A screenshot of Black from one of his Youtube sermons. (Youtube) Tributes are pouring in for the late Father Bernie Black who not only baptized, married and buried people on both sides of Great Slave Lake, but posted sermons on YouTube, sported a Gandalf-like beard and respected people for who they were, not where they worshipped.
Black, 80, died in Kitchener, Ontario, on Sept. 22 after a short battle with cancer.
Black was a parish priest in Hay River, Fort Smith, Fort Simpson and Behchoko between 2001 and 2014, and he made regular visits to smaller communities in the Dehcho and South Slave.
From 2014 to 2016, Black was the chaplain at Stanton Territorial Hospital in Yellowknife. He retired to Ontario two years ago to be near family. Bernie Black died on Sept. 22 after a short battle with cancer. (Submitted) ‘He was ready’
Sister Maggie Beaudette worked closely with Black in Hay River. She spoke with him by phone days before his death.
"We prayed together because I knew he was dying, and he knew he was dying," Beaudette said. "He was ready."
Black is remembered as an intensely spiritual man who comforted people in distress, day or night, in person or by phone. He trained lay people to work with him on funerals, baptisms, marriages and prayer teams.
Black worked closely with Indigenous communities and offered mass at St. Anne’s Church in K’atl’odechee First Nation.
"What I liked about him was his generosity to the Dene people," said Peter Tambour, who did yard work for Black. Unorthodox practices
Catholics and non-catholics say Black transcended denominational boundaries by working closely with Baptist, Anglican and Pentecostal leaders.
"No matter your religion, race, orientation, or your social status, Father Bernie showed compassion and wisdom to anyone who came to him," said Kevin Wallington, a Hay River resident. "That’s his legacy in Hay River and the North."
Black did raise some eyebrows with his a few of his unorthodox practices.
"If asked, he would go into a home of people who were not religious… when they encountered something supernatural and did not know what to do, they called him and him and he and his team would anoint the house or pray over it," said Wallington.
"It would be a disservice not to acknowledge he was a bit of a renegade." Mistaken identity
Black’s trademark beard drew comparisons to the band ZZ Top. He dressed in black but often without a white colour which caused confusion. At different times he was was mistaken for a gardener, a biker and a hippie. Brenda McAuley mistook Black for a hippie the first time she met him. (Kirsten Murphy/CBC) "I did not know he was a priest the first time I met him," said Brenda McAuley who first laid eyes on Black when she was pumping gas more than a decade ago. "I called him my little hippie and kept calling him that. He was okay with it. He just smiled."
Although not a regular church-goer, McAuley looked forward to Black’s sermons."He was interesting. He made you want to listen," McAuley said.A memorial mass and celebration of life for Black will take place at 1 p.m. on Oct. 1, at the Assumption Catholic Church in Hay River.
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