here in Italy, and I spent the next day sleeping to recover from vicarious jetlag! As Sunday approached I had not yet decided where I would be worshipping in my quest to pray in as many of Rome’s different churches as possible (without becoming just a liturgical tourist). So when Donna asked me to deliver some propaganda for Lay Centre events to the “Caravita”, the oratory of St. Francis that Nancy and I had been to a couple weeks ago, I agreed, still thinking I should be going somewhere new.
The Spirit works in little ways too.
When I arrived at del Caravita, I looked around for someone to ask about the material – where to put it, if we could announce the events, etc. As I watched two people seemed to be the “go-to” folk, one was a woman clearly preparing to serve as lector, and the other a tall, thin, bald guy who seemed to know everyone. So, i approached him with, “you seem to know whats going on around here, who would I talk to about this?” He offers to introduce me to the lector, “Cindy”, who would know. Here’s a transcript:
Me: Hi, my name is AJ Boyd, and I’m from…
Cindy: Oh my God! You’re AJ! I’m Cindy… Me: [Shocked expression] Cindy: …Woodin!
Me: Oh that Cindy!
Cindy: So you’re at the Angelicum right? Are you in Don’s class [indicating tall, thin, bald guy]?
Me: No, I just met him.
Cindy: He’s teaching a course on Methodism, and he’s just been named bishop of Saskatoon…
Me: That’s Don Bolen?! I didn’t recognize him! I am taking his class… it starts tomorrow.
Ok, so it was more comical in real life. Cindy is a college friend of one of my parishioners from St. Brendan, and when I decided to come to Rome, she decided to put the two of us in touch. Cindy and I had been exchanging sporadic emails since July, and just had not yet met in person. She has lived in Rome for 20 years as part of the Catholic News Service Vatican Bureau.
Monsignor Don Bolen is the vicar general of the Archdiocese of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, and former staff of the Anglican/Methodist desk at the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Over Christmas break his election as bishop was announced, which I followed and even posted on Facebook. He’s teaching the second half of our course, Methodism and its Dialogue with the Catholic Church. He was the presider and homilist for the Sunday Eucharist, and was clearly loved by the people who had known him there from his time in Rome.
First impressions – after one mass and one class – is that the people of Saskatoon are blessed among Canadians. Home of the Prairie Centre for Ecumenism, it seems like a great fit, and any diocese would welcome a bishop who is so genuine, humble, intelligent and obviously a gifted ecumenist. A good preacher and teacher too!