Fr. Tim Boyle’s visit with Fatima

Night road

God has given our church enough ministerial vocations. Many of them have been given to women. Fatima Lee received one of those calls. Born in Hong Kong supported by a mother who believed in education, Fatima’s call to serve God was shaped when as a young women she left Hong Kong to study theology at Louvain in Belgium.

Her vocation to serve the church was put on hold when she married Bernard and together they raised their two sons, eventually settling in Toronto. In the course of time she found her way back into ministry and served the People of God in a parish for many years. The sudden death of her husband eight years ago resurrected her original vocation to be a missionary. When the Archdiocese of Toronto invited local priests to serve in the north, Fatima asked Bishop Kasun if they would sponsor a layperson.

Six years ago she began a new chapter in the Diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith. She serves as the Diocesan Religious Education Coordinator, creating and offering sacramental preparation programs for catechists, working with lay leaders and on various projects for the Bishop.

But her true heart’s work is as the spiritual leader of Village of Gameti where she shares reflections on scripture and leads their Sunday communion service whenever she can.

When I first visited the village with her, I thought of the winter north as something similar to their picturesque winter castle festival. The ice road is seen from the air as a straightforward, simple, smooth drive. But accompanying Fatima this year, I have begun to see that ministering in the north is a mix of breathtaking beauty and heartbreaking challenges.

Fatima outside Gameti standing in front of car and sign.

On Wednesday of Holy Week, we drove the 300 km six-hour winter ice road to Gameti. Driving the winter ice road captures ministry in the north better than any other experience. We went through sections of forest surrounded by skeletons of trees destroyed by the fires.

Across vast frozen lakes where you could look down at a meter of the bluest ice fractured by fissures reflecting the sunlight at all angles.

​ Later using her hand drawn map of Mageti, Fatima explained the many different family ties and connections and I caught a glimpse of their closeness as well as similar fissures and fractures running through the four generations who have settled there. Her love of these people and her desire to serve them has inspired her many trips to St. Paul’s church over these years.

We like to think of ourselves as Easter people, but the people of the North, in many ways, have bonded more with Good Friday. Last year, we celebrated Cory Junior’s baptism. This year, Chantal introduced us to the newest member of the family. Cai is only a month old, but he’s already been on the winter ice road returning after his birth in Yellowknife. There will be health challenges in Cai’s future, but for now, he is simply being loved. And Fatima will be there to support this family as they work through those challenges.

Fatima walking to church

On Good Friday we learned that the winter road was closed to day time travel. That kind of setback is a familar event to this ministerial pioneer. Fatima has had to deal with having many of her hopes for growth closed for different reasons. On Easter Sunday, it snowed all afternoon, and the wind shaped new drifts in the yard outside the trailer. Thankfully the snow ended around 9 pm, and a guardian angel had left tracks for us to follow.

Gone was the beautiful clear ice.. the open skies. The lakes and the forest we travelled through were now snow-covered, and the night was silent.

​Gazing out into the landscape lit only by our headlights, Fatima remarked that having faith and ministering in the north was like driving the winter road at night. You can only see what the headlights show you. Only by trusting and moving forward will you discover that God has prepared a path for you.

Written by Fr. Tim Boyle for Faithfully. Fr. Tim is the Vicar for Clergy for the Diocese of Calrgary, and he also serves as the Bishop’s Delegate.