Fr. Bob Kasun celebrates Mass at Edmonton’s St. Alphonsus parish June 19. Kasun has been chosen Toronto’s newest auxiliary bishop. Photo by Glen Argan

Toronto's new auxiliary is a reluctant bishop

By  Glen Argan, Canadian Catholic News
  • June 22, 2016

EDMONTON – Call Basilian Father Bob Kasun a most reluctant bishop.

“I find this appointment shocking and really hard to handle,” said the priest who was appointed June 17 as the new auxiliary bishop for Toronto.

When he started receiving mysterious phone messages from a woman in Ottawa one Friday afternoon, he deleted them from his phone. Maybe it was a telephone solicitor or some sort of scam. The calls became more persistent however, but no more informative. Eventually, the woman from Ottawa told the parish secretary that Kasun should call “Luigi” at the Ottawa number.

It took until the following week that he finally got on the line with Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi, the apostolic nuncio to Canada.

“Luigi” said Pope Francis had appointed Kasun auxiliary bishop of Toronto and asked if he would accept the appointment.

“I was floored, and I didn’t know what to say,” said Kasun.

However, the nuncio “was really good” and suggested Kasun take some time to reflect and consult with whomever he needed to.

So he did. In a couple of days, he phoned Bonazzi again and spoke at length on his reasons for declining the appointment. The nuncio listened, and then asked Kasun to put his reasons in writing and send them along. Among those reasons were that he is 64, doesn’t have the energy he used to have, is seriously diabetic and likely will have to retire before the mandatory age of 75.

“But that didn’t seem to bother whoever (the nuncio) was talking to.”

A week later, Bonazzi phoned back and announced, “The appointment is confirmed.” 

So, on June 17, the world was told Kasun, teacher, pastor and friend of Edmonton’s inner-city poor and immigrants, will don the bishop’s silks and serve as one of four auxiliaries to Cardinal Thomas Collins. Kasun says his ordination will take place in early to mid-September, likely in Edmonton.

Collins, the former archbishop of Edmonton before moving on to the Toronto archdiocese, welcomed the announcement.

“We are grateful to the Holy Father for the appointment of Bishop-designate Kasun,” said Collins. “I am excited to welcome him to the Archdiocese of Toronto and know that he will make a profound impact in our efforts to evangelize, inspire and care for God’s people. I invite our entire faith community to join me in offering our prayers and best wishes as he prepares to join us soon.”

Still mystified by his appointment, Kasun said, “I’ve never in my life done anything extraordinary. I’m just an ordinary simple pastor.”

Kasun said he takes solace from the fact he will be responsible for the Toronto archdiocese’s central zone, an area with a high percentage of immigrants and people on low incomes. It’s also an area of Toronto where Kasun lived for 12 years when he was doing his studies, being formed for the Basilian priesthood and later teaching high school students. 

Kasun’s story began in the town of Cudworth, Sask., northeast of Saskatoon, where his father served as the town postmaster and overseer of a region for Canada Post. His dad’s father was a farmer and his maternal grandfather owned a hardware store. He has a sister who lives in Saskatoon.

The priests in the local parish were Benedictines from the abbey in Muenster, but when Kasun went to university in Saskatoon he got to know the Basilians who ran St. Thomas More College.

For young Catholics from small towns, enrolling and living at St. Thomas More was automatic. It provided social activities, a centre of Catholic life and a home away from home.

While in elementary school, Kasun had given some thought to becoming a priest. However, the call dissipated only to return in his last year of high school and his first two years of university. After earning his BA in English, he applied to join the Basilians, was accepted and sent to Toronto for further studies.

He’s not sure what drew him to the Basilians, but he did find in the order a strong community life and joy-filled priests. He was also attracted to the variety of work the Basilians do, including both teaching and pastoral work.

In Toronto, he wracked up three more university degrees before being ordained a priest in 1978. He taught for a year each at schools in Indiana, Rochester, N.Y., and Sudbury, Ont.

His main teaching stint was at St. Michael’s College School in Toronto before heading back west to teach at St. Francis High School in Calgary. 

In Calgary, he got his first taste of parish work at St. Pius X and St. Thomas More parishes while serving on the Basilians’ general council and the national executive of the Canadian Religious Conference.

After 21 years in Calgary, he came to Edmonton seven years ago after the Basilians decided to centralize their Western Canadian ministries in the Alberta capital. They asked Archbishop Richard Smith for an inner-city parish they could shepherd and, after examining several, they settled on St. Alphonsus and St. Clare.

Kasun said he looks forward to returning to Toronto where he had “some very happy years.”

However, when he spoke to the congregation at St. Alphonsus on June 19, his reticence again came to the fore. 

“I don’t really want the job; I don’t want to go. I tried everything to get out of it. I would have much preferred to stay here.”

Still, it was his preparation for his homily that day on Jesus’ words — “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves, and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23) — that convinced him he had to move on. 

“Well, suddenly, there’s a whole new meaning to that and it’s hard because I’m called in colloquial language, to put my money where my mouth is,” he said.

(Western Catholic Reporter)

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