Hart and Marilyn Bezner, circa 2009, as pastoral directors of Teslin Mission in Yukon. Photo courtesy the Bezners

Couple ‘blessed’ by work with missions

  • November 7, 2021

It all began with a Sunday sermon by their soon-to-be good friend Fr. Jim Bleakney.

Retired couple Hart and Marilyn Bezner were cabin sitting in Tuktoyaktuk, Yukon, for a friend. After Hart retired from his teaching career in Waterloo, Ont., in 1995, he and his wife made annual sojourns up to Tuktoyaktuk and Deadhorse, Alaska.

Hart cannot recall exact passages of Bleakney’s homily that Sunday, but he remembers the spirit of the speech very well.

“We got a glimpse into a very broad understanding of Christianity not tied to dogma. The breadth of his knowledge about what it means to be a Christian really appealed to me and set something off in my mind,” he said.

Confident with the knowledge that being a servant is a bedrock of Christian ethos, and being aware that Yukon was suffering from a shortage of people to serve parishes, Hart discussed with his wife the notion of stepping up. They jointly submitted their resume to Bleakney and were ultimately approved to serve as pastoral administrators in the village of Teslin, Yukon, a First Nations community driven by hunting, trapping and fishing, starting the 2005 Labour Day weekend. They served as pastoral directors for five years and attended to the village’s needs as best they could.

“It enriched our lives,” said Marilyn as the Bezners shared their story in a phone interview from their home in Kitchener, Ont. “We saw how people care for one another. They really had a strong responsibility to the elders. They made sure elders had fish, moose and other food in the freezer. Maybe granny needed some wood, so someone would cut some wood for her.  ... There just was that sense of caring that we are not as exposed to in the city.”

Both said they felt at home right away and that the residents embraced them almost immediately. Marilyn said the townspeople did wonder at the beginning why their community was appointed “two ordinary people” rather than a priest, but they ultimately were cognizant that available priests or nuns were scarce at the time. Only once every five to six weeks would a priest come to celebrate a full-fledged Mass.

“We became very close. I’m sure life was tough for them at times, but they know how to celebrate, laugh and feel joy with each other,” said Marilyn. 

During their time in Yukon, the Bezners became witnesses to Catholic Missions In Canada’s (CMIC) fidelity to northern communities. They gained so much esteem for CMIC and the missionary work they do that the Bezners have delivered various presentations over the past decade in Ontario that exposed what life truly is like in mission territories.

They made their potentially last visit up north in 2019, but that hasn’t meant their support for CMIC has waned. They have invested in a gift of securities that rolls into a charitable gift annuity.

CMIC  president Fr. David Reilander and stewardship officer Joe Gennaro make a point in visiting annuitants to inquire why they entrusted a significant amount to the Catholic agency serving the needs of the faithful in remote areas of Canada and shared the Bezner’s story in the CMIC newsletter Highlights

“We saw with our own eyes how tremendously important the missions are. We were blessed,” Hart told Reilander and Gennaro.

The arrangement the Bezners made is financially sound, and mutually beneficial, according to CMIC, because securities can be liquidated and by donating the funds to CMIC, they aren’t subject to any capital gains tax. And by acquiring an annuity with CMIC, they receive a charitable tax receipt for a minimum of 20 per cent while also getting a guaranteed income.

Such annuities require the person be at least 70 years of age and give a minimum amount of $10,000.

“These are a proven way to make a meaningful gift, increase your annual income and reduce your taxes too,” CMIC says on its website.

To learn more about gifting securities, see cmic.info.

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