Mr. Santiago Torres will be ordained to the Transitional Diaconate by Bishop McGrattan on Saturday, May 21 at 11 am at All Saints Parish in Lethbridge. Earlier this month, Chris Moraes, the President of the Serra Club of Calgary sat down with Santiago at his home parish of St. Bonaventure to ask him about his vocations journey and his upcoming ordination.
Can you tell me a bit about yourself?
“I am currently 33 years old. I was born in Colombia and moved to Canada when I was 16 years old with my mother, step-father and my younger twin sisters. My parents separated in my youth and moving to Canada was a challenge. At that time I was not practising my faith. I enjoy making visits to my native Colombia and visiting my father when I am there.”
Who is your favourite Saint?
My grandparents have always been very influential on me and my faith. When I was young they gave me a book about St. Dominic Savio. At his first holy communion St. Dominic said to God that he never wanted to sin again which was a very inspiring message for me. I took him as my confirmation saint and his story has inspired me to always trust in the Lord and has given me strength many times throughout my life.
When did you first become aware of your call? Who was instrumental in encouraging you to explore it?
At the age of 16 I met a girl at my school who was also from Colombia. We grew close and eventually began dating. She was very strong in her faith and brought me to Mass and encouraged my prayer life. Eventually we ended our relationship but my faith remained because of her. On one occasion I heard about a CCO Mission at my parish. My first deep conversion took place when I attended an evening of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. I was invited to take part in a Faith Study and that was when I really started to connect all of the aspects of my faith and especially came to discover a real relationship with our Lord Jesus. After that I started to get involved with CCO and I joined the executive of the campus ministry group at the UofC. This allowed me to share with others the encounter that I had personally experienced with Christ.
How has the Diocese of Calgary been instrumental in the discernment of your own vocation?
The Blessed Sacrament chapel at St. Bonaventure is where I really began to hear the Lord calling me to his service. It was also the witness of several priests that allowed me to be open to this call. Around the time of my conversion, Father Cristino was on his pastoral internship at St. Bonaventure and he likes to recall the story that he began praying for my vocation way back then. The spiritual direction from Fr. Wilbert Chin Jon was instrumental in navigating fears, doubts and feelings of unworthiness for such an important calling. The friendship of Fr. Troy Nguyen in the early days of discernment also helped to ease some anxieties about going to spend the first few years at Mount Angel Abbey in Oregon to begin my priestly studies. \
What has been the greatest challenge that you have gone through as in your Seminary formation?
The seminary is a place that really helps you to get to know yourself. It is an interesting balance of guidance, formation, and evaluation. At times it can magnify your shortcomings, and there are times when you find yourself comparing yourself to the other gifted and faith filled young men. It does, however, also help to discover the great gift of the priesthood and to accept that despite feelings of unworthiness, that God can indeed call you to serve him in this vocation.
What has been your greatest joy or consolation in this journey?
The abiding understanding that God always responds to openness with faithfulness and that he wants to fulfil you with happiness. The relationships that are forged with your brother seminarians allow you to wrestle with the doubts. It is a true brotherhood and gives you strength for the journey of discernment.
In the few months that it has been established in our Diocese, have you been aware of the Serra Club and its activities?
Yes, absolutely. Sometimes the seminary can become a bit of a bubble and you just keep your head down and keep working towards the goal. It is a wonderful realisation that you are not alone on your journey and that there are many dedicated people out there praying with and for you. The letters of encouragement from students and lay people have been a great blessing to me and I am grateful for the presence of the Serra Club and the work that its growing membership is doing to promote and support vocations in our Diocese.
What is the thing you are most anticipating as your ordination to the transitional diaconate it approaches?
The thing I am most excited for is simply just “Living it” and being entirely dedicated to the ministry of the deacon. I am sure it will bring new questions, new challenges, and new learning. The ordination brings both a sense of finality of one process but also a new beginning of a new one in the ordained ministry.
What piece of advice would you give to a young person who feels like they might have a call to a religious vocation?
First of all, talk to someone about it. A spiritual director, vocations director or your parish priest will help encourage, guide, and help you to know that you are not crazy for thinking you might be called to the priesthood. Fr. Wilbert was able to reassure me that despite my insecurities, that God would sustain and inspire me to keep saying “Yes.” Secondly, Give the Lord the chance to show you that He is God and that he knows and loves you and that wants what is absolutely best for you.
Photo credit: Chris Moraes.
Above his bedroom door, Br. Michael Perras, OFM, has a small banner made by his great-aunt who was an Ursuline sister which reads: “To Radiate Christ”. For him, it serves as a reminder to put on Christ when putting on his habit every day. Yet it also speaks to something deeper, the call for Christians to radiate Christ to the other. Those in consecrated life have chosen this as their life’s work, whether contemplative or active, ordained or not, male or female.
The feast of the Presentation makes this clear to us — that we are to live in imitation of Christ, the “light to enlighten the nations”. This feast has long fascinated Br. Michael (Mount St. Francis, Cochrane), in particular the figures of Sts. Simeon and Anna. In Br. Michael’s words, they serve as reminders: reminders to be amazed and to give praise, reminders to hope and trust, reminders of the elders in our lives, reminders of those who pass on the amazement of encountering Christ, and as reminders of those who call out the truth of who we are — in many ways, they are types of the consecrated life itself. The feast itself is a reminder: the hints of our baptismal promises in the liturgy are a reminder that we live as children of God, in the dignity of being anointed priest, prophet and king as Christ was in his Incarnation among us. Finally, Candlemas has been traditionally seen as the tail end of Christmas, with its themes of light-bearing. It is only right then, that the consecrated life and the Presentation of Christ are celebrated together, serving to remind us that we are all called to be bearers of light, and to witness to the light — to radiate Christ into the world.
When we think of the consecrated life, the mind quickly turns to nuns and religious sisters, and for good reason. Women far outstrip men in North America to the vocation of consecrated life, both in number of vocations and variety of orders. However, they do not comprise the only groups under the term “consecrated life”. Rather, the consecrated life includes all who profess public vows of poverty, chastity in the form of celibacy, and obedience, within a permanent state of life recognized by the Church. Compared with sisters and nuns, brothers, monks and friars are far less common in North America, especially within this diocese. Some orders have come and gone quite quickly, such as the Benedictines, while others enjoyed enduring tenures among us, such as the Brothers of Our Lady of Lourdes. The Franciscans have maintained a steady presence in Cochrane from the 1940s until now, and among them lives the sole non-ordained religious brother currently in the diocese: Br. Michael.
For Br. Michael, the call to religious life “came out of nowhere”. He grew up in a parish which receive Redemptorist missions regularly, and had two great-aunts who had been Ursuline sisters, but these seemed to be more “stepping stones” to the consecrated life, not “runway moments”. His parents owned the grocery store in Glenavon, SK, which was a primer in the life of service, and this continued in his life into youth ministry work throughout Saskatchewan. However, several things drew him to the Franciscans. Having tried to live simply during his pre-Franciscan life, an added depth was encountered in religious life, where the continual call to simplicity means to live out of who one is. Community and fraternity naturally grow out of this simplicity, with the discovery that “I can live out who I am in this way” among the messiness and the goodness of community, not changing who God has asked him to be.
The centrality of the Incarnation to the Franciscan charism also drew Br. Michael. St. Francis’ life was centred upon the humility of the Incarnation and the charity of the Passion, and for Br. Michael, who has been drawn to the Incarnation since childhood, this aspect of the charism is central: “God with us”, Emmanuel. Flowing out of this incarnational reality comes a broader understanding of living the Gospel as good news, in everything done in everyday life.
Br. Michael sums up his experience of consecrated life quite succinctly in the phrase “big brother, little brother, always a brother”. As the eldest of four, being the big brother has always been a part of his life; and joining the Order of Friars Minor, the experience of “minority”, of being little and simple, is central to the charism. From this place of being a biological brother flows the life of being a religious brother. Biological siblinghood calls us to the importance of relationship and building bridges, and questions how we build links, how we forgive and reconcile, and how we engage with others with different viewpoints; it is only natural that religious brotherhood does the same in different dimensions — being present to others, listening to others on their journey, encouraging what they have and offer. Br. Michael sees his vocation as that of a link in a chain — being others’ connection to faith and to the Church, the Church’s connection to the world, and linking these together in new and unexplored ways.
Each religious brother and sister lives out their vocation in a different way, stemming from the consideration of what they have and what they offer. Historically, unordained brothers were manual labourers who made life function for their order; nowadays, many are engaged in academic pursuits or in active ministry work — Br. Michael himself works in retreat ministry and spiritual direction. Despite changing situations, the most important facets of consecrated life have not: to announce the Good News, and to witness to the Good News lived out in the lives of the people of the broader community.
For Br. Michael, consecrated life is an invitation for us to deeper listening and awareness of God’s working in our lives and those around us. In our noisy world of instant gratification, consecrated life gives us pause to reflect on what and who we are listening to. The work of fraternity, hospitality and service that so many religious carry out points out that all Christians have a vocation to community and to being the Church. The ordained priesthood can often seem removed to some, and so the accessibility of consecrated life speaks to the connection, approachability, inclusivity and dialogue that all Christians are meant to embody, to the centrality of relationship in humanity. To sum it up, consecrated life is a sign for us to live life for the other, and not for the self.
In Br. Michael’s words, consecrated life is one of “witness and connection, being present and listening” — a life remarkably similar to those of Sts. Simeon and Anne. As we approach the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, let us grow in the lessons that consecrated life teaches us: chiefly, let us grow “To Radiate Christ”.
Over the past few months as I have become acquainted with the members of the Seeds of the Word, I have come to see Our Blessed Mother in each one of them: a joyful young woman dressed in simple blue clothes, her life overflowing with the Life of God. The Seeds of the Word is a Brazilian contemplative and missionary community whose mission in Calgary began in 2014. Visiting their home, I have peeked into the community’s life of prayer, penance, and mission, which they live in cheerful hiddenness. Their contagious smiles reveal the treasure of their courageous hearts which have opened to receive and give the gift of God.
The focus of the community is intimacy with Jesus Christ through the Word of God. For them, Jesus is the Precious Seed, whom they receive in personal and communal prayer, and then share with the world. Christmas is the most important feast for the community because of the centrality of the Word of God in their spirituality. Sr. Ana Sophia shares her experience: “I always get emotional at Christmas time when we contemplate that Baby... the Word of God Who came to save the world. It is so powerful to look at Him.”
One of the newest sisters, Sr. Bridget, formerly Alissa Going, from Vauxhall, AB, professed her first vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience on December 3, the feast of St. Francis Xavier. Through these vows, she has made a commitment to her first year of consecrated life. As Sr. Ana Sophia explains,
“the call to consecrated life is a special call from the Lord, not to everyone, but just a few people who He separates from the world to Himself because these people need more than what the world offers us. That’s why we leave everything behind for Him: because those good things are not enough. We need more.”
Consecrated men and women show each of us, whatever our state in life may be, that it is only in giving ourselves to God that we can receive Him. At Christmastime, the Child Jesus reaches His sweet hands out to us in love. In order to truly hold Him in our arms, we must release our mortal grasp on all the things that pass away. If human weakness trembles at the prospect of such self-emptying, it is still when it senses the warmth of love shared in the manger.
Ana, one of the postulants said, “We do not lose anything. We just gain everything.” Sr. Mary Elisabeth remarked that as Sr. Bridget consecrated herself to God, “she was so happy, she was glowing!” It is nothing less than the radiant glow of heaven, in which consecrated people participate on earth.
The community follows Our Lady’s Christmas-time model in being both contemplative and missionary. After receiving the Word of God in her heart and in her womb, our strong and selfless Mother travelled with haste over rough hills to share the gift of God with her cousin Elizabeth. If it is contemplation to receive the embrace of God, it is mission to offer this embrace to others.
The community’s Rule of Life states that “there is no mission without contemplation.” The generous prayer lives of the Seeds of the Word overflow into their lives of mission. They are missionaries in everything they do, lovingly offering each moment of their day for the salvation of souls. “If during the day we don’t go anywhere, we are still missionaries in the house.”
The specific apostolate of the community varies based on the diocese they are in. In Calgary, the Seeds visit schools, parishes and groups to share the Word of God. Their sabbatical year program, which currently takes place internationally, is an opportunity for people of all ages to grow closer to the Word of God and to find their places in the Church. Sr. Bridget took part in the program as a way to take a step forward in discerning her call to the consecrated life.
Ana said of Sr. Bridget, “It was very beautiful to see her courage because if you want to follow Christ you need to be very courageous... to go to another place where God is calling you. It was very beautiful to see how she said yes to God’s plan, whatever it was, even if it was hard for her. We pray that many other people here in the diocese will also answer the call of God, even if it is difficult.”
Each sister in Calgary has left her family and country to share the Word of God in our city. Like Our Blessed Mother, they are eager to travel long distances and surmount tall hills for the sake of sharing the Gospel. I was blessed to be present to bid farewell to Sr. Bridget and Sr. Edith Mary as they left the St. John Paul II house in Calgary to go to the community’s new mission in the Philippines. As the door closed behind them, one of the remaining sisters said with a sad smile on her face, “this is the life of the missionary.”
“Religious life,” Sr. Mary Elisabeth insists, “takes courage to embrace, to say that I will say no to the things the world gives me and to say yes to a life that is hidden many times, a life with sacrifices many times, but a real life, a life with Jesus who is real. It's not a life of dreams. It's a real life in which you love God through people. It’s a life offered to others. It’s a life that is given 24/7.”
Regardless of the state of life to which God calls him or her, each Christian is called to a courageous life of contemplation and mission. As Christmas draws near, we are each invited to open our hearts to the Infant Jesus, that Adorable Little Seed, Who wishes to be planted firmly in our souls and to bear the fruits of love, peace, and joy in our lives.
Every year the students at Christ the King Academy in Brooks, Alberta sign up for a variety of service projects and good works to help prepare their hearts for Christ’s coming during this Advent season. Usually, the students engage in works such as baking muffins, praying for the living and the dead, or cleaning up around the neighbourhood. This year however, we started what we hope to be a new tradition – writing Christmas Cards to our dear retired priests of the Diocese!
The idea came about during the grade six’s religion class, when learning about the Sacrament of Holy Orders and the life of service a priest undertakes. The students were quick to realize that the vow of celibacy meant that for many priests, we as Catholics are their family members! While priests are serving in their parishes, they are surrounded by the many families who help take care them and thank them for their service… but what happens when a priest retires?
The students were surprised to learn that our retired priests are still helping celebrate Mass and administering Sacraments where they can, despite no longer have a parish family around them. We discussed how we can show our love and thanks to these priests who spent their lives working for us, and the answer seemed clear – we would write them Christmas cards! Each student wrote a card to some of the retired priests in the diocese to let them know we are praying for them by name as a class and we are forever grateful for their years serving us.
Written by Deacon Michael Soentgerath for Faithfully, October 2021.
Written by Fr. Terry Connolly for Faithfully, October 2021.
“So, what do you want to be when you grow up?”
If you had any kind of typical childhood, you’ve heard this question more times than you can count.
For me, I normally had an answer. Princess, chef, interior designer, and – when asked in my university years – an investment banker or finance prof.
The last thing I could have imagined I’d answer some day is, “Religious sister.”
The Catholic faith that I was raised with became my own while I was a student at Mount Royal University. An organization called Catholic Christian Outreach (CCO) re-introduced me to the person of Jesus and proposed that the faith was something relevant for me as I moved into adulthood. The CCO students I met had genuine joy which flowed from their relationship with Jesus, and I knew that I wanted what they had. I made a decision that I would centre my life around Him going forward.
I was still excited to focus on what I “wanted to be,” but this time, I saw my career as an opportunity to witness in the secular world and bring others to God. Sounds pretty good, right? I didn’t think I had any reason to question my plans. There was only one thing: I never thought to ask Him about them.
When I was in my third year of university, I did something I’d never done before. I asked the Lord in prayer, “How do You see me?”
His response? “Sister of Life.”
My first reaction went something like, “Uh oh.” I knew that consecrated religious were a “thing” in the Church, but it was something that other people did – never something I imagined or thought of for myself! I did what seemed to be the smartest move in that situation…I tried my very hardest to push the idea out of my mind.
Thankfully, God plays the long game with us. He didn’t let me get off the hook and sometimes reminded me of that time of prayer, but He respected my freedom and waited while I continued to plug ahead at my plans.
It took going on a mission trip to New York City in 2019 to get my attention. While staying and working with the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal (CFRs), I recognized true joy. The men of this community had renounced everything the world places on a pedestal – success, money, the ability to do whatever they wanted – and yet, they were free.
I thought to myself for the first time, “Maybe, just maybe, what God wants for me could make me happy.”
If I’m being honest, though, I needed some help to figure this out. Just like kids go to their parents for guidance as they decide what to do with their lives, I turned to my Mother, the Church.
The Church has guided me the last couple years in almost every way possible. Through the sacraments, amazing spiritual parents, and an awesome community of other young Catholics, I’ve been able to draw closer to the Lord and gain more confidence in His call.
I’ve also had the opportunity to live at the inaugural St. Francis Xavier Chaplaincy (SFXC) Women’s House. Here, several young women and I stayed with the Seeds of the Word Sisters at their home in SW Calgary and had the gift of being able to participate in elements of their prayer and community life. These experiences helped to debunk some of the misconceptions I had about religious life and filled me with joy at the possibility of being totally His.
All of these things have led me to my next step in following the Lord’s call…entrance to the Sisters of Life in New York this September!
In responding to God’s plan for my life, I have recognized the truth of these words from Thomas Merton:
Vocation does not come from a voice out there calling me to be something I am not. It comes from a voice in here calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God."
I am thankful to the Church for being a good Mother to me. In an age where we’re told we can do and be whatever we want, She has helped me to discover not merely “what I want to be,” but far more importantly, who God made me to be.
Interview and transcription: Solomon Ip.
Photos courtesy of L. O'Hara & Solomon Ip.
Shareable and delicious, pizza is a dish for friends. Parishioners and staff at St. Joseph’s in northwest Calgary know this from experience. This year their priest, new to the parish since August 2020, served them up over one hundred of his own homemade pizzas, spread over several occasions.
Fr. Marek Paczka described himself as “not a cook,” but nonetheless decided he might be able to learn to make something as simple as pizza.
The story behind the pizzas is both sad and hopeful. Fr. Marek spoke about an Italian couple who befriended him when he was a parish priest in Port Alberni, BC.
“They invited me to dinner and we became friends. I would dine at their house at least once a week for 15 years, even when I moved parishes and had to drive 110 kilometers.”
Having fallen in love with Italian culture while spending 2 years in Rome, Fr. Marek found it easy to spend time with this special couple and their friends around the dinner table, and was even included on special occasions like Christmas and Easter
“There is something about sitting down together and just facing each other,” he said, adding that in Italian culture it is common for families and friends to spend thousands of hours together at the table.
He spent many hours with his friends eating wonderful meals at dinner parties, and mentioned mushroom picking and enjoying produce from their vegetable garden.
This past year, the husband half of this couple passed away fairly suddenly from cancer. Fr. Marek was shocked.
“I didn’t make it to see him before he died,” he said, “but I did make it to his funeral.”
Because he wanted to preserve something of the friendship he had with this man and his wife and guided by his feelings for Italian cooking, Fr. Marek said he asked another mutual friend, Elvia Orli, how to make pizza.
“I could never cook the wonderful Italian meals that my friends made,” he explained, “but I thought I could try to make pizza,” he said.
“I tried and tried and tried and it never worked. I gave up when my dough didn’t rise. I had done something wrong. But this year I thought I’d try again, so I phoned Elvia and asked her again for the recipe and had her tell me what to do.
“I realized it was simple, and this time I was successful. I was shocked because I’m not a cook. It’s just flour and water, yeast and salt and a little bit of oil.
“I made four pizzas with ham and veggies and some chives from the garden here (at St. Joseph’s) and I tested it first myself, secretly. Then I shared with my secretary and eventually a few of the other staff.
“Then one Sunday after Mass I shared pizzas with the parish.”
Thus far, Fr. Marek has made over one-hundred-and-ten pizzas for various people in his parish. “I thought that once I’d made one-hundred, I could be comfortable with it.”
“I was just fascinated by the fact that I was making pizza. I have used over 30 kilograms of flour, not to mention the meat and other ingredients.”
Inspired by a friendship and helping his relationship to his parish, pizza making has become a hobby, though Fr. Marek said that cooking has never been his passion.
He also cites the attitudes that bring communities together as another inspiration for the pizza.
“I learned this growing up and also from my time building houses in Zambia, that material things are not as important as people. The poor appreciate things, and they have a culture of making things themselves, and sharing, contributing to community life.”
“My mother grew up in a poor family and we were poor, but she shared what she had, and I suppose I wanted to share what I can do with the people around me. There is a joy in helping someone with the essentials, and I guess I am feeding people.”
A few parishioners had great things to say about Fr. Marek’s pizzas,
“The pizza is delicious, writes Susan Couture, “but what makes it so special is the love that goes into it. “The topping is always a nice surprise. We had one that had leek on it which I’ve never seen on a pizza before but it was delish.” Mia Drewniak writes, “I love the crust and the healthy toppings. Lots of garden herbs and even leeks made it on to the pizza. Inspiring!”
Out of a desire to honour dear friends, to honour a mother’s example and to serve his parishioners, Fr. Marek has in a unique way brought together tradition and connection.
Your priests are exhausted – like everyone else I suspect. It is a form of spiritual tiredness that comes when fathers are not able to be with their families as they wish. Certainly, it is tiring to care for a family, but then again, there is a gift of life that flows from being with your family as you care for them. Those fathers (and mothers) who labour in foreign countries to send back remittance monies to support their families know one thing for sure: phone calls and Facetime are just not enough. The priests of Calgary confronted this during the pandemic year because they are not “pious bureaucrats but pastors” (Pope Benedict’s phrase) – and they miss their family-flock. Yet they also know whose priests they are: Jesus Christ’s – and the Eucharistic Lord has never abandoned them.
It was my surpassing honour to be invited by these very priests to lead them in a retreat in these – pray God! – waning days of the Pandemic. I wrote them a note:
Do you remember the beginning of this annus horribilis? Celebrating the Easter mysteries with a few people in Church. Scrambling to find ways to render virtual that which is essentially incarnational – the Eucharist. Worrying about pastoral care and meeting payroll. Who can forget the Holy Father’s solitary Urbi et Orbi prayer for the end of the pandemic? His words still challenge: “We find ourselves afraid and lost in this time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It’s a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others,” And so it goes on month after month. Even the most introvert of us priests have been stretched thin by the dual experience of isolation from our people and still bearing the burden of their stress. As in all times of challenge, the best and the worst of people emerged: politics and medicine divided our communities. And what about each of us? In this Retreat we will support each other as every morning we reflect on the challenge of the Holy Father’s solitary Urbi et Orbi prayer for the end of the pandemic: “We find ourselves afraid and lost in this time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It’s a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others.”
What can one new parish priest say to such a crew of faithful ministers? Hopefully, only what Jesus wants him say. I think it is always just a variation of Christ looking a priest in the eye saying, “You are my priest, and I love you.”
Looking a priest in the eye? Leading a retreat in pandemic times has a very strange quality: it is ‘virtual’. Conscious of a hundred pairs of priestly eyes, I could only see a checkerboard pattern of faces. But from the start as I sat and listened as they greeted each other joyfully I know that what was before me was not “virtual” at all – it was a quilt of servants of the sacraments woven by the Spirit. A quilt sustained by the prayers of God’s People in Calgary
What did the Spirit lead us to reflect on? Simply, that which is the very essence of a priest’s life: the Holy Eucharist. Indeed, we have not been able to celebrate the sacred mysteries with many others but we priests have still been able to meet our Eucharistic Lord daily. We long to respond to the longing of our people for Communion – but we also are called to respond to the intimate longing that the Lord has for each of His priests.
Did you know that there are certain prayers in the Ritual of the Mass that a priest says quietly – or to use an old phrase “secretly”? For example, as he purifies the vessels from which he has just partaken of the Body and Blood of Christ the priest whispers, “What has passed our lips as food, O Lord, may we possess in purity of heart, that what has been given to us in time may be our healing for eternity”. Every Friday morning those who pray the Divine Office recite Psalm 51 and say, “then in the secret of my heart teach me wisdom”. What is the wisdom of these intimate or “secret” prayers? This was the theme we explored in the Lord. And the Lord was gracious as He always is.
Retreats are not ever times of running away from reality – no that would be Netflix and YouTube. In a retreat one runs into the heart of reality – God’s heart. It is not a time for pious words or flowery ideas – but for the Word that meets our reality. That is what the Eucharist is: our offering of the reality of our lives to God and God giving us the Real Presence of His Son. The questions were real and raw: how do live with chaos as the rhythm of life is turned upside down? What will priesthood look like after this immersion in a separated virtual society? It seems like priests are both under a microscope and yet marginalized like the Church – where are we being led?
To the Eucharist – always to this source of our very being. And we found in the secret prayers of the answer of Jesus, “Do not be afraid, it is I”.
Written by Kyle Greenham for Faithfully
Interview conducted by Anne Marie Brown
Written by Rev. Dr. George Madathikunnath
Interview conducted by Anne Marie Brown, Catholic Pastoral Centre
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
It’s been more than a year since I was ordained as a Permanent Deacon in the Catholic Church, and what a year it has been! Guiding me during the four-year formation journey was a combination of prayer, effective mentoring, spiritual direction, self-reflection and practical experience.
An instrumental topic to me, and that of my spiritual director, has been the transformation of one’s ego. Every person he says, “whether they are aware of it or not, is engaged from the moment of birth in a titanic struggle to lead a life led by the spirit, or, a life led by the attractions of this world. He is fond of saying, “throughout our entire lives, but most especially a man in formation must grow increasingly aware of these two forces, each clamoring for our attention. One force leads to life, and the other to death”.
The battleground in this great seesaw for our soul is a person’s ego. It can serve as both sword and shield, our greatest ally, or, our greatest enemy. The successful path to life sees the pouring out, a little at a time from our old self (ego), then, filling the void with the love of Christ. Thus, guided by this new mixture of love, we gain greater strength to support our future actions and ministries.
All throughout my life, but especially during my diaconate formation, I came to fully realize the necessity of allowing this constant pouring out and re-filling, as a catalyst to mold myself anew. Following that which promises life, I opened my heart wide to the workings of the Spirit and allowed my self-identity to shift toward the truth of Christ. Infused with a clearer sense of the necessity of living my life closer to God, I invited my wife and my family to join me in this new reality of love.
My spiritual director says that formation for a new deacon never stops and once ordained, the deacon must continually be open, and vulnerable, to the revelations which Christ wishes to share with him. A new deacon must continually desire to hold his ego aloft, so that with Christ’s blessing, it may receive further refinement from the Holy Spirit. This willingness to constantly seek to have his ego molded by the Spirit of Christ, this change of heart, is at the very core of diaconal formation he says. Without it, no man can truly serve successfully in the capacity of deacon.
This continuous transformation of one’s ego is key for us all. We must let go of doing things our own way, and supplant them with God’s way. One must pour out the old self (one’s former worldly attractions) to receive the new from God. Gradually, our willingness to seek Christ over that of the world is God’s goal for us.
Written by Deacon Laing for Faithfully
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers