By Fr. David Purcell, C.Ss.R.
On October the 4th, St. Edward’s parish and the Serra club, invited the Toronto and Area Vocation Directors to set up displays for various religious orders in their parish hall. One religious priest, brother, and sister in turn, was invited to speak at each of the Sunday Masses. Refreshments were made available after Mass so parishioners could come and speak personally with each of the religious who were present. This was another example of co-operation among various groups to make people aware of the vocation to religious life. At right you see some of the organizers and some of the people from various religious communities.
During the Children’s Liturgy, which is usually held in the parish hall, the children got to speak personally with religious sisters, brothers, and priests. You might consider hosting such an event in your parish during the coming pastoral year.
Another great initiative for parishes is to create a vocations committee. Fr. Santo Arrigo invited me to attend a ministries fair at St. Patrick’s parish, in the middle of October, in Toronto. There we set out displays and had snacks for parishioners to enjoy, as they viewed and discussed various ways to volunteer for ministry within the parish. I was able to meet two people who are interested in organizing a vocation committee!
On Friday the 6th of November, the Redemptorist Partners in Mission in Grande Prairie, met to discuss and learn about what is happening across the country in our vocation ministry. They also invited me to lead a meditation on the Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, using some prayers that were excerpted from the Glories of Mary, by St. Alphonsus.
The Grande Prairie community hosted a celebration for Graham Hill’s ordination to the diaconate on the 9th of November. The Sunday evening before the ordination, under the leadership of Fr. Ed Eherer, they hosted a men’s vocation supper (pictured above). Six men, came to share supper and conversation about how to discern if God is calling someone to life and ministry within the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer. In addition to sharing by the Grande Prairie community members, Fr. Denis Sweeney C.Ss.R., who was visiting from Boston, was able to add his own words of wisdom and to tell his vocation story.
Archbishop Gerry Pettipas asked, Fr. Bill Bernard C.Ss..R., and Sister Mary Jean Davidson, School Sister of Notre Dame, and Fr. George Okoye from the Sons of Mary Mother of Mercy, to co-ordinate an event in order to celebrate and to thank the religious priests, sisters, and brothers who serve now and have served in the Archdiocese. On the 14th of November, we gathered for a Mass and reception in McLennan, Alberta at the cathedral parish of St. John the Baptist.
Some children from a nearby school created place mats (pictured at left) which adorned the tables, and they also gave out thank-you cards at the reception after the Mass.
In McLennan I met a Redemptorist from Nigeria, Fr. Lawrence (picture at right with Deacon Graham Hill). He is on sabbatical in Canada and is getting some parish experience by serving in Manning, Alberta for the winter and spring months. Here he is seen with Deacon Graham Hill in the picture at right.
I met Fr. Bill Bernard at the celebration in McLennan and then went to stay with him for the rest of the weekend in Grouard. Here, Fr. Bill is seen with Mr. Billy Thomas, who came down to McLennan from a small northern community at Cadotte Lake.
Grouard is situated just off the northwest corner of Lesser Slave Lake. Fr. Bill travels to three other communities which extend north and east from Grouard. He celebrates Mass in two communities each Sunday so that people are able to attend a Sunday Eucharist every other Sunday. In Grouard, a Liturgy of the Word with Communion is celebrated when he cannot be there. Our first stop on Sunday the 15th of November was at St. Agnes Church in Peavine. A mix of country and western Gospel songs and Cree songs lifted our hearts in praise to the Lord.
Although we started on dirt roads in the morning, as you can see in the picture below, the snow started to fall in the morning and continued to fall all day until we returned to Grouard for supper. This snow made for interesting driving, as we tried to make our way on roads that had not yet been plowed, to three homes in the area where people were shut in. We took Communion and prayer, accompanied with Fr. Bill’s ever present smile, to these people, in the midst of a very overcast day. As you may imagine, we did not make it on time to the next stop, St. John Bosco parish in Gift Lake. I was humbled and impressed by the patience of the parishioners in Gift Lake. Wow! We were over half an hour late and some people were sitting in their vehicles patiently waiting for us while others were in the church visiting until we could start the celebration of Mass. After Mass, we went visiting people to whom we brought again our prayers, presence, and Communion. We made it all the way to the community at Atikameg, so I was able to see all four of the communities that Fr. Bill is serving.
During our trip Fr. Bill, seeing my white knuckles on the dashboard, recounted the times that he had hit the ditch while driving in conditions just like these, and about all the very helpful people who had pulled him out. Very encouraging isn’t he?! Okay, so I am exaggerating – a bit. :-)
Back to fact. One parishioner explained that in her life time they have never had a resident priest in their settlement. She is very grateful for the presence of Fr. Bill in their area and believes that with the help of the local lay leaders a “new Evangelization” (her words) will continue to grow among the people here. She hopes for the day when a priest might be interested in coming to live in her settlement to fan the flames of this evangelization.
On the 24th of November, the Redemptorists in Edmonton invited the Grey Nun sisters to join them for a morning meeting in the Redemptorist common room. There I was able to give a presentation about our vocation ministry across Canada. We were encouraged by our discussions about how to invite people to come and join religious life in the context of our present culture. We also shared with one another some stories about our religious communities in other countries around the world. I was also blessed by a visit with Fr. Joe Murphy. Here he is seen with Fred Prather. Fred is well known by Redemptorists who lived and worked in Edmonton.