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