Father Don Flumerfelt has retired after nine years as the priest at Our Lady of Assumption Roman Catholic Church.
“Well, 53 years of ministry sort of has taken its toll is how I would say it,” he explained when asked why he has decided to retire, adding he will be turning 70 years of age this year.
Those many years in the clergy included time as an Anglican minister before being ordained the NWT’s first married Roman Catholic priest in 2007.
In all, he has served in the NWT since 1999.
Upon deciding to retire, Flumerfelt said he and his wife, Julia Flumerfelt, began looking at the possibility of moving to Edmonton to be closer to two of their children living in Alberta.
“We have lived in the West Edmonton area twice before and it was always a good experience,” he said. “My bishop and the bishop in Edmonton said that it would be best if Julia and I established ourselves in a location and then in retirement I could connect to whatever parishes are near.”
While he will be retired, Flumerfelt said he might help out at parishes as needed.
“All priests are ordained for life,” he noted. “The question is how much do they do.”
And his service in Edmonton might also involve visiting and offering support to Northerners in the Alberta capital for medical treatment.
For example, Flumerfelt said one young man from the North was at the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton for five months, but his family was unable to visit him.
“And he was virtually alone, and I don’t like that,” said the priest.
Flumerfelt’s last services in Hay River and on the Hay River Reserve were on July 16, and he and his wife were to leave for Edmonton the next day.
The congregation at Our Lady of Assumption Church was informed in early June of his decision to retire.
Flumerfelt has also served elsewhere in the South Slave – Kakisa, K’atlodeeche, Fort Resolution and Fort Smith – as the assistant pastor for the region working with the priest in Fort Smith.
They were the only two Roman Catholic priests in the South Slave.
As of July 15, a replacement had not been named for Flumerfelt.
However, he said Bishop Mark Hagemoen of the Diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith had told the Hay River parish in June that a replacement would be named by the end of August.
Hagemoen was to be in Hay River for the final services of Flumerfelt.
The departing priest has good things to say about Hay River.
“This is one of the best communities we’ve been in, really,” he said. “It’s full of life. It’s got lots of activity. It’s full of talented people. The church has been really very delightful. I’ve had many, many good experiences here.”
And Flumerfelt said he and his wife were accepted by the community when they first arrived as a married couple.
“For the most part here in Hay River there was no problem at all,” he said. “We were well received.”
Julia Flumerfelt noted that many elderly priests “keep on trucking” past the ages when they might retire.
“But they don’t have kids that they haven’t seen for 15 years or 17 years on a frequent basis,” she said.
“It’s definitely time to leave,” she added. “I’m feeling the separation from my grandchildren and the two kids that live in Alberta more each year because I know that we’re all living on borrowed time. I mean we’re closer to the end than to the beginning.”
The Flumerfelts have two grandchildren.
They also have a son who is living in Australia.
Julia Flumerfelt noted there was a constant flow of people seeking help in Hay River.
“I say I’m going to enjoy the peace and quiet, but it’s probably going to be really weird not to have anybody knocking at the door and the phone not ringing constantly,” she said.
Despite that busy role of serving the community, Julia Flumerfelt said Hay River has definitely been the most pleasant community she and her husband have lived in during his many years in the clergy.