Archbishop Weisgerber's 50th Anniversary of Ordination

June 7, 2013

Archbishop James Weisgerber, right, with his sister Mary Lou and brother-in-law Brian Deck at the celebration of the archbishop's 50th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood.

By James Buchok

With family, 15 fellow bishops, priests and hundreds of well-wishers in attendance, Archbishop James Weisgerber celebrated the 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood May 31, with Mass at St. Mary's Cathedral followed by a reception at the Delta Hotel ballroom.

"We gather to celebrate not only my anniversary but the faithfulness of God," the archbishop said at the beginning of Mass. When Weisgeber was ordained as Bishop of Saskatoon in 1996, he took as his motto: The Lord Keeps Faith Forever.

The Mass was being celebrated on the Feast of the Visitation, the day on which the Blessed Virgin Mary, having been told at the Annunciation by the angel Gabriel that she had been chosen to bear the Son of God, went to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who herself was pregnant with John the Baptist.

In his homily the archbishop related how on a trip to Jerusalem he stayed at a Sisters of Zion retreat house. On a morning walk he found a church and by it a cave. He entered the cave and found a marker; "this is where John the Baptist was born. I was in the middle of the hill country."

Weisgerber said Elizabeth was old, representing the traditions of Israel. As Mary approaches, Elizabeth feels the baby inside her leap for joy. Mary is bringing something new. Weisgerber said the action of God is to bring "something far greater than what was there before, but consistent with what had gone before."

The archbishop described how he completed his priestly formation just as Vatican II began and how up until then the church "was an extremely different church," from what we know today. "And that was symbolized by tradition that had become very heavy," Weisgerber said. "The church had answers for everything. We spoke of ourselves as a perfect society. We had no responsibility to the world and we needed nothing from the world." Weisgerber said the church "was very much like Elizabeth."

Weisgerber said when Vatican II began in 1962, "it was like Mary meeting Elizabeth. There was something new, wonderful and energizing. Our experience of the liturgy, involving everybody. We learned that through Baptism we are all equal. My ministry was shaped by the excitement and optimism of the Second Vatican Council."

Addressing the realities of today's church the archbishop spoke of aging congregations, fewer people entering vocations and non-practicing Catholics being the biggest religious group in Canada.

"It's very easy to become bitter, or we can see Mary pointing us to the living Christ as someone to leap for joy over. The Lord is calling us in ways he never has before. He's calling us to take a chance to become different from other people. As his disciples we can't do what everybody else does and live like everybody else and still be believers," the archbishop said.

"God is calling a new church into being to be a sign of God's faithfulness. We gather in thanksgiving for the church. In the Eucharist we remember all that God has done. He delivers on his promises because he is faithful. Let us enter into this celebration celebrating the fidelity of God."

As the Mass concluded, the President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton , thanked Weisgerber for his many years of service to the CCCB including a term as president from 2007 to 2009.

"Of all he has done," said Smith of Weisgerber, "the most significant and closest to his heart is his work toward reconciliation with our aboriginal brothers and sisters," which brought an ovation from the large gathering.

Antonio di Geronimo spoke on behalf of the archdiocese and presented the archbishop with a gift of a new computer.

All were invited to the reception that followed, with long lineups for pictures with Archbishop Weisgerber and seemingly endless offerings of personal congratulations.

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