She got a headache on the bus ride home from school. Her feet ache from shoes that fit this morning but now strain against swelling flesh. She feels the baby shift inside her pregnant body, and she is both exhilarated and exhausted. Sitting to unlace her sneakers, she starts to cry. Catherine Aghaegbuna heard the girl come in and sees her sitting at the bottom of the split-entry home, her shoulders quivering. Aghaegbuna takes a deep breath and welcomes the expectant mom home. Aghaegbuna is not her mother. But on this day, and at this moment, she is all the young woman has.
Trained in addictions counselling and community service work, Aghaegbuna works at Elizabeth House (EH). Started in 1996 by the Sisters of Charity of St. Louis, the house provides a safe and supportive home to pregnant and parenting young women who need a safe place to live. To date, more than 200 young women have benefited from EH, one of two charities operated by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Calgary. (The other is Feed the Hungry).
Christians engaged in this kind of work often talk about the need to see Jesus in the eyes of the marginalized. An immigrant and a woman of colour, Aghaegbuna sees more. “I choose to work here out of my love for the youth and children,” says the woman whose typical shifts run from 5 pm to 7 am. When the mother of five looks into the eyes of the people she serves, she sees the eyes of her own children. She’s reluctant to say her parenting experience gives her an edge, but the parishioner at Corpus Christi admits that parenting her children, ages 27, 19, 18, 13 and nine, helps her through the rough spots at work. “When the women tell me, ‘I am not your daughter,’ I tell them plainly, ‘I have no reason to deceive you. I have children like you. I am a mother.’”
Moms helping moms
Since 2016, members of the St. Gianna’s Moms Group at St. Luke’s parish have made women and babies at EH house special beneficiaries of an annual Christmas campaign. Named after an Italian pediatrician who sacrificed her life for her unborn child, the moms’ group buys Christmas presents that include self-care items, make up and gift cards for the young moms. “We think about what we can do to make their day special, and some of the gifts include special notes of encouragement,” says group co-leader Michelle Widmeyer, a parishioner at St. Joseph’s.
Herself the mother of four, Widmeyer says members of St. Gianna’s feel blessed to contribute to the important work done at EH, where young women get help completing high school and preparing or starting post-secondary education or training. Life at EH also helps the women hone life skills that range from conflict management to cooking, laundry and housekeeping—all while carrying or caring for their new babies. “I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a young and single mother with very little support,” says Widmeyer.
That grassroots support for EH’s work is greatly appreciated, says Michelle Haywood, EH program coordinator. “We survive off private donations and are not funded by the government in any way,” explains Haywood, who often finds herself coordinating donations that range from money to supplies.
St. Michael’s parish, for example, recently donated a van load of baby and new mom supplies, as well as $4,000 in cash. “They provided everything from nursing bras to baby wipes. It was really something,” notes Haywood.
She also appreciates what members of the Catholic Women’s League and Knights of Columbus do to support EH. A group of Knights from St. Peter’s recently took a lead role in a major landscaping project. Individual Catholics also step up with support, including a woman from the St. Paul Centre of the Catholic school district who organized a donation drive amongst her colleagues, says Haywood.
Given how complicated the work at EH can be, program support translates into emotional support. “We serve vulnerable and at-risk women, and this can be very difficult work. When people care about what we’re doing, it’s like an emotional boost to our residents and staff,” says Haywood, whose professional work is tempered by life experience. The mom of three, including one born during her 12 years with EH, Haywood is a university graduate whose first baby was born when Haywood was still a teen.
To learn more about Elizabeth House, or to find out how you or your organization can support the program, visit www.elizabethhousecalgary.ca or email Michelle Haywood at email@example.com.
Written by Joy Gregory for Faithfully
For parents like Brenda-Lee Kearney, the mass is delightfully chaotic, yet peaceful. She and her husband Mike have an 11-year-old son with FASD, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. They love Jacob and they love their church. But bringing Jacob to mass is difficult and after Kearney approached her parish priest with an idea, the Special Needs Mass began.
The once-monthly, then bi-weekly masses became a regular 5 pm Sunday mass after pastor Fr. Jerome Lavigne moved to St. Pat’s in 2018. And the Kearneys are grateful. With a mission to create a loving, supportive and compassionate community that renews and restores faith and hope to families and children with special needs, the mass shows “God is really at work here in our parish,” says Brenda-Lee Kearney. Parents with special needs children often stay after mass for welcome fellowship. While most participants are from the parish, others attend as word of the mass spreads. “I believe most of us are parenting our kids in a community that doesn’t understand our reality. We are understanding of each other because we are living it.”
That message resonates with Fr. Matthew Schneider. “There is a natural sense of community when we come together to worship. Where possible, it’s nice to be able to add elements that make worship more meaningful to certain groups of people,” says Schneider, who said the Special Needs Mass at St. Pat’s on June 22.
A former Calgarian now living in Washington, D.C. where he’s working on a Doctorate in Theology, Schneider says one Catholic church in Washington hosts a regular mass that features an interpreter for the deaf. Other masses are conducted in languages other than English. He likes what St. Pat’s has consciously done to accommodate a group of believers often marginalized in the greater society.
In addition to the dimmer lights, the 5 pm Sunday mass features visual “cue cards” that tell parishioners went to sit, kneel or stand. The pictures show the appropriate action along with a simple message such as, “Please kneel for the communion rite.”
“Typically, we have the same songs at these services. It’s all part of dialing back on the sensory experience. Many of these children benefit from a very calm environment,” explains Kearney.
Faithfully spoke with Tim Neufeld, based out of Abbotsford, BC. Neufeld first achieved success as the co-founder and lead singer of EMI recording artist STARFIELD. He has toured the world for over a decade, shared the stage with countless Canadian Country, Roots and Christian artists, and won multiple JUNO, Dove, and Covenant Awards. Tim Neufeld has been married for 15 years to Carla and is the father of three children, Haven 10, Oliver 9, and Bowen 6.
What do you love most about being a dad?
Tim: I love sharing my life with my family. Of all the different roles I play in life, the husband/father role is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever known. It’s hard being a father, but in the best sort of way, and it helps me understand more about what love really is. Becoming a father made me a whole person. It made me re-evaluate what’s most important. More than anything, I want to raise good and kind people. I feel blessed to have that responsibility!
What’s it like reuniting with your family after you’ve been on tour?
Tim: It is the most amazing feeling in the world. I’m just completing a two-week tour, and have most of the summer off, so I’m looking forward to some quality time with the kids. Family ice-cream outings, building a tree fort, and Friday movie nights are just a few of the things on the list. I get to do all the things I loved from my childhood all over again through the eyes of my kids... How cool is that?
The new single BLESSED by ‘Tim and the Glory Boys’ is available to listen to HERE.
Written by Nadia Hinds
Roman Catholic parishioners the world over will spill out of their parish churches on Sunday, June 16 with an especially-cheerful mission. En route to family engagements seasoned with handmade cards and gifts for dads old and new, many will stop to wish their parish priests a heartfelt, “Happy Father’s Day, Father.”
It’s a tradition Fr. Tim Boyle of Lethbridge has appreciated since his ordination in 1974. While the secular notion of fatherhood “is a metaphor I never used to understand myself as a priest,” he admits the good wishes are gratefully accepted.
Deacon Troy Nguyen is at a significantly different place in his priestly vocation. Nguyen, 31, will receive Holy Orders on Friday, June 28, 2019. While he will have to wait a year before he hears the “Happy Father’s Day, Father” of the June greeting, he and Boyle already hold one Father’s Day tradition in common; both of these Calgary-born-and-raised priests use the occasion to thank God for their dads—and to contemplate their roles in the Church.
Are you hungry?
Nguyen says his dad is a man of few words. “But when we’re together at home, he’ll ask me, ‘are you hungry?’ I’ve come to recognize that simple question as an act of love and care. He wants to know if I am OK if I need anything. In some ways, I think I will be asking the people I serve the same question, ‘are you hungry?’ meaning, ‘how can I help, what do you need?’”
It’s an analogy Boyle can appreciate. He remembers his dad with great affection and is thankful for the many fathers he’s met in the parishes he’s worked in across southern Alberta. Like Nguyen, Boyle sees his vocation—and that of the secular dad—as rooted in service to others.
Indeed, that notion of service nurtured Boyle’s calling to the priesthood. He had an uncle who served as a missionary priest. As well, Boyle’s family (his dad and the six children), pulled together to care for their wife and mother after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Volunteering at the old children’s hospital gave Boyle additional frontline experience with service. “Those were some pretty formative experiences. And then I discovered that words have power, and I learned I had some ability to take ideas and give them expression in a way that helped people.” That knowledge, combined with a lifetime of faith practice nourished in his family, brought Boyle into the priesthood. He was ordained at the age of 24.
Nguyen’s journey included a break from seminary studies to finish a Bachelor of Education at the University of Alberta. In addition to teaching, he spent some time in the banking industry. The priestly vocation was “something I found really difficult to do at first,” admits Nguyen. “I felt like I was giving up everything. Now I understand that Jesus is worth giving up everything for. When I see an icon of Jesus on the cross, I realize he’s telling me, ‘God is worth it.’”
As a priest, Nguyen will share that faith with the people he serves in the Calgary Diocese. Now based at St. Peter’s, Nguyen also has strong ties to Calgary’s Vietnamese community. He will be the first Canadian-born Vietnamese priest ordained in this city. “When people I’ve met tell me they hope I can be their father, I know they are talking about my spiritual role in their lives. Still, it’s humbling.”
Boyle’s own role in the Church changed in 2018. Stepping back from the role of the parish priest, he now serves as the Bishop’s Delegate to a Diocesan committee that follows up allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct by clergy. He’s also the Vicar for Clergy, where he helps the Bishop with priest assignments. These are dramatically different roles for the long-time parish priest, but he accepts the challenges with the heart of a willing servant who believes the grace of Christ means “there will always be this core of love to keep His Church alive.”
In the same way that earthly dads take care of their children, Boyle sees God’s hand in the world. “Life is not in the hands of fate. It’s not in the hands of chance. It’s a divine story that has God as its beginning and God as its ending,” says Boyle.
Nguyen echoes that sentiment. As a priest, he recognizes that his vocation is a gift from God that he can nurture with his faith. “Really, what people are looking for is hope. As a priest, I want to help them find that.”
Written by Joy Gregory
Which man of faith in the Calgary Diocese inspires you in your vocation as husband and father? Michael Chiasson shared his father figure:
This question immediately made me think of my dad, his role and place in my life….However, because my dad recently passed away, I also look at those father figures around. Fr. Cristino Bouvette inspires me. One thing that I’m super thankful for is his heart of prayer, his heart of obedience and his heart of openness. Those three things challenge me as a father because I see him as a young priest that is super faithful, willing to risk for the vocation he’s been entrusted, and it immediately makes me look in the mirror and ask: Am I a man of prayer? Am I obedient to who I’m being called to love? Am I dying to myself? I see that in him so much, and it’s beautifully attractive but scary because — would I be willing to do that? The final part is openness. Something that might not even be his style, (music for example) he sees the heart and how God would use that even though it might not be his specific way.
Which man of faith in the Diocese of Calgary inspires you in your vocation as husband and father? Here is what Mike McKinnon shared:
Written by Sara Francis
Which man of faith in the Calgary Diocese inspires you in your vocation as husband and father? Joe Woodard shared:
Which man of faith in the Diocese of Calgary inspires you in their vocation as husband and father? Here is what Sean Lynn said:
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers