The early-spring sun is barely risen when the six Sisters of the Precious Blood monastery in Calgary make their way to their chapel for morning mass. As the day progresses, the sisters will gather in the chapel four more times to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, an official Prayer of the Church, which sanctifies the day with prayer. Each woman will also spend 30 minutes in private prayer and adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. They use those precious minutes to pray for the needs of the Church, especially the Roman Catholic Diocese of Calgary, and to ask God’s blessing on the world. They also devote that time alone to pray “for the people for whom we’ve promised to pray,” explains Sr. Margaret Nadeau. Many of those prayer requests are posted on the chapel door, a physical reminder that those who live in this cloistered religious community are purposefully devoted to the world from which they’ve chosen to live apart.
Founded in Quebec in 1861, the Sisters of the Precious Blood was the first contemplative community established in Canada. In addition to the founding monastery in Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec, the order has houses in Calgary, Regina, London and Hamilton, plus two monasteries in the United States and two in Japan.
As well as praying for the people in the communities where they live, the Sisters of the Precious Blood monastery in Calgary plays a tangible role in supporting parishes across the diocese. While the Calgary convent stopped baking altar breads several decades ago, the sisters still receive regular truckloads of hosts baked in the order’s Hamilton house.
Once in Calgary, the large cartons are unpacked into smaller boxes of hosts according to the needs of the parishes. Parishes typically pick up these smaller boxes from the monastery, which is located in Erlton, just south of downtown Calgary. Some boxes are also shipped to parishes in other dioceses.
The pandemic disrupted this aspect of life in the monastery. While orders for hosts fell in the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, a few parishes in Calgary also were over-supplied. With Calgary’s diocese supporting public health protocols, that extra supply more than sustained the parishes when offering regular masses with fewer parishioners became the norm.
“One of the main sources of our income has been the sale and supply of hosts, but demand changed when the pandemic started. Orders are starting to pick up a little now and that’s good as our Hamilton house has hired lay staff and we want to keep them working,” says Sr. Nadeau. A native of Medicine Hat, she joined the Sisters of the Precious Blood 63 years ago this month. “For me, it was a way to embrace the total church in a life of prayer.”
Month of the Holy Eucharist
All Catholics are called to join that embrace in a special way during the month of April, which is dedicated to the Holy Eucharist. April was chosen because it typically includes Easter Sunday. (Even when Easter falls in March, the entire month of April is part of the Easter season.)
The dedication to the Holy Eucharist is a daily commitment for the Sisters of the Precious Blood, whose charism focuses on adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. While some of the order’s houses across Canada could not have daily mass during the pandemic, that wasn’t the case in Calgary. In the early days, Bishop William McGrattan did restrict the list of visiting priests to two individuals. Over time, those restrictions were changed to allow more priests to say mass at the monastery.
For now, visitors cannot participate in the holy hour celebration the monastery hosts every Thursday evening. The sisters understand, but miss sharing this special hour of prayers and singing with others in the faith community.
“In some ways we’re probably one of the groups of people that has been least affected by the pandemic and for that, we’re grateful,” says Sr. Nadeau. “We live a cloistered life with or without the pandemic and life here goes on every day, with our life of prayer still the biggest thing for us. We just keep on every day, just like we did before.”
“Why did you become a Religious Sister?” I was recently asked this question by a young woman, and I thought: “How can I answer that in one sentence?”, knowing that we had a very limited time to speak. “It was because God called me,” I said. She responded, “I know what you mean. God called me, too.” I elaborated, “I fell in love with Jesus and wanted to give my whole life to Him.”
I have often wondered why so few young women are becoming Religious Sisters. Is not God still calling young women like He called me? What do I need to do to help them open their hearts, to hear His Voice, and to answer as St. Francis of Assisi did when he heard the Lord call him to live the Gospel life: “This is what I long to do with all my heart!”
I heard the call to give my life to the Lord when I was 16. In the very core of my being, I knew that the Lord wanted me for Himself and that all my incoherent longings would be fulfilled in Him. Since my call to be a Religious Sister was completely tied up with my newly identified Franciscan way of being, I read all that I could about St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi and was drawn more deeply into the way of life that would eventually lead to becoming Catholic and entering the Franciscan Sisters of St. Elizabeth.
Becoming familiar with the Scriptures and the lives of the Saints are extremely helpful ways to figure out what spiritual identity the Lord has given us. Spending time with Jesus is also essential in developing a life-giving relationship with Him. I used to take the family dog for a walk so that I could pray alone without anyone asking me what I was doing. The dog was most uninquisitive and non-judging. I would also recommend finding a quiet place that speaks to you of God. St. Francis liked to frequent caves in the hillside and deserted chapels.
I also was blessed to have helpful spiritual people with whom I could talk about what was going on in my relationship with the Lord. Some of these were friends around my same age. Some were older people who helped to guide me in a good direction. Spending time with the Sisters, working alongside them, praying with them—these were all beneficial activities that aided my discernment that this was the community that the Lord wanted to me join.
These Sisters were not young. I did not join these Sisters because they were young. They were vibrant, faith-filled women who had given their lives to the Lord, who were living their consecration in their ordered, stable, prayerful, loving, communal, hard-working, Franciscan way, and I loved them for it.
So, I ask the young women who are reading this: What do you long to do with all your heart?
Written by Sister Dianne Turner, OSE
Franciscan Sisters of St. Elizabeth
Photo courtesy of Sr. Dianne Turner.
In his homily for the World Day of Prayer for the Consecrated Life in 2020, Pope Francis said, "Men and women religious, who live to imitate Jesus, are called to bring their own gaze into the world, a gaze of compassion, a gaze that goes in search of those far-off; a gaze that does not condemn, but encourages, frees, consoles; a gaze of compassion." That Jesus had compassion on the people is something that we hear more than once in the gospels.
The more we come to know Jesus through praying with the gospels, the more we recognize his compassionate love for us individually and for all the world. Young people who want to know God's plan for their lives would be helped in their discernment by placing themselves in Christ's loving gaze. There they can come to know more of who they are and the gifts that they could be using to 'encourage, free and console' others in the form of life that is their vocation.
For myself, I grew up in a Catholic family in which prayer, participation in Mass and helping others nourished my faith. By Gr. 10, I was certain that God wanted me to be a Sister and since many of our teachers were Faithful Companions of Jesus and I was attracted by their way of living, I asked to enter in the middle of Gr. 11. The training I received to pray with Scripture and the courses I took over the years to understand the Bible more all enabled me to develop a deeper relationship with Jesus. By living the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience in community, I have been gifted with countless experiences with people of different cultures in different countries.
We religious pray often that more young men and women will hear God calling them to serve him through a lifetime of dedication as priests, brothers or sisters. If those young people feel drawn to a particular way of serving, they are encouraged to contact one or more of the communities in our diocese. They may find a sense of being at home when the spirit of a given community matches the gift of the individual.
Please join us in prayer for vocations to the priesthood and religious life especially on February 2, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, and on the weekend of Feb. 6-7, the World Day of Prayer for the Consecrated Life.
Every call to religious life is personal. We all have our individual way of coming to know what we want for our life. For me, Sister Ernestine Miskolczi, SSS, this awareness happened very early in life. I remember very well that when I was about five years old while visiting relatives, three-year old twin girls were dressed up as nuns by the older girls. Being shy and perhaps a loner I was sitting on the stairs looking at the twins and thinking to myself that they will not be ‘nuns’ but I will.
During my growing-up years we had Sisters who would teach us catechism during the summer holidays. These Sisters seemed always happy and that is what I wanted for my life. My teachers during high-school were all Sisters who further impressed me and helped draw me to thinking about this life style for myself. Needless to say, there were some handsome young fellows who held my hand and touched my heart but could never draw me away from my first choice.
In high school I had come to know a couple different communities of religious life. The first one that I had come to know was the one that I chose to enter right out of high school. I grew up in the wide-open spaces on a farm in Saskatchewan with blue skies from horizon to horizon. When I entered the noviciate of the Sisters of Social Service I had to move to the big city of Hamilton. Wide open spaces were gone. Three months later we were going to see Niagara Falls; what joy filled my heart, I could be in the open spaces for a while. To my great disappointment we didn’t see much open space as there were buildings practically all the way to the Falls. I soon learned that religious life wasn’t all peaches and cream. It had its ups and downs as all life does.
For over sixty years of ministry in God’s service as a Sisters of Social Service I enjoyed twenty years of as a teacher in Ontario and Saskatchewan, thirty years of parish ministry in three different parishes in Calgary, and several years of volunteer work wherever I can.
I am blessed indeed in many ways. My other works took me to see the Holy Land twice, visits to Europe three times, to Mexico three times, Los Angeles seven times. Who can want for more?
February 2nd is the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. It is also the World Day of Prayer for Consecrated Life. To me, this feast meets a need to give praise and thank the Lord for the gift of the Consecrated people in the Church, which belongs to the sanctity of the Church, as Saint John Paul II once pointed out.
On this day the prayers of the entire Church are dedicated to every consecrated person, giving thanks to God the Father, giver of every good, for the gift of this vocation. This feast offers the opportunity to appreciate the testimony of those who have chosen to follow Christ through the practice of the evangelical counsels by promoting understanding and appreciation of the Consecrated Life within the People of God.
This day is also, and above all, a day to renew our commitment and rekindle the feelings that inspired and continue to inspire the gift of ourselves to the Lord. Throughout the history of the Church, men and women religious have been a light in the darkness by living out their various charisms, and this day, we find a beautiful opportunity to thank the Lord for their gift to the Church.
Pope Benedict XVI once said: "In today’s feast we celebrate the mystery of consecration: the consecration of Christ, the consecration of Mary, the consecration of those who place themselves in the following of Jesus for love of the Kingdom of God." (Homily, February 2nd, 2012)
May Christ Jesus bless all of us on this beautiful feast and may He continue to call many to serve Him in the practice of the evangelical counsels with a heart full of joy to serve Him and only Him.
Vivit vero in me Christus - Gal 2, 20
Have you ever met someone that made a distinct impression? I think most of us could answer “yes.” Maybe that person didn’t do or say very much, but in their very presence or being, they made an impact, small or large.
I first encountered a religious sister when I was in kindergarten. It was during Lent. Sister (the sands of time have eroded her name) was kind and gentle, listened intently to our five-year-old selves, and really seemed to know about Jesus.
Until that day, I had not yet understood that Jesus had eventually grown from the baby I knew in picture books to the man who would eventually die on the cross for all of us. I remember feeling surprised and a little afraid of this new revelation, but Sister’s gentle demeanour and peace about the whole thing made me think that this grown-up Jesus must be quite wonderful, and then I was very curious.
A quick online search tells me that Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul were nearing the end of their ministry in my hometown. Though I can’t recognize that sister from the photographs, I carry the memory of the day she illuminated Christ for me. I eventually forgot about her – in fact, this memory didn’t resurface until I sat down to write this story – but the imprint on my heart, the one about grown-up Jesus never left me.
It is thousands of small moments like that one that mark the lives of many of us who live in the Diocese of Calgary – churchgoing or not – and exactly why a day of prayer for Consecrated Life is something to celebrate. World Day for Consecrated Life was founded by Pope John Paul II in 1997. Men and women renew their vows of poverty, chastity and obedience in parishes worldwide.
“The vocation of consecrated men and women have been for our Church from her earliest days a living witness to the truth of the fact God alone is enough and it is ultimately He to whom we must cling now in preparation for an eternity of adoring Him forever,” said Fr. Cristino Bouvette prior to the renewal of vows at the St. Francis Xavier chaplaincy’s Mass.
Spanning the front of St. Bernard’s church on the Feast of the Presentation, Calgary’s consecrated women, along with a few priests, echoed Anna and Simeon, whose words were shared in the gospel, in proclaiming God’s gifts and committing themselves to service of Him.
“I didn’t realize there were so many sisters in our diocese,” a friend said to me after we’d welcomed representatives from some of the 28 communities of consecrated men and women within the diocese. Neither had I, I admitted, scanning the mostly unfamiliar faces.
The answer to that may lie in the fact that many of them are continually at work with the poor, sick and marginalized, not on the doorsteps of suburban housewives. But if we made a little effort to venture downtown to the FCJ Centre, or west to Mount St. Francis in Cochrane we would find religious houses of peaceful retreat.
Walk into St. Mary’s High School and you might find Sr. Dianne Turner, Franciscan Sister of St. Elizabeth teaching a class. Throughout our city and surrounding communities there are men and women of varying charisms working and witnessing to the love of Christ.
Relatively new to Calgary, but friends with various parishes in our city are the Seeds of the Word Sisters, hailing from Brazil. Inspired by their community is Brittany Andreas, 19-year-old student at Mount Royal University.
After connecting with campus ministries, reigniting her faith and looking to the future, she thought “I need to be open to everything. I can’t force my own vocation.” She began visiting the Seeds of the Word sisters’ home with a few other students. Soon, half-hour visits turned to two-hour heart-to-hearts.
“Hearing the stories of how they came to consecrated life was really beautiful,” Andreas said,
“It was also inspiring to know that they didn’t have perfect backgrounds either, because we all have mistakes that we’ve made.”
I could relate, but was inspired by the courage that Andreas showed in considering the consecrated life. When I was the same age, I wanted to run away if a sister talked to me. Having few encounters with consecrated women in the flesh, my distorted view landed somewhere between my Dad’s stories of nuns reprimanding him in elementary school, the Sound of Music’s cloistered Carmelites and the singing nuns of Sister Act. Like Andreas, it was when I had real-life encounters with consecrated men and women that I came to realize my fear was baseless.
In a conversation with Sr. Dianne Turner after Mass, I admitted to her that my impression of the consecrated vocation when I was younger and unmarried was that it meant being alone. I had many examples of Catholic wives and mothers to draw from, but not very many sisters.
“Really in the end we are not alone because the Lord is with us,” she replied,
“[We have] the angels, the saints, we are never alone. Even if we’re the only one left in our order, which will soon happen to me, but I don’t feel alone because the Lord is always with me.”
In my collective encounters with people like Sr. Dianne or the Seeds of the Words Community, I soon realized that consecrated life also means being a part of and serving a community, and that like in a marriage, that community becomes a family of love.
Sr. Dianne went on to say later in our conversation that what the young need is to pray and ask God what it is He wants. That is the very definition of discerning a vocation – listening for God’s voice.
CCO missionary Chris Kokot, 24, like Andreas has been inspired by the sisters in Seeds of the Word community.
“I’m thinking about their sabbatical year after my commitment to CCO is finished,” he said.
Sharing about how he wants to pursue God’s call for him, he said, “I think the Church needs people who know Jesus in a personal way. Many people have barriers pop up for them when it comes to Church teaching, but people who truly know God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and live it out are what we need more of.”
Chris spends his days with CCO reaching out to students on our city’s post-secondary campuses, and getting to know them with the hope that they’ll come to know God.
“You can know about God, or you can really know Him. There’s a difference,” he said.
It is because of the similarities between charisms or gifts of CCO and the Seeds of the Word community that draws Kokot towards a possible time of discernment with them.
Young, real and welcoming were key words in the rest of my talk with Kokot and Andreas, who felt like they could relate to the young sisters who throw snowballs and watch the same sort of movies.
It is true that many of the religious we see in Canada are, as Sr. Dianne put it bluntly, “old.”
“But I can’t help that I’m old,” she said honestly, wishing that the young might see past the age of many of our consecrated and see the beauty in the life.
Her hope was to inspire women and men who might like to work in Canada, “there are so few sisters to start off with, and many young women, if they are called go online and find an order in the States.
“What we really need is the witness of religious life here.”
“There are so many wonderful orders,” she said of a few we discussed that are primarily in the United States, but we agreed that in our own nation, there is still good work to be done.
In that spirit, Sr. Dianne and the Assembly of Women Religious have a retreat planned on March 7 to encourage women age 16-35 to come and get their questions about religious life answered from sisters representing several communities.
It is with hope that we must look forward to a new generation of consecrated people, while we treasure the work and wisdom of the last.
Written by Jessica Cyr
To be honest, when they first pitched the idea to me, I was already fairly certain that it wasn’t going to happen. “Would you ever consider travelling to Brazil, Father, to learn more about our community and experience our life?” Sister Mary Elisabeth asked me one day. Immediately turning them down proved not to be so easy, but I had my doubts about going.
After additional time in prayer, discovering an utterly miraculous open block of time in my calendar precisely over the days the Sisters had invited me - with the bonus that my friend, Fr. Nathan Siray, former pastor and a friend of the Sisters was also invited - we decided to take the plunge! I could never have dreamed what God was already preparing for us down in Belém.
I have sensed a growing need to better understand the unique charism of the Seeds of the Word Community considering their expanding presence in our diocese coupled with the growing interest of our young people in discerning with them. After less than five years in Calgary, there was already a young woman from the community of Vauxhall living in one of their communities and my trip down was going to afford me the opportunity to visit her and have some of my questions answered.
Alissa Going was in Calgary to attend a day of prayer and discernment for women considering consecrated religious life in October 2014. In walked two sisters wearing their distinctive blue habits and white veils. Who were they? Alissa thought. Later, Sr. Mary Elisabeth would recount that they themselves didn’t know what they were doing at that retreat. Upon arriving in Calgary their only concern was tracking down a parish where they could attend weekday Mass and were delighted to be greeted by the familiar and smiling face of Sister Diane Turner, also surprised to meet young, habited sisters in her parish. Naturally, she invited them to attend the day of prayer with her several days later. For Alissa, that series of chance meetings would change her life.
After learning more about their community, she decided to take up their offer to travel down to one of their houses in Brazil to experience what they call the Sabbatical Year. I asked Alissa to tell me more about what the year entailed and with her warm smile that beamed peace and her eyes closed, clutching her bible and notebook she said, “It’s a time when anyone is invited to give a year of their lives to God and let themselves be transformed by His Word in the heart of the Seeds of the Word Community.” She compared it to going to a year in Bible School or at the St. Therese School for Mission in Bruno, SK. The rest is history.
For myself as our diocesan Director of Vocations, and for Fr. Nathan as Alissa’s former spiritual director, it’s hard to describe the joy we received having the opportunity, brief as it was, to witness Alissa’s life in the heart of the Seeds of the Word Community, but to also be welcomed into it ourselves. Pope Francis has often referred to God as a God of surprises. He surprised me with a trip to Brazil; He surprised Alissa with her vocation on a day of prayer; He has surprised the Seeds of the Word Community with the welcome they have received in the Diocese of Calgary. I can’t wait to see the surprises He has in store for us all through these Seeds!
Written by Fr. Cristino Bouvette
“I remember being four or five-years-old, walking through the ravages of WWII feeling determined to make something good out of the chaos, destruction, death and suffering brought on by what I think of now as a senseless war.
My outlook on life then and now was inspired by a devoted and loving dad and a dedicated and faithful mom. They taught me to love others as God loves you, be good to others as God is to you and to be a giver and let God give you as much as He is sure to give – these are the lessons that I tried to live up to. My thoughts of becoming a nun were triggered by the musicale that was part of our graduation in 6th grade. I was asked to sing my role in the song: “I wonder what I’ll be when I am big someday.” I was told to sing: “ I want to be a nun (3 x) when I am big someday.
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers