It is June and the time of year when our young people complete their studies and gather for the celebration of their graduation. But this year is different. The COVID-19 Coronavirus restrictions have curtailed the in-person gatherings and reshaped them into “virtual graduations.” This is new for all of us but it should not diminish in any way the joy we feel at seeing young people succeed whether it be the milestone of a graduation from kindergarten or the graduation from Grade 8, Grade 12, College or University.
I add my voice to the good wishes and encouragement which our graduates of 2020 are receiving. You are a graduating class with unique stories to tell and we anticipate the wisdom of your insights and leadership in the future. The following are for your reflection as you celebrate the completion of studies and look toward the next steps – be it further studies, a career, a religious vocation or some time to chart your future path in life.
The impact of a Catholic education was recently highlighted by Dr. Anthony Fauci, MD who has had a critical role in the pandemic leadership for the United States. Dr. Fauci graduated from Regis High School and in his own words he stated the “tenets of the Jesuit tradition sustained him throughout his life and career.” The imprint of a Catholic Education shapes the character of a person in striving to live a life of goodness but also in assuming roles of responsibility in promoting the common good in both ordinary and extraordinary forms of service.
As graduates of 2020 it seems to me that you are being offered three important lessons during this pandemic.
In a recent video message to young people commemorating the 100th anniversary of St. John Paul II's birth, Pope Francis spoke about the challenges and obstacles faced by St. John Paul II as a young man and how his deep faith enabled him to overcome them. Pope Francis expressed the hope that the life and faith of St. John Paull II would “inspire within you the desire to walk courageously with Jesus, who is “the Lord of risk, he is the Lord of the eternal ‘more.’" (Pope Francis, May 18, 2020)
Graduates of 2020, persevere in prayer, follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit and know that the Lord who calls you to embrace His Love will accomplish good works in and through you. Seek the “eternal more” as you celebrate your graduation in 2020.
I am weak. I can’t do life on my own. I am in need of a Saviour. This is what the Covid-19 pandemic has taught me.
My eyes welled up with tears as I knelt to pray after receiving the Eucharistic Jesus for the first time since public celebration of Holy Mass was suspended in the Diocese of Calgary. Staring transfixed at the crucifix, I prayed: Jesus, I need you. I’m helpless without you. I surrender.
This is not how my Covid-19 experience began.
Energy and even some excitement characterized the initial weeks of cancellations. To keep calm, I adopted a laid back attitude, got outside for walks and practised gratitude. My husband Ben and I head up a domestic church with five children ranging from 8 months to nine years old. I loved trading in my hectic chauffeur duties, for a simpler, slower lifestyle at home together. I experienced what it’s like to truly be the primary educator of my children and to boot, there were countless free resources and professionals offering virtual help.
I appreciated the empathy and compassion that society showed with the ‘we will get through this together’ mentality. I actually believed, at least on the surface, that: ‘I’ve got this.’ I experienced a vision for our domestic church that I had never dared to dream before.
But then, panic set in. What is going to happen once things open up again? Will it all seem like a dream? I noticed myself getting agitated, anxious and angry. I started to lose my peace because there were many aspects of this new life I wanted to retain, but I feared it might not be possible.
Being confined to household isolation 24/7 for months felt like a monastic existence. I could not run, nor could I hide from my own weaknesses that were barriers to fully loving my family as myself. I finally had to confront them and it was like a lightning bolt struck my heart waking me from my slumber.
I knew I was made for more. My unease felt so contrary to the holy woman I was striving to become. So I prayed for humility and courage to vulnerably peel off my camouflage. I desired to see myself the way God sees me. And through His grace, I discerned a call to a new radical self-acceptance; to become even more myself because God has even bigger plans for my life!
What I discovered through prayer and conversation is that while I possess many creative talents, I score lower in the practical skills to keep a home running smoothly. I had been holding myself to a very high standard for which I didn’t have the natural skill to peacefully pull off.
Early one morning, I walked to St. Pius X Church in Calgary and knelt outside looking through the window in adoration of Our Lord. I no longer felt trapped in silence and shame over my shortcomings, but rather felt freedom to address my challenges head on with compassion and mercy both for myself and others. Little did I know that only a couple weeks later, I would finally be reunited sacramentally with the healing, life-giving presence of Our Lord.
My greatest desire is to become a saint and for those with eyes of faith, Covid-19 continues to be a holy time where both our challenges and blessings can be used to become like Christ. While we are collectively undergoing this pandemic together, our experience is uniquely ours. Following this article are six reflections from a new university graduate, a mother, a teacher, a single person, a senior and a pastor –– each made in the likeness and image of God, each giving God glory with their lives.
Written by Sara Francis for Faithfully
My 27 years as an educator and administrator with the Calgary Catholic School District has afforded me a myriad of gifts in the countless number of students and families I have served and the inspiring colleagues I have worked alongside. It has also given me much to reflect on in terms of my vocation. At the center of this calling is my faith. It has become that intrinsic piece of my identity as an educational leader in my school community and in the school district.
I am blessed to work in a rich faith-filled environment at St. Clare elementary school with colleagues that have a similar desire for the intentional permeation of our Catholicity. After arriving at this location five years ago, I launched a weekly staff prayer initiative which faithfully continues years after its beginning.
From its inception, colleagues would voluntarily sign-up on a morning to sharing a prayer and a short meaningful reflection of their choice. Many also include a song or a video to highlight theme or topic of prayer. Most importantly, intentions are offered for various individuals in need. This initiative has been well-received by staff with several faithfully attending on a regular basis since its beginning a few years ago. With many present, the venue has seen a pilgrimage from the office to the staffroom and now the Learning Commons library. I then make it a priority to share these stories, reflections and prayers out to inspire and inform others on staff who were not able to attend. Also included on this Faith Formation “fan-out” are special friends of St. Clare school in the school district, diocese and local parish community.
I am so grateful that my colleagues have embraced this Faith Formation initiative in the way they do as well as the faith-based measures which allow us to ensure our Catholicism permeates throughout all that we do. Many have commented that gathering as a school “family” in this meaningful manner is a great way to start the day, end of the week and build community with colleagues. Further, we have learned a lot about each other through the disclosing of personal stories which have driven the prayer and reflection shared by staff members. Personally, I always look forward to these moments as times to pause, take a step back, “exhale” as I head into my “inner chapel” to escape the busy-ness of our daily lives – even if it’s for a few minutes. I am truly inspired by my colleagues to continue to share and come together to pray and celebrate our faith.
In closing, as Catholics, our faith is meant to be lived and celebrated. As members of a school community, we are involved in a vocation that is about people and the forging of relationships and bonds. We are all social and relational beings who have an inherent desire for relationships and connections. This wonderful initiative of weekly staff prayer has blended both ideals together as it has built and supported a strong sense of community and as members are afforded opportunities to share their faith, lives and our stories. Most important, it has allowed us to grow spiritually and walk with each other along our respective faith journeys.
Written by: Mark Hickie, Vice Principal of St. Clare School, Calgary
Steeped in the ancient traditions of the Catholic Church and confused by contemporary secular culture, the Sacrament of Reconciliation intimidates a lot of people. Fr. John Nemanic gets that. He also understands why so many Catholics regularly participate in this grace-filled ritual—and he’s hopeful more will avail themselves of its sacramental blessings this Lenten season.
“The Sacrament of Reconciliation is the most difficult of the seven sacraments because we have to really look at ourselves honestly,” says Fr. Nemanic, the parish priest at St. Michael Catholic Community in the West Springs community of southwest Calgary.
While it can be difficult to talk about the mistakes you’ve made and the people you’ve hurt, “reconciliation is also a sacrament of growth. It helps us see where we are now—and who we aspire to be,” says Fr. Nemanic.
Biblical roots, contemporary blessings
The sacrament itself is rooted in biblical teachings, adds Fr. Fernando Genogaling of St. Luke’s in northwest Calgary. Instituted by Christ, Reconciliation invites us to seek forgiveness, express sorrow “and to take instruction on what to do in order to avoid making the sin,” explains Fr. Genogaling. “This sacrament is one of the ways we learn and experience the grace of humility. In return for confessing our sins, we receive an assurance of God’s love and grace. That is very powerful.”
“The Lord comforts us with the sacrament,” says Fr. Nemanic. The words, “I absolve you from your sins,’ are almost incomprehensible to penitents who enter the confessional with heavy but contrite hearts, says the priest. “This sacrament is so far-reaching. When people hear those words, they experience the reality that Emmanuel is with us. The closer we are to Him, the more the penitent opens up his or her heart and the more the Lord can come into that space and heal.”
For many penitents, the experience of forgiveness can be transformative. Fr. Nemanic recalls a story shared by renowned Catholic theologian Bishop Fulton Sheen. Bishop Sheen said a psychiatrist friend once told him that he marveled at the impact of Reconciliation. Whereas his clients paid him for counsel, Catholic priests gave counsel and peace—for free.
Parishes in the Diocese of Calgary hold regular confessional hours during the week on a year-round basis. While penitents can trust the confessional as a sacred and confidential space, people who don’t want to confess their sins to a priest they know can go to another parish, or attend a penitential service and talk to a priest they don’t know, says Fr. Genogaling.
He and Fr. Nemanic also recognize that people aren’t necessarily comfortable making a Reconciliation while facing a priest—and that’s okay, too. “I would say that 75 per cent of the people who come to reconciliation at St. Michael’s stay behind the screen even though they could just walk around the partition,” says Fr. Nemanic.
Those tempted to shy away from Reconciliation after a bad experience should consider what’s at stake, notes Fr. Nemanic. As he sees it, most people have also had bad experiences in at least one restaurant, but that doesn’t keep them from ever enjoying another restaurant meal. The same logic should apply to not denying themselves the blessings of Reconciliation.
And what would he say to a Catholic who is worried about not having received the Sacrament of Reconciliation for a while? “I would say, ‘just come,’” says Fr. Nemanic. Those who go regularly do so because they understand the grace it bestows. “If people would give five minutes a month, their lives would change immeasurably for the better because they’ve made themselves available to encounter the Lord’s mercy.”
Since honesty and contrition are essential to a good confession, Fr. Genogaling encourages people to spend some time examining their conscience before entering the confessional.
Written by Joy Gregory for Faithfully
I first experienced Catholicism at a Catholic hospital in South Korea. My mom and I accompanied my younger sister, who had to pay frequent visits to the hospital because of her lung ailments. Our family lived in a poor neighbourhood, where I had two direct-hit car accidents. During all this chaos, the hospital was a sanctuary, and the nuns were the kindest people I’d ever met. I felt such lightness and peace there as if the very air in the hospital garden was purer than the one outside it. The difference was so surreal even to my young mind that I remember it still to this day.
The second brief encounter was the beautiful scene of ladies praying in the church with their veils on. As a little girl, I thought it was the most beautiful happening I’d ever witnessed. Putting aside my initial exposure to Catholicism, our family generally believed in the idea of God but did not belong to any religion. After our family immigrated to Canada I suffered immensely difficult trials and setbacks in my school, health and relationships. So, I sought out God or some benign and powerful being that could rescue me.
My search for God began in high school when I was see-sawing between self-destruction and reading the Gospels for the first time. I prayed so fervently to the point of sweating. I asked God to let me experience Him in any way so that I, a mere human with so many limitations, could come to believe in His existence. One night, after one of my intense prayers, I went to bed. Sometime after falling asleep, I felt that my body lifted to somewhere very high, perhaps not even our planet or universe.
I had the most vivid and unusual dream where I was praying to God with many other people on our knees on top of a great mountain. Although the mountain was very high, the top was a very large flat area filled with green pastures. Sun or light beamed down on this pasture. All of a sudden, the person praying next to me tapped on my shoulder and pointed to a horrendous female spirit figure standing on the edge of this mountain. This figure is a typical Korean spirit that wears a white night gown with long unkempt black hair flying all around her face. She looked blank with no distinguishable features.
I knew that she was waiting for me to be alone. I also knew that I had to fight her, even to the death if such was to be my fate. I walked toward the figure and the battle began. I was defending myself with a small cross necklace that came into my possession not too long before my search for God began. As one might expect, defending oneself with a small necklace around one’s neck against a demonic spirit was next to hopelessness. Soon I began to tire and feel so afraid for my life. Then I remembered Christ’s holy sacrifice for all humans and how He let himself be tortured because He firmly believed in God the Father’s love and mercy.
That’s when I, in the midst of this fight, put both of my arms up and put my legs together in the same way our Jesus died on His Cross. All of a sudden, the images of His pierced hands and feet flashed before my eyes as if they were powerful blows of light and also as if my own hands and feet were being pierced too. I thought that I was going to die, but everything became white. The spirit existed no more. I was in this whiteness for a brief moment. I felt so strong and happy in this whiteness like I had never experienced in my entire life. Perhaps that’s how we feel in Heaven.
This dream experience was the exact point of conversion of heart for me. If believing can be compared to gardening, this was the seed in the soil. The actual process of this seed sprouting to a baby plant took much longer and many more sinful and painful acts of evil resistance. This sprouting phase took about a decade. Even though I rebelled, broke promises and couldn’t feel any goodness, God never abandoned me. All this while, God watered my mustard seed even though nothing surfaced. I was discouraged for a long time. But when the time arrived, the amazing baby plant sprouted out of the earth and I became a full-fledged Catholic. Going to RCIA was the only thing I could do for those two years due to a health condition. My RCIA sponsor named Cathy was very helpful and gave me the perfect card. When the baby plant came out was when I could finally consciously follow God and proudly present myself as such to others.
Written by Mina from St. Patrick's Parish in Calgary.
My journey to Catholicism formally began in the fall of 2002 when I entered into the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) and culminated with my baptism and confirmation at the 2004 Easter Vigil, Saturday evening, April 10.
Practically speaking, though, my journey started many years earlier when I married my wife, Dina – an Italian ‘Cradle-Catholic’ at St. James Catholic Church, here in Calgary in 1991.
Taking our Marriage Preparation classes was really the beginning of a long period of enlightenment, where I began to experience and see more clearly what the spiritual aspects of the joining of our souls would really mean.
We both promised in our wedding vows to raise our kids in the Church, too, and so we regularly attended Mass and the Holy Days of Obligation. It was through this exposure I – then unwittingly – continued my Faith Journey.
When our family was young, we attended St. James and St. Michael’s in Calgary, and Sts. Simon & Jude Catholic Church in The Woodlands, TX. In December 1994 we purchased our first home in Somerset and began attending St. Patrick’s Parish and this became our home church.
As I progressed on my journey I started to be overcome with a desire — a strong, spiritual need — to go to Confession and receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I went to see “Merv” at St. Michael’s (I believe he was a Deacon there at the time) and inquired about receiving the sacrament. He explained to me I would need to become Catholic first before I could receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Several years went by and then a close family friend asked Dina if she would sponsor her in her journey through RCIA to become Catholic. I took this as a strong sign to stop procrastinating and I made my own appointment with Sister Pauline at the church to begin my journey to Catholicism and becoming Catholic.
Meeting with Sister Pauline, I shared with her the impetus for wanting to become Catholic and explained that I came from a family who didn’t really practice — or have — a sense of faith. My now-late father was raised Catholic in Holland and we would say grace before meals when we visited with my grandparents on my mother’s side in BC, but we really didn’t have any other faith upbringing — other than the ‘Golden Rule’.
Sister Pauline accepted me into the 2002 fall intake of St. Patrick’s RCIA and you could say the rest is history — but it isn’t! The journey NEVER ends; we’re always expanding our understanding and our relationship with God.
My time in RCIA was so very special! Those I travelled with on the journey and all those who invested their time in — and shared their faith with us — took us all to previously unfathomable levels of faith and spirituality. We shared, we laughed, we cried, we broke open the Word, we prayed! It was an education and a coming alive all at the same time. It was a beautiful experience!
Written by Peter Poos from St. Patrick's Church, Calgary
While I have spent most of my teaching career in Catholic Education systems in Saskatchewan and Alberta, I did not grow up attending Catholic schools. I was one of those people who didn’t discover that sense of “it just feels different” in a Catholic school until I began my teaching career at Father Gorman School in Lloydminster. Now don’t get me wrong – I had a wonderful upbringing in rural Saskatchewan. My little school was not a Catholic school but I loved it with all my heart. And the truth is, I always felt I was “very Catholic” based on my connection with our little church, St. Mary’s. Many of my memories of growing up are tied to that church. We attended Sunday Mass and gathered for fall suppers, wedding receptions, and potlucks after the celebration of First Communion and Confirmation. While I always proudly identified myself as a Catholic, I can see now that I basically grew up as a “Sunday Catholic.” Going to Mass was non-negotiable and my mom and dad saw to it that all of my siblings and I received all of our Sacraments. I said my nighttime prayers and we had books about Jesus in our home, along with a crucifix and religious statues. Beyond that though, I don’t remember thinking a lot about my faith on a daily basis.
My first taste of Catholic Education came in 1986 when I started my teaching career and I quickly “got it.” For children who are blessed to go to Catholic schools, they are immersed in their faith every day. I learned how blessed my students were to be able to pray together every day. They got to know God more deeply because we could read the Word of God together. My students learned to serve their brothers and sisters through acts of social service and social justice. Perhaps most importantly, they had the opportunity to celebrate the Eucharist at our school Masses. These experiences, and so many more, happen in every Catholic school in Alberta.
In our Catholic schools today, our students are not living a “Sunday Catholic” kind of life. They are learning to know our faith deeply and they live their faith every single day. I can think of no better description of what is happening in our Catholic schools than with the words from the Gospel of Matthew. “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before human beings, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Our students are the light – they are shining brightly every day, not just on Sundays, because of the good and holy work that is happening in our Catholic schools. I am proud to be part of the story.
Written by Joann Bartley, Director of Religious Education
Holy Spirit Catholic School Division
At only 37, John Chick has accomplished tremendous achievements. He played professional football for 12 years in the CFL and NFL, winning two Grey Cups and being named the League's Most Outstanding Defensive Player before retiring in 2018. He and his wife Catherine have nine children, and more souls in heaven due to miscarriage.
He gives thanks to God for the gift of his body, mind and soul, which have allowed him to strive for excellence. Chick believes the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit and the pathway to glorify God.
“I see the physical world as God created it – all good and meant to point us back to Him. We were all created in His image and likeness,” said the former Saskatchewan Roughriders, Hamilton Tiger Cats and Edmonton Eskimos player.
“I’ve always loved the physical world,” said Chick. “I’ve always loved the pursuit of: how can I get this better. Every offseason for 12 years, I would not rest on how good the last season was, but how I can do better at what I wasn’t doing well.”
Chick has counted setbacks as blessings in his life, which have further motivated him and reminded him that where he is weak, God is strong.
“How many look at the glass half empty and woe is me. Regardless of what we have been ‘blessed’ with, we are all called to glorify God with our bodies,” he said.
“For me, you don’t have to look too far to see a lot of us are victims of something broken. In us or around us and we are victims of maybe our vices.”
Chick’s body has experienced several setbacks in his pursuit of his dreams. At 14, he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. At the time, this news devastated his family. In college he experienced Bells Palsy and later in his professional career he had the onset of alopecia, a hair loss condition, and vitiligo, a skin discoloration condition, not to mention countless sports injuries throughout his life.
“Miscarriages, moves, trades, cuts, injuries, God always found a way (into my life). I attribute it to my family and experiences of the Holy Spirit,” said Chick.
Growing up in Wyoming as the eldest of three, faith was central in Chick’s life. His father modelled a devout faith life working as a Catholic youth minister.
So when a healing priest came to town after Chick’s diabetes diagnosis the family went to see him, and everyone had a powerful conversion experience through prayer to the Holy Spirit.
“It doesn’t mean we lived a perfect faith life, but we were always dependent on the sacraments,” said Chick.
Today, he lives in Florida where he is devoted to raising his own family in the Catholic faith. He incorporates faith and fitness into the running of his own life-coaching business called Ironwill Fitness.
Self-care has been central to his success, and he is trying to share his wisdom with his clients.
“We are supposed to love our neighbour as ourselves. But how can I love my neighbour if I’m not loving myself?” said Chick.
“How can I improve my capacity to be that servant leader? It’s taking care of myself first.”
God Squad Conference recordings, including the session with guest speaker John Chick, are now available online: https://godsquad.ca/2020-conference-recordings
Written by Sara Francis for Faithfully
Photos courtesy of John Chick
God is always waiting for our conversion to his mercy and love. For a large portion of my life I was haunted with the darkness of childhood abuse. This is my journey into God’s call and falling into His overflowing grace. As a five-year-old child I was playing in our local playground with children from the local church. When they left, I went home and asked my mother if I could go to church. My mother said I could go with the neighbours, but I wasn’t brave enough to go.
Later, I attended a Catholic high school because my mother believed in academics. In Grade 12, I completed a water pollution project for a Religion class and received a mark of 98%. From that moment, I believed that my vocation would be in the Sciences. That same year (1972), at the age of 17, I became pregnant and consented to an abortion supported by both sets of parents (Catholic and non-Catholic). The day I had the abortion I shut the door on God! I believed I was not worthy of His love; I had killed my own child. By this time, the darkness of my childhood abuse and the weight of an abortion had left my soul in complete darkness. The mask I continued to wear could not hide the pain, and I struggled. I knew one day that the darkness would envelope me and I would end my life: the pain of my soul too unbearable.
With a husband and my daughter my world was unravelling; filled with anger, guilt and darkness. I was asked to become a Catholic so my daughter could continue to attend a Catholic school. To me, it was nothing more than a course, I was never going to be a Catholic. But God had other plans. What I could not or would not do for myself, I would do for my daughter. It was the 3rd scrutiny during the Purification and Enlightenment process that things began to change. Prior to this Scrutiny, I had gone to Reconciliation and confessed my sins. God has an eraser of grace; He forgave me; the door of grace flooded opened. During the 3rd Scrutiny, in his fatherly love, the late Fr. Keith Sorge let me touch his vestments and I fell into the wellspring of God’s love. The search out of the darkness of my soul began, but it was only after a severe leg injury (run over by an ATV) that I could face the overwhelming pain and terror of childhood sexual abuse. The cry of the poor—that is what God hears in our prayers.
In gratitude for God’s grace, I became involved with the RCIA, Project Rachel, CWL, Hike for Life, Eucharistic Ministries and Lector ministries. I obtained a Master’s from Newman Theological College (Edmonton) focusing on Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’. Today, I am currently raising the awareness of Care for Our Common Home and Food Loss and Waste (FLW) through a CWL resolution and presentation to politicians and Catholic organizations. God had never left my side nor stopped calling me into His grace as I am a testimony to His love.
Written by Jeannette Nixon, St. Patrick’s Parish Calgary.
Bishop William McGrattan sums up his first decade as bishop in two words: very busy.
“One could describe it as being very busy and demanding, some would say tiring, but when I look back there has been a great gift of growing in wisdom,” said Bishop McGrattan.
Since his episcopal appointment 10 years ago this past January, Bishop McGrattan has made dozens of pastoral visits to parishes within each diocese that he has served – Toronto, Peterborough and Calgary – to see what’s taking place at the ground-level. He’s visited 23 parishes since his installment as Bishop of the Diocese of Calgary three years ago this February.
“I’m constantly trying to listen,” said Bishop McGrattan. “I think when you listen you can often discern and make some good decisions that can be far-reaching, have sustainability and make a greater impact.”
Some highlights from his first three years in Calgary include:
“I believe these initiatives can strengthen the diocese in forming missionary disciples,” said Bishop McGrattan.
One challenge has been managing the limited financial resources of the diocese in a strained economy. In good economic times, the population has grown and the diocese has responded by renovating or building new churches. But in a sluggish economy, the financial resources of the diocese have also weakened.
“We have sufficient but we don’t have enough to be building the churches that are required to accommodate new neighbourhoods,” said Bishop McGrattan.
He wants to set a pastoral plan for the Diocese in another three years from now.
“I thought I was going to do a pastoral plan in the first three years, but I think there is a wisdom in not forcing this type of initiative on the Diocese,” he said.
“I want to have three years to work up to a spiritual and pastoral revitalization. We need to till the ground before we enter into a process of formalizing the pastoral direction and means.”
In the meantime, Bishop McGrattan is using the information from the consultations with clergy in his first six months here to understand the challenges and priorities of the Diocese.
Written by Sara Francis for Faithfully
High on a hill overlooking fields of barley, wheat, hay and grazing cattle sits the little country church. It can be seen from miles around if you know where to look, and as you drive closer to look upon its tall steeple and red roof you might feel as if you’d stepped back in time.
St. Henry’s, founded by Fr. Albert Lacombe and area families in 1907, received a new coat of paint and a little more life on the fourth weekend of August when men from the Diocese of Calgary volunteered for the job.
“I knew it needed to be painted,” said Fr. Myles Gaffney, parish priest of St. Michael’s Parish in nearby Pincher Creek, “so I approached the Bishop who said ‘lets nudge the men’s ministries to see if they can get volunteers.’”
In stepped Sean Lynn of the God Squad men’s ministry. He contacted professional painter Dan Lebsack, and off to the hamlet of Twin Butte they went to evaluate the work ahead.
When a weekend was chosen, the two made known that volunteers were needed, and a few responses rolled in. Armed with a paint sprayer, scissor lift donated by a nearby Hutterite colony, telehandler donated by a Calgary carpenter, scrapers and brushes, and the God Squad barbecue and food for Lynn to expertly prepare, the team set to work.
Bishop McGrattan arrived on the scene on Saturday to see everyone hard at work, “I think it’s wonderful,” he said of the entire initiative. “The men are inspired to work together.”
Bishop McGrattan was welcomed by the volunteers and members of the Historical Society of St. Henry’s who have assumed the role of caretakers of the church and cemetery since the parish closed in 2001. The Historical Society is made up of former parishioners, people whose family are buried in the cemetery and those interested in preserving the site, according to the society secretary and treasurer Lois Johnston.
The group, who’ve been hard at work to keep St. Henry’s in good repair with much of their own time and resources – with the help of visitor’s donations – were happy to accept the help that came at the diocesan request.
A few hundred dollars is donated annually by visitors to the site, many who come just to see the classic country church and surrounding views, and many to visit the cemetery and to pray and enjoy the grotto and Stations of the Cross built by Bob and Nonee Bonertz, just one of the families who’ve lived there for over one hundred years.
Ken Wittkopf, whose wife Louise (nee Bonertz) grew up as a parishioner said, “We’ve talked about it for a few years, and we’re glad it’s happening because we don’t want to lose it.”
The value of this church to its parishioners was evident, as several who were not part of the painting crew stopped to see how it was coming along. As the painting went on, memories and stories were shared.
“I was baptized here, had my first communion and confirmation here,” said Louise Wittkopf.
Noreen Fischbuch told stories of having lived right beside St. Henry’s in the rectory, which was unused by the clergy at the time.
“I had eight children in that house,” she said referring to the house mere meters from the back of the church, “and one day, we were actually a little late for church, and Fr. Kramer looked up as we came in and tapped his watch.”
Lois Johnston, whose grandfather Fred Klunker was one of the carpenters who built St. Henry’s emphasised the value of the church to the community of families who descended from those who built the church. Quite a few of them still farm the surrounding land.
“My parents were married in this church, my family attended this church and my Mom was the organ player for years,” she said, adding that she grew up on the farm beneath the hill on which St. Henry’s stands.
The general feeling from the society and volunteers was one of hope for the legacy and the future of St. Henry’s.
“The big churches came from these little churches,” said Historical Society chairman Ron Schmidt, aptly speaking of the history of Catholicism in our country – it began with missionaries and settlers, from people building small country churches whose descendants fill the much-larger churches we see today.
Upstairs in the choir loft, children were encouraged to ring the bell during the Bishop’s visit, and the sound was enjoyed by everyone below. Each person savouring their memories and nostalgia for the living and loving that went on at St. Henry’s for over a hundred years.
Written by Jessica Cyr for Faithfully
“Pilgrimage, Sanctuary and Peace in the Parks”: A research snapshot and public talk on parks and nature at the end of life.
We all feel it – whether looking outside, in a field, at a beach, or on a mountain – nature gives us perspective about life and death. There is growing evidence of how natural environments impact our physical, mental and spiritual well-being. Little is known, however, about the place of parks and nature at the end of life, or the impact of parks and nature on quality of life during palliative care or in grief and loss…until now!
A recent 2018 study discovered that experiencing “Peace in the Parks” was an opportunity for: Personal Exploration, Social Discovery and Institutional Transformation. Despite the challenges to get to parks and natural places, it was always “worth it.” Even brief opportunities were an opportunity to “park palliative care”, and to have sanctuary from the stream of appointments and persistent identity as a “dying patient” or “caregiver.”
Research participants shared, “here [in the park] we can just be ourselves”. The experiences were both calming and energizing – providing patients and family members a sense of their strength and the courage to take other journeys they had been previously cautious about undertaking. Everyone can make the connection with nature. Ultimately there is value in even parking or sitting in areas with views of nature or short walks or strolls with a stretcher or adaptive equipment.
Access does take planning, information and communication, and the research team discovered that supporting access to parks and nature for those in palliative care and caregivers is not a call for a new program per se, but rather an invitation, and a mindset that can be influenced by training, information and coordination of services. Further program and study is underway now to extend and expand the discoveries made – the pilgrimage and the pursuit of sanctuary continues.
By Dr. Sonya Jakubec
To learn more about Parks & Nature at the End of Life, to hear the stories and to be inspired by the pilgrimage of palliative patients and caregivers to Alberta Parks, join Dr. Sonya Jakubec (MRU) and co-researcher Jennell Rempel (Alberta Parks) for a free public talk and short documentary film screening with the Calgary Public Library on Thursday Jan 23, 2020 from noon to 1:30 pm at the Central Library’s Patricia A. Whelan Performance Hall.
Many Calgary Catholics are pushing through the coldest week of the new year by holding onto fond memories of the Christmas past. Others in the city’s East Asian communities keep themselves warm by anticipating the opportunity to celebrate the Lunar New Year on Saturday, Jan. 25. Ditto for parishioners at other ethnic parishes in the Diocese, where being Catholic and Canadian means you can commemorate important secular events with festivities that include prayerful appreciation of the cultural traditions that moved to Canada with their families.
Calgary’s Korean, Chinese and Vietnamese communities celebrate the Lunar New Year on the second new moon after the winter solstice. At St. Anne’s Korean Catholic Church in the community of Ramsay, parishioners will welcome the Lunar New Year with special prayers at the 11 a.m. mass on Sunday, Jan. 26, says parishioner and parish spokesman Nes (Luke) Noh. That service will be followed by a traditional New Year’s Day meal of rice cakes and soup in the parish hall. The rice cakes will come from a Korean market, the soup from parishioners. “We expect about 300 people,” says Noh. “No matter what the weather, people like to get together to celebrate. It’s tradition.”
Culturally, the Lunar New Year is also a good time to honour the memory of ancestors, so Korean Catholics will also offer prayers for their deceased family members, says Noh.
Week of Prayer about a shared faith
This year’s Lunar New Year falls at the end of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, says Theodoric Nowak, Director of Social Justice and Outreach Ministries with the Calgary Catholic Diocese. This year’s Week of Prayer, set for Jan. 18 to 25, calls for Christians to move from shared prayer to shared action. The theme also challenges Christians to show greater generosity to people in need. “In a Diocese as diverse as Calgary’s, it’s always important to remember the different backgrounds which people come from and the traditions they hold,” says Nowak. “The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity reminds us that despite the differences which exist between cultures and denominations, we find unity in our love of Christ and commitment to achieving the common good.” In addition to prayers for the faithful being offered for Christian Unity, the FCJ Centre and Ascension Parish will each host prayer events, adds Nowak.
Cultural and spiritual traditions
New Year celebrations at St. Stephen Protomartyr Church also reflect cultural and spiritual traditions, says Fr. Gregory Faryna. The Jan. 1 liturgy at this Ukrainian Catholic church in Glamorgan, celebrated the naming of Jesus and the feast of St. Basil the Great. An early Church father who defended the orthodox faith, St. Basil the Great is especially important to Albertans of Ukrainian heritage. At Fr. Albert Lacombe’s request, St. Basil sent Basilian priests to the Edmonton area to serve European Catholics who came from the Byzantine tradition, explains Fr. Faryna.
As the Ukrainian people historically followed the Julian calendar, Fr. Faryna’s parish also marked the Ukrainian New Year. While the actual date was Jan. 13, St. Stephen held a Ukrainian New Year banquet and dance on Friday, Jan. 8. About 200 people filled the parish hall for the event, which included a performance by a local Ukrainian dance group. Since many parish families are compromised of Ukrainians who married outside that ethnic group, events like these are an important way of sharing cultural traditions, says Fr. Faryna.
The Ukrainian New Year was also part of the Sunday liturgy on Jan. 12. There, the community offered special prayers for world peace and prayers for lives lost in the Ukrainian airliner shot down in Iran earlier this month.
Ukrainian Catholics approach each new year with prayers that honour the past year and help people prepare for the year to come, adds Fr. Faryna. Some families also commemorate the new year by performing or attending a traditional Malanka (which means new year) play. The play reminds people living through the long nights of winter that spring is on its way. “It’s that anticipation of new life that’s coming around the corner,” says Fr. Faryna.
Over at Ste.-Famille Church just south of the downtown core, Msgr. Noel Farman says the arrival of 2020 got him thinking about how important his parish is to the local francophone community. Ste.-Famille is the only French-language parish in Calgary. Many of the children Msgr. Farman met when he arrived at Ste.-Famille 11 years ago are now adult parishioners attending post-secondary schools or working. “This Christmas I told them, ‘I consider myself as your grandfather.’”
As with Korean-speaking parishioners at St. Anne’s parish, Msgr. Farman knows many of his parishioners make a special effort to attend a French-language mass for special events, including Christmas and New Year’s. At this year’s Christmas Eve mass, children gathered around the priest’s chair and treated mass attendees to a special performance. “It was like a dialogue between three candles representing faith, hope and love,” says the priest. The recitation ended with the candles representing faith and love declaring that hope brought them together to help each other.
This Christmas season, Ste.-Famille weathered the deaths of four people with close ties to the parish. Msgr. Farman says he was touched by how so many of his parishioners travelled to funerals in Edmonton and Claresholm to show their solidarity to each other and to their faith. “I was thinking, this is how we show our belief in eternity, we pray for those who have passed.”
For more information on this 2020 Week of Prayer for Christian unity, please download this poster.
By: Joy Gregory
“Hey! Excuse me, but… I’m new to Lethbridge. Is this the way to St. Martha’s Church?”
It was Sunday, September 7, 2014 — my first Sunday in a new city, in my first week of university, my first time to Sunday Mass without my family — and I was in a bit of a panic. My first week of university had already been a washout — I’d already managed to double-book my classes, look like an over-enthusiastic know-it-all (the lesson was on the parts of the Mass — child’s play!), get completely overwhelmed in wind orchestra rehearsal, and terrify my new roommates with my rice cooker.
Google Maps told me it was a 22-minute walk to St. Martha’s Parish from my residence building, but I was 20 minutes into my journey with no church in sight. I was not about to have getting lost on my way to my first Mass in Lethbridge, crown off my week of failures, so mustering a bit of the remaining confidence I had, I ran ahead to a group of three young women who were also walking down Columbia Boulevard and asked for directions.
“We don’t know. We’re new here too. If you’re headed there too, we must be going the right way.” What a relief! We walked the last block there together.
Mass ended. It was so unlike anything I had known growing up in the Anglican Use liturgy at St. John the Evangelist in Calgary, and I was homesick for my parish community. We walked back to the university together and then parted ways. It would have been wise to get contact information, but in that first week of university, one meets so many new people only to never see them again… Another failure.
Monday afternoon. I sat eagerly in Music and did my best to put the last week behind me. Suddenly, I hear someone ask, “hey, do you mind if I sit here?” It was one of the women I had walked to Mass with on Sunday! “Of course you can!” Another relief.
Later, I would learn that she had seen me answer way too many questions in that class in the first week and decided that we should be friends. (Thanks be to God for extroverts.) We sat together through all of our first year Music History classes, sharing lunch in the cafeteria before each class. We endured some of our first university experiences together — we stayed up until 4 a.m. writing our first papers, and we were the last two to finish our final exam. She and her roommate (another one of the trio I had walked to Mass with) became close friends with a high school friend and me, and there are many fond memories of sharing meals, playing board games and going on late-night drives through Lethbridge together. In many ways, this friendship became the rock on which I leaned on during this difficult first university year.
She also challenged my faith to become more vibrant. Entering university, I had a very dry, legalistic understanding of Catholicism, which she pushed back against gently, teaching me to temper my scrupulosity and legalism with gentleness and charity. I learned from her how to lean on God’s grace when confronted with new stressors and challenges. We went to our first young adult events together in Lethbridge, without which I would have never become so deeply involved in that ministry. We also travelled to World Youth Day in Kraków together, where I learned to grow deeper in God’s ardent, merciful love, and to follow this love to the ends of the earth.
The Lord has everything within the palm of His almighty hand — He knew I needed a friend in that difficult time, and the friend he sent me changed my life for the best. If I had not met Natalie on the road to St. Martha’s, how else might my life have looked? Would I have been pushed to love my God and my neighbour more deeply? Would young adult ministry have become such a huge part of my life? Would I even have graduated from university? There is no such thing as an accidental encounter — God introduced me to Natalie as part of His plan for my life, and I hope that our friendship has been of value for Natalie as well (even though I’m still very much the junior partner in this friendship!). God places friends within our lives intentionally — to challenge, encourage and push us to grow to love and adore Him more.
I had been reflecting upon this idea with Natalie near the end of our first year of university together. Her response was perfect, “Christians are like grapes. We grow best in bunches.” May God give us this grace so to grow as clusters of friends together, fed by the one true Vine.
By: Solomon Ip
Faithful Catholics take great comfort in reaching out, through prayer, to the communion of saints, triumphant and penitent. Many Catholics even keep a kind of on-call list of favourite saints based on namesakes, vocations and intentions. We invoke Mary for issues related to motherhood, we plead Peregrine’s assistance for loved ones with cancer, we call out to St. Anthony of Padua for all things lost, from keys to causes.
Fr. Myles Gaffney wants to add Saint Kateri Tekakwitha to the list of saints Canadians call on when they seek God’s help. The current vicar of Indigenous Affairs, Fr. Gaffney now serves the Calgary Diocese as the pastor of St. Michael’s parish in Pincher Creek.
There, he spends much of any free time researching and writing about Saint Kateri. While her indigenous heritage makes Kateri a somewhat obvious choice as a protectress of Canada, the environment and ecology, Fr. Gaffney says contemporary Catholics have much to learn from this saint’s experience of advanced prayer. “That’s something a lot of people don’t know about her, but it should really strike a chord in today’s world. Kateri could be the greatest contemplative that we know about in North America.”
Fr. Gaffney learned about Kateri when writing his first book, Signposts of our Faith: Canadian Witnesses to Vocation and Mission. That book was published in 2010 and by the time Fr. Gaffney took a 2016 sabbatical to study her life further, the priest was recognized as a Kateri scholar. During his sabbatical, the priest visited Kateri shrines in upstate New York and studied almost 400 pages of biographies and letters, including reports from first-hand witnesses of her life and miracles.
That research informs a presentation the priest has given at international Kateri Conferences, seminaries in the United States and Canada. He’s also presented to smaller groups of indigenous peoples and Catholics who want to learn more about the first Native North American Saint. Fr. Gaffney says the presentation is a work-in-progress that may eventually be published in book form.
Written by Joy Gregory
As many as 500 people will make their way to St. Mary’s Parish Hall in downtown Calgary’s Mission District this coming Sunday afternoon. Drawn by the promise of a warm place to sit and a hot meal to eat, they’ll make their way in footwear ranging from sturdy winter boots to wet and worn-out running shoes. While most will arrive unaided, others will lean on canes or walkers and some will push strollers or wheelchairs. They’ll eat in shifts, alone or seated alongside family and friends and while all will leave with their physical hunger sated, the vast majority will also carry lighter hearts. For behind the bowls of salad, the hot coffee and the steaming plates of food breathes something truly magnificent: Love.
That love comes from the simple fact that for 49 Sundays of the year, Feed the Hungry (FTH) at St. Mary’s Parish Hall is the most popular place to eat in downtown Calgary and while most come to eat, some come to serve.
That awareness of the “something great” is what prompted a group of four Catholic high school chaplains to organize their schools to sponsor a FTH night on Sept 8, 2019. In hindsight, “the timing wasn’t ideal, since that was the first Sunday of the new school year,” says event coordinator Dawna Richardson. Even so, the chaplain at St. Mary’s High School says the event was a phenomenal experience and one she’d consider organizing again.
From idea to execution
The idea started with a comment by Theodoric Nowak, Director of Social Justice and Outreach Ministries for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Calgary. Nowak, who met with high school chaplains, parish priests and pastoral workers early in the year, noted FTH needed sponsors for three Sunday dinners. Sponsors pay $5,000 and commit to providing 100 volunteers.
Chaplains from St. Mary’s, Bishop O’Byrne, All Saints and Bishop Carroll came aboard after discussing the idea with administrators at their schools. “Each school agreed to find 25 volunteers and I divided up the shifts so each shift had a mix of schools represented,” explains Richardson. “This way, each school had their share of the jobs everyone wants to do (like serve meals) and jobs that are more difficult to arrange (like washing dishes).” The four chaplains and some staff members from the schools volunteered from start to finish.
To avoid the hubbub of the first week of school, organizers raised the money during Lent 2019 and handled the field trip permission slips before the summer break. When Richardson’s school had a few openings left in early September, Bella Nguyen was one of the new Grade 10 students who stepped up. “It was really wonderful being there where so many people were working together,” says Nguyen. Now a member of St. Mary’s Student Action Leadership Team, she’s grateful for opportunities to show her Catholic faith in action.
Service is a blessing
Bishop O’Byrne chaplain Deborah Eberle says the experience “was a blessing for each student that came forward. It was eye opening, especially for our first-time volunteers.” She credits the FTH experience, which she’s shared at school celebrations, for a rise in the number of new volunteers who participate in social justice projects, including one where students make sandwiches for the Mustard Seed.
Because the four high schools draw from different socio-economic demographics, each of the four chaplains worked with her own school to raise their share of the $5,000. St Mary’s held a number of fundraisers during Lent. At O’Byrne, students paid to “force” a social studies teacher to stay after school and play his least-favourite video game. “The more they gave, the longer he played.”
Eberle and Richardson say the experience drove home the fact that students in Calgary’s Catholic high schools are looking for ways to be of service. “I just knew it was a good idea and that we could work together to make this happen,” says Eberle.
“It’s not difficult to get students involved in projects like this. We’re just providing an opportunity for them to do what they want to do,” adds Richardson.
FTH is about more than helping people who are hungry, she adds. “It gives vulnerable people an opportunity to be taken care of by people who care about people. It’s great for our students to see this kind of love in action and to be part of it and to know that what you have is not only given to you, it’s given to you for the common good, for the good of all.”
Written by Joy Gregory for Faithfully
Photos submitted by Dawna Richardson
Tonight, as I was driving by a parking lot in the bleak and snowy weather, feeling downcast and discouraged by difficulties from recent weeks, I saw a guy dumpster-diving in a clothing donations bin in the dark. Pulling over to ask if there was anything I can do to help, I was shocked to see a guy probably in his 30's, not older than me.
He said what he needed most was a warm pair of gloves to make it through the cold night, as his was full of holes. Since all the stores were closed, I offered him mine, though they were rather worn. He hesitated, but I insisted that he tried them on – they fit. The look on his face was one of genuine happiness and gratitude, over just my old worn pair of gloves. My heart ached. We made a run to Tim’s to get some food, and I let him know about the Feed The Hungry program every Sunday at St. Mary’s. He shared with me that he went to a Catholic school growing up, so I asked him if there was anything I can help pray for. Looking away, he stood silent for what seemed like a minute, neither speaking or moving. Then, with tears in his eyes, he asked me to pray for his two kids whom he hasn’t seen in a long time. I promised I would pray for him, and in your charity, I ask that you please pray for Mike and his kids too. He was so grateful, but to me he was the real blessing tonight, as he snapped me out of focusing on myself and my own problems. God bless Mike, and may he receive all the graces and help needed to be reunited with his kids. #iamblessed
Shared by Dr. Thomas Fung, parishioner of Holy Spirit Parish in Calgary, Vice President of Calgary Catholic Medical Association. Photo credit: Dr. Thomas Fung
During the 2018-2019 school year, Shannon Griffin, principal of St. Damien School, a Calgary Catholic Elementary School contacted me about how her school could partner with the Christian Life Centre and the Sisters, Faithful Companions of Jesus to do something good for our Church and world. I knew that the Centre offers a special retreat each January, free of charge, for unemployed people, and that finding funding for that retreat is a challenge, given the current downturn in Calgary’s economy. The retreat does nothing to help people find a job; rather, it is a “heart-helping” retreat to offer support, encouragement and a renewed appreciation of each one’s personal gifts in a time when people feel quite vulnerable and often depressed. The weekend experience is called “The Gift of Hope”.
Together, the principal and I devised a plan: I went out to her school and met with all the students, by grade-level groups. I told them about the unemployment retreat and asked, “If people do not have enough money to pay their bills, would they have money to go to a retreat centre and attend a retreat that’s meant to help their hearts?” “No,” they chorused. So, I invited them to go home and offer to do four little jobs that are NOT their ordinary chores and to ask their moms to give them 25 cents for each job. When they had earned four quarters, they were to trade them in for a looney and bring it to school. If every child at school was able to bring in a looney, the school could pay for someone to make the retreat. They would be retreat sponsors!
Then, Ms. Griffin wrote a letter home to the families, explaining what we were trying to do and giving the target date for the looney collection. And a few weeks later, I went to the school, and they held an assembly and presented me with a cheque for $1,103.55! I couldn’t believe my eyes! I had no sooner received the cheque when a teacher came up and asked, “How much more would we have to give to pay for four retreatants?” When I told her, she took out her cheque book and wrote another cheque for $36.45 right on the spot! What a blessing!
When I returned home and told the Sisters and the others who work at the Christian Life Centre, there was such joy. So many were touched by the children’s and families’ generosity. We feel a real sense of being partners in hope with the school community at St. Damien School!
Written by Sr. Madeleine Gregg, fcj
Photo submitted by Sr. Madeleine.
Parishioners of St. Paul’s Roman Catholic Church on the Piikani Nation will arrive at the Christmas Eve mass a bit early; the church is relatively small and the place is likely to be packed. Upon entering the wooden building, the faithful will pause near the front door, using their hands to waft sweet grass smoke over their heads and arms. Smudging is an indigenous spiritual practice that’s used to bless or purify people before meaningful ceremonies. At St. Paul’s, the smudge bowl is side-by-side with the holy water. It is a practice Fr. Roy Jayamaha embraced when he arrived at the country church nearly four years ago.
Having worked in Catholic communities in Pakistan, where more than 98 percent of people practice Islam, the Sri Lankan-born priest knows that meaningful inter-cultural dialogue requires action. “I feel the main pastoral work here is to lift high the spirit of our people and respect their rich culture, I always try to find connections to meet them with Creator."
St. Paul’s is located in Brocket, a rural community about 20 km from Pincher Creek. Since Fr. Roy’s arrival, the church has added a tipi-shaped tabernacle. Other altar and church hall adornments also feature the work of local indigenous artists.
Parishioners appreciate the integration of their cultural practices and symbols, says Vera Potts, who has served as parish council chair since Fr. Roy arrived. A mother of three, grandmother of seven and great-grandmother of 11, the 80-year-old Potts takes that same attitude of a willing servant to work with her every day at the local health clinic, where she still works full time.
A residential school survivor, Potts admits she can be overwhelmed by fearful memories of that experience. “I’ve learned to forgive. But being human, it’s hard to forget and a lot of triggers happen still today.” Nevertheless, her faith provides consolation and hope. “I can trust in the Lord. He’s the only one in the world who could pull me through what I experienced.”
Once open mostly for Sundays and funerals, St. Paul’s began offering Sunday and daily masses when Fr. Roy arrived in 2016. While this country pastor typically celebrates the 5 p.m. daily mass alone, people are coming to the Sunday service. Many of them stay after mass to share food and fellowship in the basement hall. These informal gatherings include full meals after masses that celebrate major feast days or important events. The potlucks attract Catholics and non-Catholics alike and all the food is donated. “In our culture, the elders teach us never to be stingy with food. We share food. We live by that,” says Potts, noting that Christ taught the same.
Parishioners also volunteer their time to maintain the church and grounds, which includes a grotto and a small-scale replica of the first church that once served a Catholic residential school located about 7 km from present-day St. Paul’s.
Since Fr. Roy’s arrival, St. Paul’s has upgraded the church, liturgical items, put a new roof on the replica church, renovated the church hall and painted the rectory. All of the work was financed by parish fundraisers, Mission Council, good friends and generous benefactors. This fall, parishioners raised $2,000 towards the church insurance bill by volunteering with a local catering company. Earlier in the year, they added another $1,000 by hosting a giant garage sale.
“Father Roy makes us really work,” says Potts with a laugh. “All of what we have is through fundraising. We’re not a rich reserve, but we take a lot of pride in what we have.”
Like Fr. Roy, Potts is pleased that 19 Piikani children received First Communion at St. Paul’s in 2018. Another four were confirmed by Bishop William McGrattan in 2019. With time, Potts is hopeful more people will bring their children to mass and receive the sacraments. “We need parents to be really taking responsibility for teaching their own children the importance of Christianity.”
Her comments mirror Deacon Thomas O’Toole’s thoughts about his work at St. Paul’s. O’Toole, who also serves as a deacon at St. Peter’s in northwest Calgary, admits some might note the differences between the parishes he serves, one in a First Nation community of 3,500 people, the other in a suburban neighbourhood of Alberta’s largest city.
O’Toole focuses on the similarities. He hopes parishioners at both churches “grow together in love for Jesus, Mary and Joseph such that they will be a light for others.” Like Potts, he also wants Catholics “to engage with the sacraments and come to know the great love God has for us.”
For Fr. Roy, a willingness to be a witness of Christ’s love sometimes means inviting locals, including some homeless men, to share a meal with him at the rectory. He also takes homeless men with him when he participates in an annual highway cleanup day and offers a hot meal in exchange for their labour and company. “As far as I know, our parish is the only parish that goes for highway cleanup with their pastor and the deacon,” says Fr. Roy.
Drop by drop, a river forms
That same spirit of sharing what you have prompted Potts to suggest an addition to this year’s Christmas Eve mass. Earlier in the year, Fr. Roy gave jars to parishioners. Since then, each family has “put coins in there and at midnight mass they can put their jars at the crib,” says Potts.
The offerings, made with love and humility, show the community’s love of Christ and its appreciation for their church. “The sacred rituals and the holy place are so dear to their hearts,” says Fr. Roy.
The little country church he shepherds also hosts AA meetings, gospel music nights and interdenominational healing services. Plans are underway to restore and preserve the Our Lady of Lourdes grotto built at the residential school some 75 years ago. Every year, St. Paul’s holds an outdoor mass at that grotto, which many locals visit as a pilgrimage. The annual mass attracts residential school survivors who attended Catholic and Anglican schools in the area.
Fr. Roy is hopeful that recent changes at St. Paul’s are evidence of what Pope Francis has called the Church to do. Speaking at the closing mass of the Amazon Synod held in October, the Pope said, “how many times, even in the Church, have the voices of the poor not been heard and perhaps scoffed at or silenced because they are inconvenient.”
Reflecting on his time at St. Paul’s, Fr. Roy says faith and fellowship are fueling positive change at Piikani Nation. “Drop by drop, it’s becoming a river.”
Written by Joy Gregory for Faithfully
Photos submitted by St. Paul's in Brocket.
As the Season of Lent begins, it is a good time for us to seek an interior renewal and to face the distracting attachments and preoccupations that have become part of our often very busy lives. These forty days serve to remind us of Christ’s journey into the desert. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) tells us that “Jesus' temptation reveals the way in which the Son of God is Messiah, contrary to the way Satan proposes to him and the way men wish to attribute to him. This is why Christ vanquished the Tempter for us: “For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sinning.
By the solemn forty days of Lent, the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert. (CCC, 540)
It is this Lenten discipline of penance, renunciation, and detachment which reawakens within us the awareness of our dependence on God and His great love for each of us. While retreating to the desert might be impossible on a practical level, our Lenten observance of penance, abstinence, prayer, and almsgiving helps us to grow in Christ daily and to avoid temptation.
In particular, the psalmist’s refrain, “Be still and know that I am God” invites us to be attentive to our times of personal and communal prayer. One of the Desert Fathers, Amma Syncletica said, “There are many who live in the mountains and behave as if they were in the town, and they are wasting their time. It is possible to be a solitary in one’s mind while living in a crowd, and it is possible for one who is a solitary to live in the crowd of his own thoughts.” (Benedicta Ward, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, Cistercian Publications: 1975, p. 19)
Listening to God in prayer is an important part of a life of faith. God desires to speak to us and we have the privilege of listening to the promptings of His Spirit through the consolations and desolations with which He graces us during our prayer. William Barclay’s reflection on prayer and silence is often quoted as follows, “… Prayer is a way of offering ourselves to God in order that He should be able to make use of us. It may be that one of our great faults in prayer is that we talk too much and listen too little. When prayer is at its highest, we wait in silence for God's voice to us; we linger in His presence for His peace and His power to flow over us and around us; we lean back in His everlasting arms and feel the serenity of perfect security in Him.”
The psalmist writes in Psalm 46, “Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.” Walter Brueggemann, a well-known scholar of the psalms, says that some psalms were written for the good times while others were written for the times when the future seemed uncertain and perhaps filled with impending troubles. These psalms were written for people living in times of change and uncertainty who were experiencing feelings of anxiety and even dismay. (The Spirituality of the Psalms, Brueggemann, pp. 19-25.) Psalm 46 provides the reassurance that God is stable when all else seems unstable. At a deeply personal and spiritual level, this is important for each of us.
This is the deeper experience of prayer and listening which the time of silence and stillness offers to us.
“In the silence of the heart, God speaks. If you face God in prayer and silence, God will speak to you. Then you will know that you are nothing. It is only when you realize your nothingness, your emptiness, that God can fill you with Himself. Souls of prayer are souls of great silence.” (Saint Teresa of Calcutta, In the Heart of the World: Thoughts, Stories and Prayers)
Let us embrace this season of Lent as a time to “be solitary in one’s mind.” (Benedicta Ward, Ibid.) If we allow God’s grace to renew our hearts during this Lenten season through prayer, then in the solitary stillness of such experiences we will know His great love, wisdom, and charity and be moved more generously to witness and share this with others.
With climate change getting so much media coverage, it’s easy to see why some Catholics are asking questions about what they can do to support the papal call for Christians to unite in caring for what Pope Francis calls, “our common home.” Other Catholics don’t spend much time thinking about it. They’re too busy planting, weeding and harvesting food, flowers—and faith.
This summer, volunteers planted a 3,000-square-foot vegetable garden at the Mount St. Francis Retreat Centre at Cochrane. The potatoes, carrots, squash and swiss chard were put to good use; the food is shared between Feed the Hungry’s (FTH) Sunday dinners at St. Mary’s Cathedral and the Calgary Food Bank. “The food bank really is a ‘bank,” says Linnea Ferguson, program lead for the Calgary Catholic Diocese’s FTH program. “We take from that bank for our Sunday night dinners, so it’s nice to deposit some food there, too.”
Although FTH is more closely aligned with social versus environmental causes, the connection between food and life is obvious, notes Ferguson. “By actively participating in the production of local produce, I think Feed the Hungry shows care for our common home and how much we respect the dignity of the people we feed.”
Care for Creation
Over at St. Joseph’s parish in northwest Calgary, parish council has adopted some care for creation initiatives sparked by the 2015 papal encyclical, Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home. This spring, Knights of Columbus planted a courtyard area with plants donated by a long-time parishioner. “It’s really beautiful,” says parish council member Marilou LeGeyt. “We’ve got a variety of flowering plants, including roses, monkshood and black-eyed Susan. Next year, the Knights will divide those plants and sell the extras as a fundraiser.”
After all the planning and planting were done, the project yielded three wins for the parish. The garden is a fundraiser, a beautiful space by the Church entrance and its gives parishioners an opportunity to take an ecological piece of their church community home to their own gardens.
In late September, the courtyard hosted a Blessing of the Animals. The event attracted dogs, fish, cats and turtles! In line with Laudato Si and its focus on dialogue, St. Joseph’s parish is also exploring the addition of a vegetable garden on the church property. The concept is meant to nourish St. Joe’s place in the wider community, says LeGeyt.
At St. Peter’s parish, a team of volunteer gardeners is taking responsibility for the gardens built as part of a major reconstruction project. Led by parishioner Sylvie Fung, who’s also active with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the grounds include several well-kept flower pots, ground-level plots and a new grotto. The latter includes an outdoor rosary.
To help the growing number of faithful who visit the space to pray, Fung tucks several rosaries and prayer cards into two solar lamps at the garden entrance. “People take the rosaries, so I’m always looking for more,” says Fung.
Members of her garden team take turns watering the pots and checking to make sure the freshly-landscaped shrubs and perennials are doing well. But the job can get a little prickly. While the space between the church and alley has been beautifully landscaped, these beds include a number of Canada Thistle, an invasive (not Canadian!) weed species known for its thorns and deep roots, both of which complicate eradication.
Fung encourages her fellow gardeners to weed these “beds of thorns, beds of suffering” as an act of faithful sacrifice. “It’s the perfect job to recite the Chaplet of Divine Mercy,” says Fung with a smile.
Written by Joy Gregory for Faithfully
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers