This is a story of how a chance meeting changed the trajectory of my faith journey. We are all on a faith journey, whether you believe you are or not. I had always felt ‘Catholic’ because I had attended Catholic elementary and high school in Saskatchewan but going through RCIA as a 19-year-old confirmed me in my faith and invited me to participate in a formalized way.
When I became a teacher with the Calgary Catholic School District, my faith practices were supported by the district’s expectation that teachers attend church regularly. Later, when I became an administrator, I felt a keen responsibility to be the faith leader in my building. I was in a groove with my faith journey (maybe the groove was actually a rut!); I was comfortable where I was. I attended church regularly and served in a variety of roles in my parish. I was not looking for or expecting a faith trajectory change. Then I met Sister Madeleine Gregg, FCJ.
I met Sr. Madeleine within the first week that she moved to Calgary in 2015 to work at the FCJ Retreat Centre. Sr. Madeleine is a Faithful Companion of Jesus and had moved from Tuscaloosa, Alabama where she had lived and worked for the previous 22 years. Dr. Gregg, as she was known to her students at the University of Alabama (Roll Tide!), taught in the Multiple Abilities Program where she guided pre-service teachers to reach their full potential in working with diverse learners. Sister Madeleine had a fulfilling career in higher education. She published more than 40 scholarly articles, many of which won awards from various organizations. Her latest (and greatest) publication is a children’s picture book. It tells about the youthful experience of the foundress of her congregation, Marie Madeleine d’Houet and what she learned by being sent to time-out when she was naughty.
In the past five years, the people working at the FCJ Centre have reinvigorated it and are working hard to make known what they offer. Sessions aimed at spiritual growth, themed retreats and prayer experiences, on-line work, Spiritual Directors training, opportunities to make a retreat based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, and many other initiatives keep the place hopping. My faith journey continued on an upward path, greatly aided by Sr. Madeleine, who suggested I make a specially designed retreat, called ‘Jumpstart Your Prayer Life’ silent retreat. I was really nervous about doing a silent retreat and was sure I wouldn’t be able to keep from talking for an entire weekend. But I did keep quiet except when I was sharing the results of my prayer with Sr. Madeleine. I loved it! At a different time, the ‘Take a Break’ silent retreat was an enlightening experience, filled with Sr. Madeleine’s suggestions for scripture reading. Recently, I made another silent weekend retreat, under the direction of Sr. Ann Marie Walsh, also an FCJ Sister who works at the Centre.
Retreats are special times. In between, additional work in spiritual direction has also been a source of knowledge and growth in faith. In these sessions, I can explore my actual beliefs and really think about how I am integrating my faith with my life. Spiritual direction is another regular practice that helps me unravel the word of God. It is hard work to stay in my inner world and sort out what I really believe from what I think I believe.
From my chance meeting with Sr. Madeleine in an elevator as we traveled one story of the Telus Convention Centre at the District Opening Mass, to now where a cherished friendship exists, it has been a pleasure to learn and work with her. As a principal in the Calgary Catholic School District, I have had opportunities to be shaped by her teaching at school as she visited and taught students about a variety of faith-formation topics. Special times have also been shared at my cabin in Invermere, sometimes on retreat and sometimes filled with jelly making and flower-bed transplanting.
To say that Sr. Madeleine has changed my life is an understatement. She is faith-filled, inspiring, and energetic. As a convert to Catholicism herself, her personal testimony is awe-inspiring and her faith in God is unwavering. Being in her presence has ignited a spark in me to develop a faith more like hers and to share it with others.
Thanks be to God!
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers