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
“Hey! Excuse me, but… I’m new to Lethbridge. Is this the way to St. Martha’s Church?”
It was Sunday, September 7, 2014 — my first Sunday in a new city, in my first week of university, my first time to Sunday Mass without my family — and I was in a bit of a panic. My first week of university had already been a washout — I’d already managed to double-book my classes, look like an over-enthusiastic know-it-all (the lesson was on the parts of the Mass — child’s play!), get completely overwhelmed in wind orchestra rehearsal, and terrify my new roommates with my rice cooker.
Google Maps told me it was a 22-minute walk to St. Martha’s Parish from my residence building, but I was 20 minutes into my journey with no church in sight. I was not about to have getting lost on my way to my first Mass in Lethbridge, crown off my week of failures, so mustering a bit of the remaining confidence I had, I ran ahead to a group of three young women who were also walking down Columbia Boulevard and asked for directions.
“We don’t know. We’re new here too. If you’re headed there too, we must be going the right way.” What a relief! We walked the last block there together.
Mass ended. It was so unlike anything I had known growing up in the Anglican Use liturgy at St. John the Evangelist in Calgary, and I was homesick for my parish community. We walked back to the university together and then parted ways. It would have been wise to get contact information, but in that first week of university, one meets so many new people only to never see them again… Another failure.
Monday afternoon. I sat eagerly in Music and did my best to put the last week behind me. Suddenly, I hear someone ask, “hey, do you mind if I sit here?” It was one of the women I had walked to Mass with on Sunday! “Of course you can!” Another relief.
Later, I would learn that she had seen me answer way too many questions in that class in the first week and decided that we should be friends. (Thanks be to God for extroverts.) We sat together through all of our first year Music History classes, sharing lunch in the cafeteria before each class. We endured some of our first university experiences together — we stayed up until 4 a.m. writing our first papers, and we were the last two to finish our final exam. She and her roommate (another one of the trio I had walked to Mass with) became close friends with a high school friend and me, and there are many fond memories of sharing meals, playing board games and going on late-night drives through Lethbridge together. In many ways, this friendship became the rock on which I leaned on during this difficult first university year.
She also challenged my faith to become more vibrant. Entering university, I had a very dry, legalistic understanding of Catholicism, which she pushed back against gently, teaching me to temper my scrupulosity and legalism with gentleness and charity. I learned from her how to lean on God’s grace when confronted with new stressors and challenges. We went to our first young adult events together in Lethbridge, without which I would have never become so deeply involved in that ministry. We also travelled to World Youth Day in Kraków together, where I learned to grow deeper in God’s ardent, merciful love, and to follow this love to the ends of the earth.
The Lord has everything within the palm of His almighty hand — He knew I needed a friend in that difficult time, and the friend he sent me changed my life for the best. If I had not met Natalie on the road to St. Martha’s, how else might my life have looked? Would I have been pushed to love my God and my neighbour more deeply? Would young adult ministry have become such a huge part of my life? Would I even have graduated from university? There is no such thing as an accidental encounter — God introduced me to Natalie as part of His plan for my life, and I hope that our friendship has been of value for Natalie as well (even though I’m still very much the junior partner in this friendship!). God places friends within our lives intentionally — to challenge, encourage and push us to grow to love and adore Him more.
I had been reflecting upon this idea with Natalie near the end of our first year of university together. Her response was perfect, “Christians are like grapes. We grow best in bunches.” May God give us this grace so to grow as clusters of friends together, fed by the one true Vine.
By: Solomon Ip
I lived at Elizabeth House in July 2009. I was initially staying with my Mom’s third cousin in Calgary as I needed to be away from the dad of my kid. We had been together for six years on and off as I always caught him cheating and was emotionally manipulated.
After my US trip, we didn’t see each other for three months and as usual, he was trying to win me back and I thought he changed. It was a one-time deal and then I got pregnant. It was not great news for both of us, since I had just passed on my crown as a national beauty queen in the Philippines, having represented the country in the international pageant of Miss Earth and won Miss Photogenic.
I had also just started my job in the Nestle Philippines when we found out I was pregnant. As usual, he would still have girls around and still be so sweet to me. I realized it was not a healthy situation as he was not committed, and he would always hold me back. He tried to win me back so many times, but as he was not fully committed to me, I knew I had to help myself. So, I left him knowing I would be in a better place.
But living with relatives is harder than I thought. Especially when there’s judgment in the situation and if they don’t understand the many changes in pregnancy. It wasn’t healthy anymore in that house. I even reached a point when I wanted to leave the world, but no, I couldn’t do it because I had my daughter inside of me. So, I remained strong and fought hard. I asked our Parish priest, Father Edmund Vargas, who is also a Filipino, for help. He recommended Elizabeth House.
After being accepted, I found peace. The House was equipped and the people were warm. I like the division of tasks in cleaning, cooking and also the seminars and events every week. I found my family in Canada. Elizabeth House helped me focus more on my pregnancy and prepare for my delivery as well as for motherhood. The social workers were so helpful.
I am so glad that there’s a place like this.
In the Philippines, we don’t have much help like this. That’s the reason why it has been my dream since that time (10 years ago) to put up my own Elizabeth House. And indeed, after 10 long years, I have finally started and our House is now being built.
I believe that there’s a reason for everything and nothing is an accident. This happened to me, so I would know my purpose. I have goosebumps as I write this, but I believe I have finally found my purpose. To build this House that could help many women in crisis. I know what they go through, I know their challenges, I know how to help. And, finally, I can help.
No one thought I would end up being a single mom, I was not the type. But like I said, there’s a reason for everything. I also believe that our worst moments give birth to our most amazing moments.
This amazing moment in my life includes giving birth to a beautiful baby girl, whom I love and cherish the most. I believe she is my greatest achievement, and now this opportunity to launch Elizabeth House Foundation Philippines.
Again, many thanks to you all! May you continue to help women and make them stronger in facing motherhood. Praying for you all and our mothers in the House, always!
We Love you!
Jeanne and Gabby
Once per month, St. Bonaventure Pastor Fr. Colin O’Rourke brings Jesus into local schools for Eucharistic Adoration.
The Sisters of Divine Mercy play music as students gather in the gym, followed by a short talk. Then, Fr. O’Rourke exposes Jesus, fully present in the Blessed Sacrament, in the monstrance on the altar. He invites students to sit silently before God in prayer for 5-10 minutes, closing with benediction and a prayer to make a spiritual communion.
“It’s a bit counterintuitive to have a bunch of elementary school students sit quietly, people just think that’s not going to happen. And invariably, you can hear a pin drop. The kids are actually very attentive,” said Fr. O’Rourke.
St. Bonaventure Youth Minister Adam Soos coordinates the devotion between the parish and St. Boniface Elementary, St. Philip Elementary, St. Don Bosco Elementary/Junior High and St. Bonaventure Junior High. He said a transferring student asked him to call his new principal to ensure the school offers adoration.
“There is a lot of busyness in life,” said Soos. “Adoration is different from everything else. Instead of feeling scattered or worried, we feel peace. This is utterly authentic and the kids can pick up on it.”
Adoration is a relatively uncommon devotion in schools. In Soos seven years of youth ministry at St. Bonaventure, he’s noticed principals new to the school are usually apprehensive until they experience it.
“They say ‘wow, I’m sad I haven’t had this for my entire career,’” said Soos. “We get feedback that the school can seemingly be in chaos and after, for the rest of the day everyone is happy, content and there is a sense of peace.”
Soos notices more students attend Mass or a parish youth event following adoration in school. Fr. O’Rourke agrees. He said bringing Jesus to school students is more effective than simply inviting them to attend adoration in the parish, but in doing so, students are often inspired to follow Jesus to church.
Diocesan Moderator Fr. Wilbert Chin Jon, former St. Bonaventure pastor, introduced adoration in these schools in 2010. When he was reassigned to Our Lady of the Rockies in Canmore, he instituted 20 minutes of guided reflection and silence before the Blessed Sacrament twice a month in Our Lady of the Snows School; a devotion, the current pastor, Fr. Nathan Siray continues.
Faithfully spoke with Tim Neufeld, based out of Abbotsford, BC. Neufeld first achieved success as the co-founder and lead singer of EMI recording artist STARFIELD. He has toured the world for over a decade, shared the stage with countless Canadian Country, Roots and Christian artists, and won multiple JUNO, Dove, and Covenant Awards. Tim Neufeld has been married for 15 years to Carla and is the father of three children, Haven 10, Oliver 9, and Bowen 6.
What do you love most about being a dad?
Tim: I love sharing my life with my family. Of all the different roles I play in life, the husband/father role is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever known. It’s hard being a father, but in the best sort of way, and it helps me understand more about what love really is. Becoming a father made me a whole person. It made me re-evaluate what’s most important. More than anything, I want to raise good and kind people. I feel blessed to have that responsibility!
What’s it like reuniting with your family after you’ve been on tour?
Tim: It is the most amazing feeling in the world. I’m just completing a two-week tour, and have most of the summer off, so I’m looking forward to some quality time with the kids. Family ice-cream outings, building a tree fort, and Friday movie nights are just a few of the things on the list. I get to do all the things I loved from my childhood all over again through the eyes of my kids... How cool is that?
The new single BLESSED by ‘Tim and the Glory Boys’ is available to listen to HERE.
Written by Nadia Hinds
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 Diocese of Calgary inspires you in your vocation as husband and father? Here is what Mike McKinnon shared:
Written by Sara Francis
Will I be a saint and lead my family to heaven? This is a question I frequently contemplate.
To be a father and husband requires heroism in the face of today’s secular society. God places a great responsibility on fathers. During my discernment as a single man, the thought of having children was the reason I was afraid to pursue the vocation of marriage. I was fearful about bringing children into a society that is morally corrupt and could very likely consume their souls.
Fr. Lasance shares the following regarding the raising of children. He emphasizes on the weight and responsibility by which God entrusts their care: "Married people have another important duty: they must bring up their children in the fear of God. At the day of their last judgement, we who have the care of souls do not fare like private individuals; we have not merely to answer for what we have personally done or left undone, but when we have given an account of this, we shall be asked about the condition of those who have been entrusted in our care. In the same manner, shall fathers and mothers be judged, not only regarding what their own lives have been but also to the manner in which they have brought up their children.”
I was contemplating this sentiment at a retreat held by Christopher West in 2015, and suddenly something clicked. If I wasn’t courageous to take up the challenge of raising holy children, how can I expect other men to maintain the faith through successive generations? The fact that I cared so deeply for the souls of children and their upbringing is the exact reason why I needed to be a father. I knew this was what God was calling me to do.
St. Paul writes in Ephesians 5:25 “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the church, and delivered himself up for it”. When we read this passage, we ought to contemplate what God is calling all husbands to do. Each man is to lay down his life for his wife and family as Christ did for his Church. Christ delivered himself through excruciating pain and suffering on his journey to Calvary to be crucified.
While being a father carries burdens, it also brings many joys and consolations. One of the most moving times in my life was when I gazed into the eyes of my son, Joseph shortly after he was born. Watching him grow and learn things for the first time has been very exciting. It melts my heart when he imitates us at mass or spontaneously asks to initiate our family rosary. Daily life is sprinkled with little blessings like these. Now, rather than dwelling too much on how the evils of this world can lure our children, I focus on how I can teach my son to know, love and serve God. This is what it means to be a father.
As a father, I pray to St. Joseph - head of the Holy Family, for his intercession to be a heroic father and husband.
St. Joseph, pray for us.
Written by John McDonald
Danielle Tomiak (Sacred Heart Parish, Calgary) is quick to admit that the adage ‘like mother, like daughter’ rings true for her and her own mother, Tracy Tomiak.
“Our temperaments are kind of the same. Our reactions are kind of the same. As I continue to grow up, I hear myself sounding like her. And we look very much alike. It’s cool to have that connection with my mom,” said Danielle, the fourth of five siblings.
They will even be brides at the same age. Tracy was 23 when she married her husband Bill Tomiak 30 years ago, and Danielle will be 23 when she marries Nathaniel de Jesus this June. As Danielle prepares for her vocation, she’s reflects on how her mother has been a model of both strength and femininity throughout her life.
Many don’t know that Tracy suffers from chronic pain after her car was rear-ended 15 years ago.
“She used her suffering and united it to Christ for the greater glory of our family. She accepted it and turned it into something good. She used her struggles and her weaknesses and turned them into strength,” said Danielle, a parishioner at Sacred Heart Church.
Tracy, a member of Holy Name Parish, went on to achieve her masters in counselling and now runs her own marriage and family counselling practice.
“My mom is a powerhouse. In my eyes, she is the view of feminism in the world today. She’s fought for her (counselling) career not because ‘I’m a woman, I deserve a career’ but because she wants to help people and love people through her own feminine genius,” said Danielle.
But for most of Tracy’s adult life, she worked inside the home raising four daughters and one son, now aged 21 to 29. And she is now active in the lives of her two young grandchildren.
Written by Sara Francis
So, I keep trying. Although sweeping the floor with a two and four-year-old is something akin to shoveling while there is an extreme snowfall warning in effect, I do believe it shows the depth of our love. And even though every corner of the house, don’t be fooled, every corner is filled with dust, but as the main area is clean, this should reflect my love.
The big moment came when I asked myself - What did he give me this year?
Lorenzo, you constantly give me lessons in humility. You challenge my every thought about myself as a patient, extra loving, non-yelling person. You make me laugh at how much you already understand humour and silliness and intonation. You melt my heart when you ask me to “cudo” you each night in your big-boy bed. I am awed by your ability to express yourself to anyone, and everyone who’ll listen and I look up to your courage and heart-on-sleeve passion.
So, I’d say this year when it comes to your birthday gifts, you gave me many more gifts than I could’ve ever purchased for you.
I can’t wait to see your pushed-out, soother-toothed smile, hear your lisp and feel your pudgy fingers around my neck tomorrow morning. I can't wait to brush your screamed-out tears off of your dry cheeks and help you “boow nose peas” when it drips. I pray I will find the grace that I’m certain God is providing me, to be extra patient with your loud voice and big emotions and help your brother and Papa, to do the same.
You are my love baby, my Valentine’s Day reminder to have extra love in my heart and I can’t wait to sweep the floor out of love for you again tomorrow.
Papá (Sebastian), Elias and I love you so much we could just “ea chew”. We love every moment of you. And I love that my call in life is to live the little things for you with great love, sanctity and joy. Thank you for challenging me always and keeping me in check with my pride. I love being your Mama.
Written by Cyra Roman, parishioner of St. Peter's Parish in Calgary
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers