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
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.
This coming Sunday is the Good Shepherd Sunday, or the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. The second collection this Sunday supports the education and formation of our seminarians. To help promote awareness of the Good Shepherd Sunday and to encourage donations for Good Shepherd Sunday, please use the graphic below for your parish social media, AV media, website or bulletin.
When I was a little girl, I remember my mom talking about her career aspirations – the things she dreamed of doing before I came along – and how when I came, she decided that staying home with me would be better. I vividly remember looking up at my mother, who was the most wonderful person I knew and in my 4- or 5-year-old mind thinking, “I want to be just like you.” I often go back to this version of myself when I start getting anxious about the path I’ve chosen; to stay home with my children like my mom before me.
Last week I found myself having the conversation about “what I do,” with other women. A bunch of soccer-moms trying to make small talk leaves me a bit wary.
“I stay at home with my five kids.” I said, eliciting replies of “Wow,” and “Five? You have five children?”, and then “and do you work?” (the question I was dreading).
“I work,” I say carefully, “having five kids means there’s a lot of work.”
A somewhat uncomfortable laugh. “Oh, of course, there is. Five! I just can’t imagine. But before kids, what did you do?”
“My background is in journalism. Now sometimes I freelance on the side,” I say.
I sense relief as I share this. A collective sigh as I share what I’ve contributed to life beyond the home. I do mean that sarcastically, because though I highly respect meaningful work outside the home, I don’t see why it can’t be on equal ground with the meaningful work many other women and I do within our homes. Aside from my household though, I am privileged to have the time for mother’s groups, school volunteering, and to commune with other moms who stay home. Women are needed in so many roles, and the choices we have today are abundant. There is a bit of material sacrifice in staying home, but I say this as a woman with the choice that many others don’t have due to poverty. The few things we don’t have compared to the time with my children are small.
I don’t view my position in the home as one might view a typical job, so I don’t want to call it a career, but I so badly want to convey to others that it is fulfilling. If I said the word “vocation,” in the soccer-mom crowd, I’m not sure what kind of looks I would get.
In explaining vocation, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (898) states that “it belongs to the laity” – that is people who are not priests or religious; ordinary people like your average mom – “to seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them toward God’s will.”
That means that even I, an ordinary mother, have a role to play in the kingdom. In my endless laundry, in my nightly wakings with babies and in all of the budgeting, story reading, disciplining and other seemingly mundane things that I do in my home, there is the opportunity to “direct them” to God and His ultimate plan.
I certainly know quite a few Catholic mothers whose vocation also includes a career balanced with home. But I think we must remember that mothers in any walk of life are not the sum of what they do, but that motherhood is wrapped up in womanhood and indeed humanity itself.
St. John Paul II famously wrote a thank you to mothers in his 1995 Letter to Women,
“You have sheltered human beings within yourselves in a unique experience of joy and travail. This experience makes you become God's own smile upon the newborn child, the one who guides your child's first steps, who helps it to grow, and who is the anchor as the child makes its way along the journey of life.”
These important words have echoed in my heart since I began on my own mothering journey 10 years ago. Being the anchor and the guide is no easy task, but seeing those first steps, hearing those first words and having the luxury of time with my children is an immense privilege. Some days are hard, and it is on those days that I think “Was I ‘God’s own smile’ or was I Satan’s scowl to these children.”
The great responsibility of raising four boys and a little girl is a heavy burden, which some days is eased only by the very idea that God’s grace is upon my husband and me to do it. It also eases my mind to know that even great saints struggled in this vocation:
“I could never have imagined how much I would suffer being a mother,” wrote St. Gianna Beretta Molla to her husband in 1958, “… It’s a good thing you’re more optimistic than I am so you can encourage me – otherwise, my morale would be almost below zero.”
St. Zelie Martin, mother of St. Therese of Lisieux wrote in a letter to one of her daughters, “I long for rest. I have not even the courage to struggle on. I feel the need of quiet reflection to think of salvation, which the complications of this world have made me neglect.”
In some ways, life has grown only more complicated for mothers since the time of St. Zelie, but we continue to look for the very same things; quiet reflection, rest, balance.
I find solace in the community of women I’ve built over the years; people who understand what the Catholic faith teaches about family and vocation. Without these gracious and welcoming women, I might’ve thought that staying at home with children is not for me. Coffee flows in the homes of my friends, and an understanding ear is there when I need it.
My mother converted to Catholicism when I was a child, and her example of fervent love for God and practice of the faith has shaped my motherhood. Hence, I also find encouragement within the Church I was brought up in. I’ve been blessed to encounter priests who smile on my family and welcome their noise and laughter, even in the middle of their homilies. I’ve been fortunate to have encountered those amazing people who will hold a baby, or just smile kindly at us when the children are being children. And in my role at home, it is my joy to bring the Church and its beauty to my children.
Written by Jessica Cyr, parishioner of St. Bernard / Our Lady of Assumption in Calgary.
One of the humbling privileges of serving as the vocation director of our diocese is coming into contact with young men who sincerely desire to give their lives to our Lord and the service of His Church. I would like to briefly share with you the impact one such of those young men has had upon me in the last year and a half.
You may recognize the young man in the photograph as the one who presented the oil to be blessed as Oil of the Sick only two weeks ago at the Mass of Chrism. He and I first came into contact over Skype while he was still serving on a NET Ireland team. He had been diagnosed with cancer there which threw a wrench in his plan to return home at the end of his missionary year with the hope to enter the seminary for our diocese. His doctors were confident that he would recover there and return home well.
That never turned out to be the case, and although he did make it back to Canada, he went through a roller coaster ride of sickness and health. His longing for the priesthood never wavered but at the beginning of April, when his doctors prognosticated that he would have only three months to a year left to live, he resigned himself to the fact he would never be ordained. Nevertheless, I asked him to consider himself my "assistant vocation director", wherein he would unite his sufferings to the Cross of our Lord for the intention of many and holy vocations to the priesthood for our diocese. He was unwaveringly committed to this spiritual work. Being present at our Chrism Mass was an opportunity for him to feel a share in our presbyterate.
Much sooner than expected, our assistant vocation director, Ted Andrew, peacefully passed from this life in the early hours of an Easter Octave morning, April 25, with his loving parents by his side.
He will be laid to rest in his hometown of Youngstown following the funeral Mass at Sacred Heart in Oyen on Tuesday, April 30. Please join me in offering your prayers and Masses for this spiritual brother of ours, that His Father will look upon him with mercy, and in His goodness, favourably hear his prayers for the growth of our presbyterate.
Presentation of the Oil of the Sick at the Chrism Mass (April 15, 2019).
Written by Fr. Cristino Bouvette, Director of Vocations
“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