Like May, October is a month of special dedication to Mary and therefore also to mothers. Three of our daughters were born in October, and though not born then the due date for our eldest could have placed her there too. The youngest of these October-babies was named after my grandmother – and born the day after Gramma died. While not unexpected, her death was felt deeply by many. Though Gramma was not herself part of their social circles, friends of my parents and in-laws of our relatives honoured her and our family with their presence at the funeral. Her young great-granddaughter, less than a week old, flew with my wife back home to be there. And I drove the eight highway hours with our other six daughters.
As a group, mothers exemplify the best of those supportive qualities, especially their own children. While fathers certainly love our children too, it has been said that in some ways we learn how to father by watching our wives mother. The Second Vatican Council said the family is “a school of deeper humanity.” To be in Gramma’s presence was to learn, and being deprived of that presence (even if we know that death changes life, does not end it) fifteen years later is still a loss.
Thinking of Gramma brings memories of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We call these Fruits of the Spirit, the result of living a life of virtue. They came from how she lived her life, but like real fruit they were enjoyed more by those around her than by the one who produced them.
Our eldest daughter commented that she wished the lesson of appreciating others better was not learned after their death. It doesn’t need to be so but we often let it be. May reminds us to appreciate what is perhaps the first of our human relationships, with our mothers. We can thank these women explicitly with words and gestures, as well as implicitly in how we generously live our lives.
The Diocese of Calgary invites you to celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima on Thursday, May 13, 2021 with your community. The message of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Fatima pleaded with an urgent call to conversion of heart, penance and repentance. Please consider joining these events:
Four of our five children attended and graduated from our Catholic schools in Brooks. What a gift and blessing this was for Aggie and me, as we witnessed our children grow in their faith, not only at home but away from home. It was not an easy decision to move our children from a public school system where they were well treated, well educated and highly involved within their respective classes. We recognized though, that something was missing within the secular school system they attended, something we so desired them to have; a faith based Catholic education.
This deep desire for Catholic Education for our children was finally attained in 1996, and the journey of watching them grow and graduate in a Catholic education system was realized! Their experiences in Catholic education were so important in the career decisions and direction each of them were to make, following graduation from St. Joseph’s Collegiate High School in Brooks.
“You must be Olivia. We’ve been waiting for you!” These words stand out as the first time in my life I had felt genuinely welcomed. I was a cradle Catholic, but I was hesitant about faith. I’d accepted a position at a Catholic school under the guise that I’d gone to a Catholic school, so I could surely teach at one. I didn’t even really want to be a teacher – my practicum experiences had left a sour taste in my mouth (seemed apropos, given the general trajectory of my life – disappointment after disappointment after disappointment.)
Imagine my surprise when, after a totally-unexpected job offer, I walked into St. Joseph’s Collegiate in Brooks, Alberta, ready for more disappointment, only to be welcomed with the most genuine of greetings: “We’ve been waiting for you!”
Waiting? Waiting for me? For me? What for? I was a disappointment. Never good enough. Never accomplished enough. I’d always been convinced that the only thing those around me saw was my failure. I worked so, so hard to combat these beliefs, but my strength wasn’t enough. The harder I worked to prove myself, the stronger the lies about my identity piled up. I believed that I would never amount to anything worthy of love.
Those lies brought me to the brink on a regular basis. I was fractured. Cracked. Even so, the light got in. Before the Holy Spirit nudged me not-so-gently from Nova Scotia to Brooks, chance meetings with those who knew Jesus punctuated my life: Sarah, a classmate in a first-year English class at university, whose quiet faith both intrigued and unsettled me.
She’d invite me to faith activities on campus, but that just “wasn’t my style.” Claudette and Theresa, two religious sisters who frequented the gym at which I was employed. They were so, so kind, and I always felt that they saw the real me – the me that even I was incapable of fully accepting. But I never followed where I now know they were praying for my heart to be led: to Jesus.
God brought me to Brooks. Slowly but surely, He’s been delivering me from the weight of the lies I’d carried around my entire life. Over the course of the last decade and a half, He’s shown me what love looks like, and He’s revealed that love in a myriad of ways.
Don’t get me wrong. I still struggle, but now I see the lies that I believed for so long for what they are. The sure knowledge that they are lies and that God is healing me makes the weight of suffering manageable. Jesus says “my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” – this is the absolute truth.
It was with arms wide open that I was invited into my new place of employment, my new city, my new life. It was with arms wide open that I was invited to experience the miraculous healing of a loving Saviour. I’ve been a teacher with Christ The Redeemer Catholic Schools in Brooks for 14 years, and even though I have a myriad of stories that reveal the amazing opportunities Catholic education has afforded me, it’s that greeting the moment I first stepped into St. Joseph’s Collegiate – a greeting that so very much juxtaposed with the life I’d lived up until that point – that will forever be my first and most fundamental memory of Catholic Education in Brooks. It’s a love that I know intimately now, and a love that allows me to welcome others - with open arms, naturally.
In times we couldn’t imagine, even just a year ago, we have found many different ways to rely on and share our faith. Working in a Catholic school division has provided me with many opportunities to pray and grow with my fellow staff and students. This year has been no exception. At a time when physically being together is not acceptable, we have found ways to still gather in our faith. In Fort McMurray Catholic Schools, this has taken on many new forms.
School liturgies have always been an integral part of who we are as a Catholic school. At Father Mercredi High School, liturgies are predominantly led by a student liturgy team. We wondered what this would look like this year. How would we keep this very important part of our prayer life alive?
We have found ways to celebrate together, from our individual classrooms. We have hosted several school-wide liturgies using Google meet. I, along with my student liturgy team, have continued to lead the school in prayer, each from our own classroom. Students now know how to speak to a computer screen, and yet when we listen, we can hear the collective prayers through the hallways as all students join in response.
As a Division, we also felt it was more important than ever this year to share faith with our families. In the past, families would be invited into the schools for our liturgies, so this year we needed a new plan. During the initial public health restrictions last March, we started Thankful Thursday Liturgies, where I would go live on the Fort McMurray Catholic Schools’ Facebook account from the Chapel at our school. The liturgies were well received and we felt this was an excellent way to continue the engagement of our community and families this year.
This year has also brought me many opportunities to learn from other members of our staff, as we continue to look for new ways to engage the students in their faith from afar. When we went back to off-site learning at the end of November, just as Advent was beginning, it was important that we find ways to not only observe the importance of the Advent season, but to have students reflect on the meaning of the season. This prompted a series of short videos made in my home, with the help of my 9 year old daughter. These videos included the lighting of our family Advent wreath and a series of images depicting the theme of the week with an explanation of what each week symbolized in our Advent journey. Teachers shared these videos in their google classrooms, along with a google form asking all staff and students to respond to the weekly theme. Responses were compiled into a weekly image, which was shared on our social media, prompting more conversation and discussion within our community.
Personally, I have learned over the last number of months, that while we may not be able to gather in large school groups, or even be in the building together; our faith, which is such an important part of who we are as a Catholic School Community, has continued to grow and blossom.
During May, the Church asks us to grow closer to Our Blessed Mother. St. Josemaria said, “If you want to be faithful, be very Marian.” Here are five ways we can become ‘very Marian.’
Let us earnestly love Our Lady!
Servus Mariae nunquam peribit. The servant of Mary shall never perish.
Marie Madeleine D’Houet. Do you know the name? Do you know the woman? There is a Calgary Catholic School named for her. She has been declared “Venerable” by the Church and her process for canonization awaits a miracle. Who is she and what’s her connection to Calgary?
Marie Madeleine d’Houet is the Foundress of the Sisters, Faithful Companions of Jesus. She began her new religious congregation in 1820 (so last year was the FCJ Sisters’ Bicentennial). The new congregation opened its first convent in Amiens, France. The Jesuits inspired Marie Madeleine--she loved their spirit of self-renunciation in order to love God with a whole heart and she was inspired by their passion for mission. She would often pray, “ O God, give your Church women Jesuits!”
In the years after the French Revolution, France needed a lot of help to rebuild the country, particularly in educating poor children and girls of all social classes. So, Marie Madeleine started schools. Typically, she founded a boarding school for the daughters of wealthy parents and then used some of the school fees to open a day school for poor children. Many women caught her spirit and joined the new community. Soon, she had established convents and schools in many town and cities in France, England, Ireland, Italy, Switzerland and Belgium.
By the time of her death in 1858, the congregation had received Papal approval. If you’d like to read more about her life, you can visit the FCJ Sisters website or stop by the FCJ Centre behind the Cathedral and borrow a copy of her short biography. Sr. Madeleine Gregg wrote picture books to teach children and youth about Marie Madeleine’s life, published in 2020, that are available for sale at the FCJ Centre.
In 1882 Bishop Vital Grandin, OMI wrote to Mother Josephine Petit, Superior General of the Sisters. “I hope, Reverend Mother, that you will be willing to come to our aid by accepting a foundation in my poor diocese…” Mother Josephine Petit answered that plea, “Monseigneur, you ask for Sisters for your schools and your diocese in urgent need. The journey will be long, difficult, costly, and even dangerous…Your poverty does not permit you to pay our traveling expenses. You ask for sacrifices. Well, we will do it for God.”
The first Sisters left Liverpool, England on May 10, 1883. Four went to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan and four went 40 miles further, to St. Laurent. With the Riel Rebellion and active shooting, Bishop Grandin sent the Sisters to Calgary, where they arrived on July 26, 1885. The Oblate priests handed over their house to the sisters, who opened St. Mary’s School five weeks later. Details about the journey to Canada and harrowing accounts of the early days in Saskatchewan can be found here.
One of these Sisters, Mother Mary Greene, was an extraordinary woman who seemed to take the work of establishing new schools and convents in stride. (There is a Calgary Catholic School named for her, too.) She was the first principal of St. Mary’s School and it was through her hard work and shrew negotiation that the Calgary Catholic schools were given equal funding with the non-Catholic schools… that both were funded as public schools.
They say that when Bishop Carroll visited rural areas within our Diocese, he kept encountering families with strong Catholic faith, devotions, and traditional practices, even through many of them were able to attend Mass only rarely. When he asked about how they were managing to keep the faith, the mothers often responded, “We are Mother Mary Greene Catholics!” They had attended St. Mary’s in Calgary as boarding students and their solid faith formation allowed them to carry on, even in the absence of the sacraments!
The first convent, created from the Oblate Father’s house, was soon too small. In 1892, the sandstone Sacred Heart Convent was built. The main floor has been preserved as “heritage rooms” with very interesting features to admire. In 1922, two large wings were added to the convent/boarding school: a large Chapel and the even larger 4-story addition. This beautiful sandstone building, situation between the Cathedral and the Elbow River, is now a retreat center.
An Evening with Mary
After my second pilgrimage to Lourdes, France in 2013, I felt a stronger call for a devotion to the Blessed Mother. This was how "An Evening with Mary" ministry started. I wanted to serve the Blessed Mother by helping the community foster a beautiful devotion to Mary, to bring the gifts of our prayers as a bouquet of flowers for her.
Though the route of Our Lady is always on the tough side, her strong intercession for us all has brought many persons to Her. Through the blessed Lourdes pilgrimage, I met a group of friends who were also excited to devote themselves to the Blessed Mother.
At the beginning of our ministry, there were many crosses, sufferings, rejections, and stress, but our hearts were on fire to start the devotion. With the initial help from Mr. Gerson, and spiritual guidance of Fr. Gerard Hatton, we celebrated our first home-based devotion on Feb. 11, 2017. The statue of Our Lady was also blest on this day by Rev. Father Antoni Paul for the devotion to the Immaculate Conception, Lourdes and Health of the Sick (Vailankanni). With this devotional ministry, we hope that all pilgrims may experience the mantle love of Our Lady, allowing us to celebrate the blessing of Lourdes here in the Diocese.
For over a year, the world has been living in very tough times. Times are filled with confusion, fear and uncertainty. We felt that the devil enjoys creating division, destruction and hatred among the people of God. With this in our mind, Jude Ghia from our ministry, was drawn to start a group and pray the Rosary in Latin, the official language of the universal Church. Our Lady talk about the importance in reciting the Rosary, and many Saints demonstrated their love for the Latin language and prayed in this sacred language throughout the ages.
Currently due to the pandemic restrictions the recitation of the Rosary in Latin is hosted online (Zoom) every Saturday at 7 am. It’s been close to 6 months since we started the Latin rosary. Many Catholics join us from across the world to pray as one children of God. During the rosary, we pray for our individual intentions along with world peace, the intensions of the Holy Father Pope Francis, the health of Pope Emeritus Benedict the XVI, the conversion of sinners, the souls in purgatory, for our Bishops, priests, deacons and all people dedicated to religious life and for church unity.
In these past 4 years, many who have prayed as a child of Mary through our ministry have found favours answered through the Blessed Mother's intercession, including for conversions of hearts. When topics about Our Lady is shared, peace is felt in many of us as she brings peace from her Son us all. The enrolment of The Brown Scapular of Our Lady also has led many to true conversion from this devotion. We learned more about Mary and Our Lord in our ministry. We grow, we change and we are led towards our Lord when we pray as children of one Mother, regardless how sinful we are. She loves us all unconditionally and direct our journey towards her Son always.
With conclusion, through Mary, our journey becomes sanctified as we entrust ourselves in her loving care. All to Jesus through Mary (Ad Iesu, per Mariam).
Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, pray for us. Amen.
Christina and her husband Japp farm near Bow Island. When I asked how Christina wanted to be described she said, “I’m a farm wife and mom just trying to get through!” and we laughed. She and I had just caught up for nearly half-an-hour as we talked about raising kids, farming, husbands, and yes, Mary and our Catholic faith. Anyone who knows Christina knows she tells it like it is. It was a fantastic, refreshing conversation.
As we were talking I learned that though she is a cradle Catholic, Christina grew up attending a Protestant youth group, and instead of causing her faith to waver, she said, it actually did the opposite, especially in regards to Our Lady. “That’s why I’m confident that we can go to her and pray with her.”
“If Jesus is the son of God,” she said, “then who is this person who God chose to be His mother? If she’s special enough for God, then she’s special enough for me.”
With a firm foundation of Our Lady’s importance, Christina said she, like so many of us has had “no ‘aha Mary’ moment.”
“She had one perfect kid and a saint for a husband,” she exclaimed at one point in our chat and I laughed in agreement because I have often felt exactly the same way. It’s true that sometimes we have to dig a little deeper to look for similarities between ourselves and Mary.
“We’re so ordinary and boring,” she said, “I love Mary; I need Mary; we named our oldest child Mary after her, but we just do normal Catholic stuff.”
By normal, Christina meant that they ask Mary’s intercession and pray the Rosary as a family.
A regular family rosary has long been an ambition of mine, but I’ll admit that we haven’t made it happen, which is why I admire that Christina and Japp did it this past Lent, which also coincided with the time that the farm holds a few less demands, and therefore allows Japp to be there for dinner and bedtime.
Christina said, “when it’s just me by myself with five kids, we manage a decade of the Rosary and sometimes it’s pretty ugly, but I just trust that Mary is happy that the children are there and that she knows that it is just life with little kids.”
“With the way the world is lately,” said Christina, we have felt called to be praying more and to make a point to do it with the kids, and to have the kids see us praying as well.”
May crowning of Mary are a beautiful way to honor Our Lady this month, and Christina said that they’d thought of doing that this year since her daughter Mary will be celebrating her First Communion a little differently than would normally happen.
As I prepare one of my own sons for the sacraments, I’m intrigued by this idea too.
When I first met Pat, it was as a parishioner of St. Bernard’s parish where her son Fr. Nathan had recently moved. After Mass one Sunday while visiting our parish, Pat and her husband Brian who had sat behind us with our wiggly bunch of four little boys, paused to talk to us and let us know that our Mass experience had been a flashback to theirs not-too-many years before. I have been grateful for that conversation ever since and have often thought of it as I have dealt with normal little boy behaviour time and again.
Raising a bunch of boys is a task unto itself, but raising them in the Catholic faith is a thing Pat knows about very well. It wasn’t always the case though, she said, recounting a wake-up-call she experienced when preparing her oldest for First Communion. “It was like being hit over the head with a 2x4,” she said, “I realized he didn’t know anything.”
Though raised in a thoroughly Catholic home, Pat said that her years in university “weakened my faith. I never stopped believing or attending Mass, but I will admit that I became a Sunday Catholic.”
Teaching her sons would bring Pat deeper into the fold of the faith, with Our Lady playing a key role.
In 1991 Pat went on pilgrimage to well-known apparition site Medjugorje,
“That made a huge difference in my life,” she said, “Mary played a huge role in guiding me and leading me back to her Son.”
Pat started praying the Rosary again and talking to her sons about Jesus and Mary and the Church. It took her two weeks to fully unpack all that had happened in Medjugorje to awaken her faith to Brian, and “he was fascinated,” she said. “My experience changed his life.”
I first met Sarah when we travelled to World Youth Day in Toronto in 2002 as part of an over 80 person group. My now-husband made the same trip, and it was he who suggested I give Sarah a call.
The Stamp family resides in Vauxhall, Alberta and their story is a beautiful one. They have six children and “one in heaven,” Sarah said.
Mary Josephine is the name of the baby that Sarah and her husband Greg said goodbye to 9 years ago this October when she passed away at 20 weeks gestation.
“I’d like to say that the praying the rosary was comforting,” she said, “but really, at the time it felt like just going through the motions.
But, I think going through the motions brings us hope; we live the hope by just saying the words.”
I was awestruck by how much wisdom Sarah has as a result of her family’s loss, and by the ardent conviction that Our Lady was there all along.
“She picks you up and keeps pushing you toward her son,” Sarah said. “I think she helps you to trust Jesus more.”
Later, Sarah found an icon of Our Lady of Sorrows that touched her heart enough to hang it on her wall. “She has this little tear on her face. It is just so beautiful to me – that she cries with us, and that she feels our pain.
She has always been my mother, but somehow this icon makes her real.
“I know that without tears of sorrow, we wouldn’t be able to love as God calls us to love, and in my time of sorrow, she was right there with me.”
With incredible strength, Sarah and her family carry on, but with new hope.
“When I experienced the pain that I hope no one experiences,” she said, “I got to know what it meant to love Jesus. He was so close. There was a point where I couldn’t even stand, and I needed to lean on people, but also, the more I leaned on Mary, the closer I came to Jesus.”
“I also think sometimes “Mary gets to hold my baby,” and through all of this, I have realized that heaven is a lot closer than I thought.”
I could have talked to Sarah for another hour or more, but as our little ones started to need us, one of the last things she said about Our Lady really struck me: “Part of Mary’s power is in loss; when mothers have lost so much there are no words in our hearts, it is a broken heart that you’ve never felt before, and that can really crush you.
“But I ask myself, if this hadn’t happened to us, would I have been that connected with Mary?”
These are words that I myself will contemplate for years to come. All of us have some suffering and grief, and though it’s hard sometimes to see that the Queen of Heaven understands there are sometimes powerful reminders, like Sarah’s story that she truly does.
“I love that God gave us an example to follow – he gave us a mother, and did not leave us alone.”
To grow up with the name Mary puts a lot of pressure on a Catholic girl. Emulating Our Lady is hard even for those of us who don’t share her name, but who can blame Catholic parents the world over?
Mary Ma has lived 22 years with the name, and recently came to have a deeper relationship with her namesake, the Blessed Virgin.
“I haven’t always had a robust relationship with Mary,” she said, admitting that “I found her unapproachable and I became discouraged because she was sinless and I knew I could never be like her.”
But it was in 2019 while meditating on the Annunciation as part of a Catholic Christian Outreach faith study that changed things. “One of the topics was Our Lady’s docility to the Holy Spirit at the Annunciation and that study made me see her as a person.”
“When I was a child, I prayed the rosary with my family and no one would think that I didn’t have a strong relationship with Mary.”
On Ash Wednesday this year, Mary completed the Consecration to Mary guided by Fr. Michael Gaitley in his book 33 Days to Morning Glory.
"Marian consecration basically means giving Mary our full permission (or as much permission as we can) to complete her motherly task in us, which is to form us into other Christs." Gaitley says in the book.
On Ash Wednesday Mary said she “levelled with (the Blessed Mother), saying I know I haven’t been a good daughter, and I have been distant, but I am going to try to love you personally.”
Certainly now, Mary has solidified her faith in the Blessed Mother by joining a branch of the Legion of Mary as part of the St. Francis Xavier Catholic Community. Nine or ten members meet weekly to pray the rosary and keep one another accountable in their journeys to serve Christ.
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers