“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
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.
The moment I stepped into St. Bernard’s Church with one small child in tow and one gestating in my belly, I knew I’d be seeing more of the place. At a crossroads between our post-secondary days and life with a family, my husband Joseph and I were looking for a church to call home.
“Let’s go St. Bernard’s,” Joseph said, pointing out its 9 a.m. Mass time, ideal for our small child and in the community we’d moved to.
I entered that Sunday with trepidation. I was a new mom with a toddler son who’d received a few annoyed glances at other Masses. We were elated and a bit surprised when people at St. Bernard’s just smiled at us and told us we were doing a great job, even though our toddler behaved exactly as expected – like a toddler. A smiling woman greeted us after Mass and offered us coffee and a cookie for our son.
That warmth and kindness was what made us stay. For almost eight years, we’ve been parishioners, welcoming three more children into our family and into the Church. It is that welcoming atmosphere that receives a new kind of young family – the church family that will be the St. Francis Xavier Chaplaincy Centre.
“It will be a tremendous addition to our community,” said longtime parishioner Nancy Steudler.
Nancy and her husband Chris began attending St. Bernard’s as a newly engaged couple in 1982. They too were welcomed by the parish and were married there in 1983. As their family grew to four children, they became leaders in parish ministries, contributing the life of the parish. They and many others expressed joy at welcoming young people from across the city to worship and keep the faith alive in this church.
During an information session for the parish, Fr. Matthew Emmelkamp, pastor at St. Bernard’s/Our Lady of the Assumption and Fr. Cristino Bouvette, Director of Vocations who will oversee the chaplaincy centre answered any questions that parishioners had. Those in attendance seemed hopeful and mindful that young people are the future of the Church.
At the inaugural Mass I had a sense of hope as I watched the pews fill with young people along with parishioners I recognized – a few being founding members of the parish.
Since Bishop McGrattan was a bit under the weather, he asked Fr. Cristino Bouvette to give the homily.
Fr. Cristino cited the Gospel for that day where Jesus says “nobody puts new wine into old wineskins.”
“With the loving concern and care as our shepherd, Bishop McGrattan has seen that this new wine needs a new wine skin” he said, referring to the students and young professionals, along with newlyweds and families who will access the centre.
Drawing again on the Gospel, Fr. Cristino, comparing the crowd to grapes, said “many of you have begun to experience being crushed by various means and methods, because the world has an infinite number of them. And you’re beginning to be strained and purified.
“But contained within you is a power; a power that must be harnessed. A power that must be properly and lovingly cared for and maintained in order that that rich wine will be yielded.
“That power is the power of your vocation; That way in which God from the beginning of time already orchestrated in His mind a plan for your heart that when brought to fulfillment would transform this world.”
It was in this spirit that the nearly-full church celebrated Mass together with the Bishop and many of our priests. Afterward, the narthex was filled with a buzzing, joyful crowd.
The need for the chaplaincy centre has grown apparent as Catholic on-campus ministries at the city’s post-secondary institutions have stretched themselves to capacity, serving the needs of a growing contingent of young people, primarily 18-35-year-olds.
“We’re not going to be a status-quo parish,” said Fr. Cristino, pointing to the transitional stages that students, young professionals and young families are in. The aim of the St. Francis Xavier Chaplaincy centre is to be an off-campus place of transition and a launching point for the future leaders of the Church.
Visitors to the Faba home may be surprised by the size and shape of the kitchen table. Where others might have a couch that faces a television, this family of 11 has a round table that spans 72 inches in diameter. This is where the family gathers for evening meals and in a month where the secular world pays lip service to messages about love, this family works to live it. Indeed, if red is the colour of love and the colour of a house might speak to what’s inside, the heritage red hue of the Faba home in southwest Calgary is right on the money.
Kari and Phil Faba, who married at 20 and 25, readily admit they didn’t begin their married life with a plan to have an extra-large family. “I would suggest that the one thing that made all of this happen, one child at a time, was that there was a love for the Church that allowed us to trust,” says Kari.
Now parenting nine children ages 27 to seven, she and Phil talked to Faithfully about how they manage, as parents, to keep a love for Christ at their family table.
Kari’s got no shame in admitting she juggles faith-filled parenthood with paid work. But she knows where her priorities lie. Having worked full-time at a city bank until their third child arrived, she then moved to part-time work, taking night shifts opposite of Phil’s hours in the construction business. Looking ahead to her family’s future, she also partnered in a farmers’ market business that eventually became a full-time occupation.
These days, she and Phil own and operate that business outright. While they have full-time staff, The Stock and Sauce Co. at the Calgary Farmers’ Market is a seven-days-a-week enterprise and the Fabas are hands-on entrepreneurs.
The absence of firm boundaries between their marriage and their business partnership can be complicated. “It’s one thing to be married and then go off to your separate jobs,” says Kari. “We don’t have the luxury of comparing different job notes at night.”
Here, faith helps them keep priorities straight, says Phil. “As Kari likes to say, in our marriage there is sacrament. In business, there is no sacrament.” Daily mass as frequently as possible, regular reconciliation, constant prayer. The Church, says Kari, “always has our best interests at heart.”
Phil knows the notion of “quality time” with one’s children can come off sounding a bit corny. But he makes no apologies for how he and Kari make quality time with their kids a primary goal. In 2002, Phil took his first paternity leave when their son Thomas was born. “It was a totally different experience for me.” Taking responsibility for the home front helped Phil understand that while there may never be “enough” time, he would aim to know and love each child for his and herself. “Each one is different and you learn to nurture their strengths,” says Phil.
With the three oldest kids now living on their own (two own the house another brother rents a room in while attending university), Phil and Kari admit their parenting strategies have evolved with experience. Certain house rules, however, hold steady: All of the kids are involved in church, school and work; they participate in sports, but sit down to eat—together—every night; and they don’t leave family time to chance. By planning game and movie nights, they commit and recommit to being a strong presence in their children’s lives.
Written by: Joy Gregory
Called to action
In the fall of 2015, a committee of St. Mary’s parishioners, the FCJ Christian Life Centre Staff and FCJ sisters answered a global call for help and sponsored one refugee couple and their child from Syria, says Curran. Less than a year into that project, the committee discovered three fundamental truths about the Christian reaction to refugee sponsorship. First, the 12-month commitment mandated under federal sponsorship rules isn’t nearly long enough for the people you’re helping; second, when the people involved open their hearts to the process, 12 months isn’t long enough for the volunteers, either; and third, when you start to help people who need a particular kind of assistance, you’re likely to meet more of the same.
That last reality demands decisions about whether you step up or look away. “But it’s not really a choice,” admits Sr. Curran. “We do it because Jesus did it.”
The call to help more refugees arose soon after the group connected with the first family. As that family took its first steps towards settlement, Curran’s group found itself helping another Syrian family. Over time, they also helped two more. Since the newcomers all shared the same Melkite Greek Catholic tradition, it wasn’t long before members of the St. Mary’s and FCJ group were attending masses with the new Canadians. Determined to help the refugees develop relationships in their own cultural community, FCJ Centre also started to host an annual Syrian Christmas party with help from three Catholic schools in the downtown area, St. Monica’s, Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Mary’s. In 2018, that event attracted more than 130 people. It’s down from the 180 who came the first year, “but the people who come really enjoy it and the little ones love seeing a Syrian Santa.”
In addition to helping the Syrians connect with other Arabic speakers in the Catholic community, the group reached out to members of the city’s Turkish Muslim community. Called by their mandate “to live out of our abundant resources,” the FCJ Centre now invite their Muslim friends to an annual barbecue on the FCJ Centre grounds, says Curran.
With a servant’s heart, Joseph Gingco was pleased to help run the audio-visual equipment when his parish hosted an information meeting about the permanent diaconate back in 2013. Joseph, who has a Bachelor of Computer Science degree from the Philippines, knew his skills would prove helpful. Besides that, the life-long Catholic was curious about the topic.
Five years later, one of Calgary’s newest deacons believes God used that opportunity to serve to answer one of his prayers.
"I will seek you"
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers