Photo by Photo Submitted
Photo by Photo Submitted
Saturday’s sudden deaths of Bishop Thomas Lobsinger and Brother Hoby Spruyt have shocked the Whitehorse Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church.
News of the tragic, early-afternoon crash of Lobsinger’s Cessna 172 on Fox Lake began spreading through the community by mid-afternoon Saturday.
By Sunday morning, members of the diocese were engulfed by sadness and grief.
Parishioners at Our Lady of Victory filled the Porter Creek church to overflowing. They stretched the service to twice its normal length as mourners recalled their friendships with the two members of the Oblate of Mary Immaculate.
“People just stood and shared their own stories, their own memories,” Rev. Niall Sheridan said in an interview this morning.
Sacred Heart Cathedral in downtown Whitehorse was also crowded as parishioners there were in what Sister Margaret Coyle described as “silent shock.”
“People just needed to be together and to let each other know that we are together in this because the bishop’s death is affecting everybody,” Coyle said.
Lobsinger, 72, and Spruyt, 55, were on their way to Dawson City to say mass at St. Mary’s in the absence of parish priest Tim Coonen, who is away on business.
The plane piloted by Lobsinger, a veteran pilot with many years’ experience flying in the North, is reported to have crashed at approximately 1:45. Funeral arrangements have not been finalized.
In Dawson, the quietness of the Sunday service reflected the shock felt in that community over the loss of the two Oblate brothers.
“Everybody was extremely saddened,” parish member Barry Kidd said in an interview this afternoon from Dawson. “I think the whole parish was quite shocked because the bishop would come up quite often and he was well-liked.
“He was a real people priest; even though he was the bishop, he was still a priest first,” Kidd said. “Everybody liked him, the kids liked him. It was really difficult for everybody in the parish to handle the news.”
Anglican Bishop Terry Buckle released a statement this morning conveying his sorrow for what he described as two “brothers in Christianity.”
“On behalf of the Anglican Diocese of the Yukon, I would like to say we are very saddened about the sudden and tragic death of Bishop Lobsinger and Brother Hoby,” Buckle said in a brief interview.
“The Diocese of the Yukon will miss two wonderful people who were to us friends and brothers in Christianity. Our sympathy and our prayers are with the family, friends and church family of Bishop Lobsinger and Brother Hoby.”
Lobsinger was ordained in 1987 by Pope John Paul II as the fourth Bishop of Whitehorse for the Whitehorse Diocese, which stretches from just south of Fort Nelson, B.C., north through the entire Yukon.
The bishop was born in Brampton, Ont. on Nov. 17, 1927. He took his first vows in August 1947, and was ordained as a priest in August 1954, as a member of the Oblate of Mary Immaculate. He later became the order’s “Provincial Superior” in Western Canada.
Spruyt was born on April 18, 1944, and made is his first vows with the order on March 19, 1965. Spruyt served as the financial administrator for the Whitehorse diocese.
Both Lobsinger and Spruyt are survived by several relatives.
Rev. Sheridan described Lobsinger and Spruyt as long-time Oblate brothers who were not only members of the same order but extremely good friends who had worked with each other for many years in and outside the Yukon.
It was Lobsinger and Spruyt “who you’d find in the kitchen, up to their elbows in suds washing dishes after the party or celebration was over,” Sheridan recalled this morning.
“They were unequivocally best friends.”
It was almost as though Lobsinger and Spruyt were cut from the same cloth, as Sheridan explained how they were both academically bright.
But they were anything but academics. Lobsinger and Spruyt were the type to do their own cooking and cleaning, to look after their own vehicles, cut their own hair, chop their firewood – things like that.
But what Sheridan recalls the most of their characters was their belief in and support for their fellow human beings.
“They just didn’t talk the talk about Christianity, they walked the walk,” he said. Sheridan’s admiration for both men was poignantly evident as he spoke of the two. Seldom in his years, he said, has he been wiped out by emotion.
But he is today.
“I’m so sad,” he said, pausing momentarily to remove his glasses and wipe away tears.
It was with some levity he rebounded to capture the essence of the Lobsinger and Spruyt spirit.
“The bishop used to say nobody in their right mind would want this job,” Sheridan recalled with a smile. “It is a very hard job. You are trying to stand in the place of Jesus Christ for the people of this place and that is not easy. You are only human beings, after all.”
Brother Hoby, as he was known, never sought to be ordained as a priest because he didn’t feel he could be a father to somebody in the paternal role, Sheridan said.
“But he could be a brother to them and walk beside them.”
And that is what the two Oblates did best: walk among their parishioners with true love for all, and the willingness to care for each and every one, no matter who they were, he said.
City councillor Bernie Phillips knew Lobsinger well, as the bishop was his uncle through marriage. Like Sheridan, he remembers the bishop as a “beautiful guy,” a “special guy.”
Phillips, Sheridan and a Porter Creek parishioner drove to the crash site Sunday afternoon to say a prayer, and to tip a glass with their friends and uncle.
Many times, Phillips said this morning, he and his uncle would get together, share a drink and eat a jar of peanuts or what have you.
“Most of all, he epitomized love to me,” he said. “He just never, ever had a cruel word to say about anybody. It was just love and forgiveness.”
In such a difficult world, his uncle always shone through as somebody who was kind and open-hearted, Phillips said.
“I liked to go over and hang out with him, have a drink, eat, talk....
“I am really going to miss him, I am.”
Chuck Tobin, Star Reporter
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