Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

New Archbishop of Winnipeg brings lifetime of learning to archdiocese

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Some of the most important lessons Archbishop-elect Richard Gagnon learned about listening -- and faith -- go back to his years in band class.

"Any musical ensemble is improved when you move outside of yourself and listen to others and are aware of something bigger than yourself," explains the former public school band teacher, who played clarinet, flute and saxophone.

"Our faith is not about yourself. It's about Christ and to act together in unity."

The new archbishop will have plenty of opportunities to listen as he prepares to pick up the baton at the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Winnipeg. Named the seventh archbishop not quite a week ago, the long-time resident of British Columbia and former Bishop of Victoria knows he has a big learning curve ahead as he introduces himself to the faithful in 67 parishes spread over 16,405 square kilometres in Winnipeg and the middle and southern part of the province.

"My first priority is to know the Archdiocese of Winnipeg and the people of God who live here," says the 65-year-old Gagnon, who flew into the city just a hours after his appointment was announced.

"(I want) to listen, to meet people, to understand what the issues are and know the communities."

Gagnon replaces Archbishop James Weisgerber, who retires at age 75 after 13 years as spiritual leader for the 155,000 Roman Catholics in the archdiocese. Weisgerber will serve as apostolic administrator of the archdiocese until his successor is officially installed, most likely early in 2014.

With a flock scattered from the American border north to the village of Barrows, and west of the Red River to Saskatchewan, the new archbishop will have plenty of time to contemplate his new surroundings from behind the steering wheel, says his colleague at the Archdiocese of Saint Boniface, which includes the eastern part of Winnipeg and rural areas east of the Red River.

"He'll be doing a lot more driving than he did in Victoria," says Archbishop Albert LeGatt, who travels about 30,000 kilometres each year on church business and recommends Gagnon promptly invest in a set of snow tires.

Gagnon is a good choice to head the Archdiocese of Winnipeg because of his extensive contact with aboriginal people and other ethnic groups in his previous postings, says the Metropolitan of the Ukrainian Catholic Church.

"He's a very congenial person, down to earth, and I think he's been a good leader in Victoria," says Metropolitan Lawrence Huculak, also the Archbishop of the Archeparchy of Winnipeg.

"He's led the Diocese of Victoria well," adds LeGatt.

"It had some huge challenges in terms of debt and he's led them out of debt."

In Victoria, Gagnon had to deal with debts resulting from a decades-old multimillion-dollar land deal and horse investment that went bad. He wrapped up years of legal and financial problems for the diocese in 2007.

Those challenges left him convinced of the necessity of listening to the nuances of a conversation and not making snap judgments.

"It's important to have patience to thoroughly understand the situation," says Gagnon, who spent 21 years in parish ministry in Vancouver after his ordination in 1983.

"It's important to listen to the advice and not always (from) the ones who agree with you."

And it's also important to occasionally slow down the busy pace of being a bishop. Three years ago, Gagnon spent 18 days walking part of the route of the Camino de Santiago in Spain, an ancient pilgrimage route.

"It' a great experience," he recalls of the daily treks of 25 kilometres or more.

"You meet farmers, you pet a horse, you take time to kneel down to pray, you take photos. It helps you spend time alone and with others."

brenda@suderman.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 2, 2013 D12

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