Fr. Jim Kaptein uses a cooler as a makeshift altar in the wild. Photo courtesy Fr. Jim Kaptein

Priest travels nature’s way to vocations

  • August 7, 2019

It was one of those nights a well-travelled canoeist understands — you’ve set up camp after a long day’s journey, you are lying awake and the thoughts come to you as you try to drift off to sleep.

Fr. Jim Kaptein was experiencing just such an evening when it occurred that he should combine his love of paddling across a northern lake with his role as vocations director for the Diocese of Prince Albert in central Saskatchewan.

“You can’t fall asleep, you’re kind of thinking what to do,” recalls Kaptein. “I thought, ‘Why don’t you put two and two together? Why don’t you put together a canoe trip, that you enjoy, and something to do with vocations?’ ”

So he did, as a restless night led to the idea of a canoe pilgrimage for young men in the Canadian Shield stretching across northern Saskatchewan. Here was an opportunity, he thought, to take some young men out to experience God in His wonderful creation and perhaps get them to think about what their vocation in life might be. He ran it by Prince Albert Bishop Albert Thévenot, who endorsed the idea, and that set in motion plans for the trip taking place Aug. 18-24.

Kaptein will be joined by Fr. Travis Myrheim in taking a small group of men aged 18 to their late 20s on the six-day, 80-kilometre journey beginning on McLennan Lake in the rugged northern lands of the Prairie province. The aim is to show the human side of the priesthood, said Kaptein. 

“I think the objective is to let the young people know that priests are real people,” he said.

So far, five young men have signed up for the journey. All have connections to the Catholic Church, including two former altar servers who helped Kaptein when he was in Nipawin, northeast of Prince Albert. 

One of the five has expressed an interest in entering the seminary though he’s still discerning, Kaptein said, but the idea is not necessarily to recruit the next generation of priests, though that would be a pleasant consequence. It’s more about building a stronger connection with the Church.

“It’s just an idea that the seed has been planted, maybe this might be the opportunity to water the seed that’s already planted,” said Kaptein, pastor of St. Mark’s Parish in Prince Albert who will be passing the vocation director’s job to Myrheim Aug. 12.

The plan is for Kaptein and Myrheim to take care of their priestly duties at their parishes — Myrheim is pastor at Notre Dame de al Nativité Parish in Zenon Park, Sask. — before setting out from Prince Albert on the Sunday afternoon. They’ll camp at McLennan Lake before launching in the morning for the first leg of the trip. There will be daily Mass and time for prayer each day. 

Kaptein is a veteran of 30 or more canoe trips like this one and has travelled this route on three or four previous occasions. 

But as with any outdoor adventure, Kaptein is hoping the elements are in the group’s favour. Nevertheless, whether it’s sunny or Wet and insect-laden, the journey is on.

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