The Roman Catholic parish is soon to get a new priest.

On Oct. 6, Father Innocent Ukaegbu is set to assume leadership for Our Lady of Assumption Roman Catholic Church.

Ukaegbu said he is looking forward to his new duties.

“Most people have been saying wonderful things about Hay River,” he said. “So I am looking forward to moving.”

In particular, he noted he got a call from Father Bernie Black, who was once the parish priest at Assumption Church, after his assignment was announced.

Ukaegbu noted Black told him he was really lucky to be going to Hay River, because there are good, friendly and welcoming people in the community.

The 45-year-old Ukaegbu was ordained a priest in 2002 in his home Diocese of Okigwe in Nigeria.

The new parish priest has been in Hay River once before for a couple of days in April to visit Father Don Flumerfelt, who retired in July and moved to Edmonton.

Since then, the parish has been overseen by Sister Maggie Beaudette, a retired nun who was named temporary administrator.

Bishop Mark Hagemoen of the Diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith appointed Ukaegbu as the new parish priest.

“Father has been with us a number of years. That is after he had done some education and service in the United States,” said the bishop. “And he’s actually been helping serve in Yellowknife.”

In addition, he has helped serve in the Tlicho, the Sahtu and in parts of Nunavut.

“So he’s already had a fairly extensive exposure to the Northwest Territories, and the people here are getting to know him well,” said Hagemoen.

The bishop noted Ukaegbu came to the NWT on a personal visit several years ago.

“I made acquaintance with him and he said his bishop may be interested in making him available for a period of time, if the diocese was interested,” said Hagemoen. “So of course we were, but that triggers a whole process of interviewing and meeting with him and pastoral ministry work. So he’s been through a bit of a journey with us and that brings us to this time where we’re very pleased to have him continue to work for the next number of years with the agreement of his diocese and to assign him to Hay River.”

The bishop said the agreement will see Ukaegbu serve for several years in the community.

“And after that period expires then I would speak with him and his bishop about whether that would be renewed or whether he would be required to return home, and all of that is uncertain until we reach the end of that period,” Hagemoen explained.

The bishop has many good things to say about Ukaegbu, calling him a very spirited and jovial man.

“He loves the people,” Hagemoen said. “He’s really getting to know the Aboriginal people and the land here, and he’s very much enjoying it.”

Along with Hay River, Ukaegbu will serve K’atlodeeche, Kakisa and Fort Resolution.

“This is the first time I’m having a full-time parish assignment,” Ukaegbu said of his time in the North.

The priest first came to the NWT and Canada three years ago to visit a cousin who lives in Yellowknife.

After meeting Hagemoen and other priests, he was told of the need for more priests in the diocese and said he would think about serving here.

As a result, he obtained the support and blessing of his home bishop in Nigeria to serve in the North.

Ukaegbu noted that, since he has been in the NWT, he has experienced nothing but a warm welcome and goodwill from people.

“You can’t but love the place and like to stay longer,” he said.

Hagemoen praised the efforts of Beaudette during the absence of a priest at the parish.

“Everything went very well and Sister Maggie has done a fantastic job,” he said. “Her role was interim until a pastor was appointed and she will continue to do the good work she has already been doing in the South Slave area.”

Paul Bickford

Paul Bickford is the reporter for Hay River Hub.

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