Canadian Navy Chaplain Lieutenant Wilson Gonese aboard HMCS Calgary on deployment in the Pacific Ocean. (Photo: Submitted)

Navy chaplain completes doctorate aboard HMCS Calgary

From growing up on a farm in Zimbabwe to serving on a Canadian warship, a chaplain on Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Calgary feels he has made all the right choices along the way.

Navy Lieutenant Dr. Wilson Gonese (DMin) grew up on a farm in Gutu, Zimbabwe. He received a calling from God and, after high school, told his parents he wanted to be a minister.

“At first it was not accepted because ministers were not paid well. My family wanted me to go into nursing or teaching—anything more secure—but I was convinced God was calling,” said Gonese, who completed a doctorate from the University of Saskatchewan (USask) while serving overseas aboard HMCS Calgary.

For 13 years, Gonese served as a minister in the Reform Church, in several communities in Zimbabwe and Botswana. In 2007, with hopes of a better life, he and his wife and their two children took a one-way flight to Canada where he continued to work as a United Church Minister in Newfoundland in the communities of Burgeo, Springdale, and Carbonear.

“Moving to Canada from Africa was a huge transition. The cold weather, cultural shock, not knowing whether we will succeed or not,” he said. “Still, the people of Newfoundland are very friendly and welcoming so I had a very good time there.”

In 2018, Wilson had another calling, to join the Canadian Armed Forces as a Chaplain.

“I wanted to serve the country alongside serving members. I looked at the men and women in uniform and I wanted to give them the support they need, to be there for them,” he said.

In 2020, Gonese began the biggest adventure of his military career thus far; serving on HMCS Calgary providing moral and spiritual support for those on board. He is currently embarked with the ship on its deployment to the Indo-Asia Pacific and Middle East regions on Operations ARTEMIS and PROJECTION.

During this deployment, on March 9, while the ship was in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Gonese successfully defended his doctoral thesis via a Zoom teleconferencing call. It is believed to be the first time a doctoral thesis has been defended on a Canadian warship, while deployed on an operation.

Gonese’s thesis is entitled Moving from loss and lament to hope and new beginnings, and is a case study about his old community of Carbonear, and how they dealt with the closing of their church in 1990. Gonese was granted a Doctor of Ministry from St. Andrew’s College through the Saskatoon Theological Union, affiliated with USask, during a virtual convocation ceremony on May 7.

His crew members keep approaching him and lovingly call him “Doctor Padre.”

Gonese feels his journey has been a very positive one. He and his wife currently live in Victoria, while his daughter also serves in the Royal Canadian Navy on HMCS Charlottetown as a supply technician and his son is studying to become a neuroscientist in Newfoundland.

“It’s exciting. Coming to Canada and joining the military were some of the best decisions I’ve made in my life,” he said.

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