King’s students experience life on the reserve
By Erin Morawetz
By the time Alexandria Lepore was finishing up her honours degree in
Catholic studies and history from King’s University College in
London, Ont., this spring, she knew she wanted to become a youth minister.
But this was no ordinary trip. Lepore and 13 other students,
11 from King’s College, two from St. Peter’s Seminary, along
with Rev. Michael Bechard and Sister Susan Glaab, headed out on June
28 to the Fond du Lac Denesuline First Nation reserve in northern Saskatchewan,
close to the border with the Northwest Territories. It took three planes
from the southwestern Ontario city to reach the reserve, located on Lake
Athabasca, 1,275 km northwest of Prince Albert.
Bechard, director of campus ministry and chaplain at King’s,
had visited the reserve the summer before with Glaab, and decided to
organize this trip.
“I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity for some of our
young people to work with some of the young people up there and be involved
in some sort of exchange,” he said. “They saw a part of Canada
that very few Canadians will ever see.”
The group spent the better part of a week on the reserve,
getting to know the community and joining its members in prayer. Then,
they accompanied the Fond du Lac people on a 40-minute boat ride to a
little island called Pine Channel. It is there that Bishop Murray Chatlain
of the Diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith — and a graduate of London’s St.
Peter’s Seminary — leads an annual pilgrimage for the Fond
du Lac people along with two other nearby nations.
Chatlain, with assistance from Bechard, led the adults
in liturgical and devotional experiences while the students from King’s
focused their attention on the kids, leading activities and crafts, and
providing different educational programs.
Lepore, a youth minister at King’s, has plenty of experience working
with children. But this time, she said, was different — simpler,
“It was a little hard to deal with the organized chaos,” Lepore
laughed. “It was frustrating at first but in the end, that’s
what we’re called to do — love unconditionally and just be
Lepore said the children took to the King’s students immediately — a
sentiment echoed by Jolene Smith, a masters of divinity student at St.
“They made it very easy (to bond),” Smith said of the children. “They
came to us. They were very kind and welcoming.”
Both young women say some of the best moments of the pilgrimage were
when everyone spent time in prayer together.
“They have a really deep faith,” Smith said.
And Lepore notes that a highlight for everyone was a confirmation ceremony
for 125 young people.
As for Bechard, he couldn’t be prouder of his students.
“They did a really, really good job in terms of the program they
did for the children,” he said. “Kids were there waiting
for us when we got up in the morning and we had to send them home at
night to go to bed.
“There was a real interaction and mutual respect.”
Keeping camp, of course, had its challenges — “I didn’t
really enjoy my shower in the lake,” Lepore laughed — but
Smith notes that they were more prepared than they thought they were,
and they all found themselves missing the island upon returning home
on July 10.
“At the end of the trip, we all still wanted to be together,” Smith
said. “Four days later, we were having a reunion. The experience
really bonded us and it’s something that we share with each other.
For Lepore, the trip, which Bechard is hoping to turn into
an annual journey, just might change her life’s plan.
“Just seeing the genuine love and the faith and the welcoming of the children, it reinforced that this is where I want to be,” she said. “I don’t know if there (are) any jobs available but . . . I’d really consider staying there (to work). I fell in love with the culture in northern Saskatchewan. I’d really like to go back.”