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.
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers