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, Ont., on Sept. 22 after a short battle with cancer.
Black was a parish priest in N.W.T.’s 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.
‘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.
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.”
I called him my little hippie… He just smiled.– Brenda McAuley
Black did raise some eyebrows with 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 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.”
Black’s trademark beard drew comparisons to the band ZZ Top. He dressed in black but often without a white collar, which caused confusion. At different times he was was mistaken for a gardener, a biker and a hippie.
“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 7 p.m. on Oct. 1, at the Assumption Catholic Church in Hay River.
Fr Bernie 1938 2018
Fr. Bernie Black, Rev. Patrick Bernard “Fr. Bernie”:
Passed away peacefully at St. Mary’s Hospital, Kitchener, on Saturday, September 22nd, 2018 at the age of 80. Bernie was born on May 16, 1938 to John and Julia Black. He is survived by his sister Mary Black, sister-in-law Lorraine Cook, nephews and niece Richard and Andrea Black, Michelle and Michael Coffey and Jeffrey and Jolien Cook, and grand nieces and nephews Katelyn and William Black and Shae and Reese Coffey. Predeceased by his parents and his brothers Angus and Michael. Bernie was ordained to the priesthood in Hamilton on May 28, 1966. His first mass was held at St. John’s Church, Glenelg Twp. Grey County, ON. He served in the Diocese of Hamilton, Calgary, and Mackenzie-Fort Smith, Northwest Territories.
Fr. Bernie’s family will receive relatives and friends from 4 p.m. – 7 p.m. on Thursday, September 27th, 2018 at the Henry Walser Funeral Home, 507 Frederick Street, Kitchener, 519-749-8467. Prayers at the funeral home at 6:00 p.m. A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at St. John’s Church, Glenelg, Twp. Grey County, ON on Friday, September 28, 2018 at 11:00 a.m. with a burial at St. John’s Cemetery, Glenelg, Twp.