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Lay missionaries Mike and Tina Girard with four-year-old son Johnathan, at Christ the King mission, Mayo, Yukon. Photo courtesy of Mike and Tina Girard,

An escape from city life led to an unexpected call to serve the Church

By  Mike Girard, Catholic Register Special
  • October 14, 2012

MAYO, YUKON TERRITORY - When we moved to the Yukon almost four years ago, it wasn’t to work in the missions. I was employed as a schoolteacher and my wife Tina stayed home with our young son Johnathan. We moved to Mayo for adventure, change and reprieve from city life. It was not meant to be a long-termcommitment, nor working for the Church.

The village of Mayo has a population of a little more than 400 people, predominantly the Na Cho Nyak Dun First Nation. Although we did not move to the Yukon to work in the missions, it seems God had other plans.

Sr. Angela Shea of the Sisters of Notre Dame was resident administrator for Christ the King mission. She had been here almost 20 years where she led the Catholic community and was an integral part of the larger community. During our first year, there was talk of the 80-year-old sister leaving Mayo and retiring to her native Prince Edward Island. In talking with Whitehorse Bishop Gary Gordon, Tina and I expressed ourwillingness to serve the Church. With Sr. Angela leaving, the timing was good. Gordon asked if we would fill in as mission administrators. His need for missionworkers and our interest and desire to serve the Church came together, and we began discussing the transition, which took place in 2009.

There are about 47 Catholics in Mayo. Besides keeping the lights and heat on in the church and rectory, we help keep the Catholic faith alive in the small community. We arrange for the priest in Dawson to come twice a month for Mass and other sacraments, and I lead the community in a Communion service on Sundays when he is not present. We usually meet for coffee and goodies or a meal after to catch up on news and share a laugh. We say the rosary with others and have Stations of the Cross during Lent. Each day, we strive to be a living witness to the Catholic faith and administer to the spiritual and other needs of Catholics. We call Fr. Ernest Emeka Emeodi from Dawson or Gordon when assistance or adviceis required.

Many joys and challenges of lay ministry abound in this remote part of Canada. Mayo is located near 63 degrees latitude, halfway between Whitehorse and the Arctic Circle. Mayo holds the distinction of being both the hottest and the coldest community in the Yukon. It is not uncommon for temperatures to dip to minus 50 Celsius for some days, and for a cold spell of minus 40 or more for a week.

While there are both joys and challenges, the joys definitely outweigh the latter. Some joys include living in the rectory which is attached to the church and having the Blessed Sacrament available 24 hours a day. There is joy knowing that although at times we feel we have a small role, it is nonetheless vital for the Catholic faith and Church locally. There is a deep inner joy knowing we are in the service of God and His work.

Since starting in Mayo, Tina and I have moved on but continue our mission work with the Church. We recently moved to Yellowknife, N.W.T., where we are ministering at Trapper’s Lake Spirituality Centre.I pray that more lay people — single and families — will be open to working for the Church in the missions for a time, be it a year or two or more. Perhaps an interest and desire might be awakened and one may hear a call. As a lay couple and family, it is not for everyone, but it has certainly been rewarding and a real blessing for us, not to mention the great adventure.

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