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Weisgerber: Appointment came as 'very big surprise'

WINNIPEG — Talk about excellent retirement kudos.

Winnipeg’s outgoing Archbishop James Weisgerber was appointed Officer of the Order of Canada Monday by Gov.-Gen. David Johnston.

“It was a very big surprise,” Archbishop Emeritus Weisgerber said Monday, the day after moving to his retirement home, a condo in Regina. He was one of four new Order of Canada appointments from Winnipeg announced Monday.

“It’s very humbling,” said the 75-year-old, who spent 13 years as spiritual leader for the 155,000 Roman Catholics in the Archdiocese of Winnipeg, which extends from the Red River west to the Saskatchewan border. “This is a great honour to be recognized at the end of my career.”

He was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada “for his work as a champion of reconciliation and social justice promoting deeper understanding between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people,” Monday’s announcement said.

Weisgerber said his first contact with aboriginal people was in the early 1980s when he was doing pastoral work on reserves in Saskatchewan.

“It was a great pleasure and a wonderful eye-opener — I felt so warmly received,” he said.

Fifteen years later, the residential school issue “began to explode,” Weisgerber said. “I was appalled, as were so many other people.”

He helped to organize an apology in Rome from then Pope Benedict to the aboriginal people of Canada and was later “adopted” by aboriginal people at a ceremony in Winnipeg.

At that ceremony at Winnipeg’s Thunderbird House, Phil Fontaine, former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, apologized for having indiscriminately blamed all Catholics for the treatment he received at a residential school. Both were major events for Weisgerber.

“I’m not sure which was the highlight,” he said.

His successor, Archbishop Richard Gagnon, will be installed Friday.

Weisgerber said although he’s no longer on the “front lines” of the church, he hopes to continue contributing to the community.

“I’m going to take a page from aboriginal culture and learn to be an elder,” he said.

“Their role is extremely important in many ways — they’re the wisdom and experience of a society and a community. I have 50 years of pastoral work as a priest in the Catholic church — I’m hoping to find ways to use that so I can continue to serve society.”

Other Winnipeg appointments to the Order of Canada announced Monday include:

• Winnipeg businessman and philanthropist Hartley Richardson, who was promoted to Officer of the Order of Canada “for his unwavering civic engagement, and for his contributions as a business and community leader,” Monday’s announcement said.

• Former Manitoba lieutenant-governor Yvon Dumont was appointed a member of the Order of Canada “for his commitment to advancing the rights of aboriginal and Métis people.”

• J. Derek Riley was appointed a member of the Order of Canada for his contributions to the community as a businessman, athlete and philanthropist.” Riley was a champion in and for the sport of rowing for over six decades and is a member of the Tribune Sports Hall of Fame.

He’s the grandson of the late Robert Thomas Riley, one of the founders of Great-West Life Assurance Company. The family gave $1.5 million to the Assiniboine Park Conservancy last year, and the park’s duck pond was officially named the Riley Family Duck Pond.

The Order of Canada recipients will receive their insignia at a ceremony in Ottawa in the new year.

» Winnipeg Free Press

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition December 31, 2013

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WINNIPEG — Talk about excellent retirement kudos.

Winnipeg’s outgoing Archbishop James Weisgerber was appointed Officer of the Order of Canada Monday by Gov.-Gen. David Johnston.

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WINNIPEG — Talk about excellent retirement kudos.

Winnipeg’s outgoing Archbishop James Weisgerber was appointed Officer of the Order of Canada Monday by Gov.-Gen. David Johnston.

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