Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

From His Grace to Father Jim

Retiring archbishop helped strengthen bond with aboriginal community

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Some call him brother, others call him doctor, but Archbishop James V. Weisgerber would really prefer to answer to a simple "Father Jim."

Sometime this fall, the Saskatchewan-born Roman Catholic Archbishop of Winnipeg will get his wish when he hands in his mitre and robes and moves back to Regina.

"I worked for 30 years as a priest in Regina and I'm anxious to reconnect with people," says Weisgerber, who will take on the title of Archbishop Emeritus.

"Everyone in Regina calls me Father Jim."

In May, Weisgerber celebrated his 50th anniversary as a priest as well as his 75th birthday, the official retirement age for priests and bishops. Although he's submitted his resignation to the Pope, Weisgerber is still awaiting word about when he will officially step down from his official duties.

"At some date, the Pope will accept my letter and begin a process of searching for a replacement," explains the sixth archbishop of Winnipeg, who has held that position for 13 years.

On May 29, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Manitoba, prompting the nickname of Dr. Grace. Archbishops are often addressed as His Grace.

The freshly minted doctor of laws jokes about the new title, but a longtime colleague says it describes the attributes he's brought to his ministry and his work with the Canadian Council of Catholic Bishops, first as general secretary and later as president.

"He has a common touch and is able to engage with and collaborate with many, many people," Archbishop Albert LeGatt of Saint Boniface writes in an email.

"He has a particular affection for First Nations people and a personal commitment to their full and rightful place and contribution within the church and within the Canadian fabric as a whole."

In April 2012, he was adopted into the aboriginal community by two sets of brothers -- Phil and Bert Fontaine, and Fred Kelly and his brother, Tobasonakwut Kinew, who died later that year. The ceremony was intended to recognize the role Weisgerber played in facilitating a 2009 meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and Canadian residential school survivors.

"What we want to do is address the issue of reconciliation and to address the issue of racism in Canada and to demonstrate to the Canadian public and the world that if people want to work together, they can work together," Kinew told the Free Press prior to the adoption ceremony.

In addition to his work in building relationships with the aboriginal community, Weisgerber is proud of his role in establishing Micah House, the archdiocese's social justice centre located in Winnipeg's North End.

As one of three Catholic archbishops in the city, Weisgerber, the son of German immigrants to Vibank, Sask., demonstrated insightful leadership of his own Catholic flock and a commitment to work with other faith groups, says the archbishop and metropolitan of the Ukrainian Catholic Church.

"He was a good friend to the Ukrainian community as well, and personally, I will miss his wit and friendship as he returns to his native province of Saskatchewan," says Metropolitan Lawrence Huculak of the Archeparchy of Winnipeg.

Once he's freed from the busy schedule of an archbishop, Weisgerber plans to live a quieter life in Regina, enjoying the freedom to choose his activities. He's renewing old allegiances with his purchase of season tickets to the Saskatchewan Roughriders, but plans to return to Winnipeg to catch the performances of the Manitoba Opera.

Despite his imminent departure from Winnipeg, Weisgerber still has a strong pastoral sense for the more than 100,000 Roman Catholics under his watch for the last 13 years.

"I would want people to have a very clear identity as disciples of Jesus, which would make us different from other people, but not set apart from society."

brenda@suderman.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 31, 2013 D15

History

Updated on Saturday, August 31, 2013 at 9:45 AM CDT: Fixed cutline, minor editing of story.

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