Faith

TORONTO - When Shirley Christo, a parish nurse at St. John Fisher parish in Brampton, Ont., returned home from the International Parish Nursing Assembly conference a few years ago, she was greeted by some shocking news: a woman in her parish, who had been diagnosed with cancer and whose husband potentially had a brain tumour, had also just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Christo had been to this woman’s home several times; she knew her well. But this time was different. She took with her a prayer blanket she’d received at the conference and knocked on the woman’s door. When the woman answered, Christo asked, “May I go on this journey with you?”

The woman said yes. Christo wrapped her prayer blanket around her, and has been by her side ever since.

Ministering to seafarers is often a bumpy ride

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TORONTO - Michael Ho quickly learned it takes more than prayer to be a deacon with the Apostleship of the Sea (AOS).

Aside from sharing the sacraments Ho, along with his international colleagues, delivers word on human rights, dignity and equality while comforting those enduring the hardships of a life at sea.

As an associate chaplain with AOS, which began providing ministerial services to sailors in 1899 out of Scotland, Ho’s formal function is to offer communion, hear confessions and arrange Masses for those he calls the Salties. While Ho calls these tasks his primary responsibility, the 64-year-old deacon does not always go home after saying amen with the seafarers — in fact some days he never says it at all.

Cameron believes something good comes out of teen spite

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TORONTO - Craig Cameron’s “great high school rebellion” began one evening after a confirmation class at his local parish in Halifax. The frustrated 17-year-old came home, convinced that he did not want or need to be confirmed. After expressing his frustration and voicing his decision to his mother, he stormed to his bedroom “like only a teenager can” and — this is where the archetypal narrative breaks — began to pray.

It wasn’t that Cameron had a problem with the morality that the Church taught, it was that he had a problem with the morality that the members of the Church were living.

“This discrepancy was a bit of an obstacle for me to receive the sacrament,” he said.

A call to faith became a call to the priesthood for Lemieux

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TORONTO - Ten years ago, no one in Chris Lemieux’s world — not his parents, not his closest friends, not the guys on his softball team — would have imagined him as a priest. That’s because 10 years ago, he wasn’t even a Catholic.

Lemieux, now 40, was working as a bus driver for Mississauga Transit at the time, and planning to do so, eventually as a married man with a family, for a long time.

“But it seems now that God had another plan,” said Lemieux. “A plan that led me to baptism — to become Catholic first — and then to priesthood.”

It was at an early age Goring found that God was with him

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TORONTO - Michael Goring’s father likely knew his son had a unique spiritual maturity when Michael asked something along the lines of: “Is this all there is to the faith — to pray the rosary, to go to Mass? Can we come to know God in a more personal way in our lives?”

That’s big talk for a preteen.

A self-proclaimed “valley boy” from Pembroke, Ont., the now 38-year-old Goring said it was his Catholic family — and especially a particular suggestion from his father — that fostered in him, from a young age, a love for the Church and priesthood.

In response to his young son’s questions, Goring’s father advised him to read the lives of the saints. So Goring read the stories of men and women whose lives were transformed by Christ and who transformed others’ lives through Him. He developed a fitting fascination with St. John Vianney.

“Someone who had trouble getting through school, couldn’t even learn the Latin to become a priest, and now he’s the patron saint of all priests throughout the world,” said Goring. “Quite an inspiration.”

Equally inspiring was an invitation from one of Goring’s high school religion teachers, who told Goring and his classmates that, when they were having difficulties in their lives or felt isolated, they could call on God and that He would be faithful.

“Why should I wait to invite God into my life when things are going badly?” Goring asked himself.

So that night, he knelt and said a simple prayer.

“I sensed at that moment that the Lord had come into my heart and He was telling me that He was with me,” said Goring.

It wasn’t until a few years later, in university, that that sense translated into a direct encounter with the possibility of priesthood. After an evening Mass that he had attended with his brother Mark — who has since become a priest — Goring met the late Fr. Robert Bedard, the founder of the Companions of the Cross. Bedard invited them to share dinner with him. While his brother left his studies to pursue priestly formation soon thereafter, Goring continued his engineering studies and eventually became a software engineer in Ottawa.

But thoughts of the priesthood didn’t entirely leave Goring. After several years of studies and work, Goring decided to take a silent, week-long Ignatian guided retreat.

“I look at it almost like a vacation with the Lord,” said Goring. “And about halfway through that retreat, I sensed that God was offering me a gift, and it was the gift to become a priest.”

That gift will come to fruition on May 12 when Goring will be ordained a priest for Pembroke.

“I always thought myself more drawn to married life (than the priesthood),” Goring admitted. “But I couldn’t resist such a generous offer from God.”

Marrone believes he was born to serve

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TORONTO - Francesco Marrone believes his call to the priesthood began in his mother’s womb.

The oldest child in his family, he has nine younger siblings, and another eight — including a twin brother — who didn’t make it. It was clear to him that God wanted him alive, and for a reason.

For a while, however, that reason wasn’t entirely clear to the native of Verona, Italy. Growing up, his large family endured a myriad of difficulties, from financial problems to parental marital woes. Furniture began to disappear from Marrone’s home as his family grew deeper in debt, which only worsened his parents’ already troubled marriage. Nevertheless, Marrone recalls his father sharing a lesson that would stick with him to this day.

Canadian Michaelites mark three milestones in 2012

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MELROSE, ONT. - Ordinarily committed to a prayerful life of service to others, 46-year-old Fr. Andrew Kowalczyk has clearly had to step outside of his comfort zone this past year as he has endeavoured to make the work of the Michaelite Fathers better known. 

Kowalczyk is the provincial of the Canadian delegation of the Poland-based Congregation of St. Michael the Archangel and has been organizing the triple jubilee celebrations the order observes this year.

Survey reveals those called to serve getting younger and smarter

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TORONTO - A recent study out of the United States is showing that those entering religious orders and undertaking perpetual vows are  younger and more educated than their predecessors of recent years.

“We are encouraged by the report’s findings that men and women are considering a vocation at a younger age,” said Mercy Sister Mary Joanna Ruhland, associate director of the U.S. bishops’ secretariat of vocations and consecrated life, according to Catholic News Agency.

Finding the spiritual through the lens

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TORONTO - When Bruce Watts bought a camera for a Philippines vacation in 1965, he had no idea that the beauty of God would be waiting in the view finder. Capturing a memory was all he had in mind.

“I thought, ‘Gee, I should have a camera for this,’ and it just sort of went from there,” said Watts.

Recently the amateur photographer’s photos were displayed at a Followers of Jesus eco-spirituality retreat earning him a guest-speaker invitation at the Mustard Seed’s Spiritual Spa.

Back to the Capuchin Franciscans, in a roundabout way

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TORONTO - To minister or not to minister is no longer the question for Jonathan Andrews, who earlier this year quit his job to become a full-time candidate for the Capuchin Franciscans.

“When I was going to do the nine-to-five it felt very repetitive. I’ve worked in warehouses, factories and offices; I’ve done the full spectrum,” said Andrews, who now nourishes the less fortunate at St. Francis Table in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood.

“I felt that there was no higher purpose. I had no spiritual thing.”

No day is typical in northern Alberta mission area

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PEACE RIVER, ALTA. - For Sr. Mary Jeanne Davidson, pastoral assistant at three First Nations missions in the northern Alberta archdiocese of Grouard-MacLennan, every day is an adventure.

“There is no typical day — except that I arrive in each community to spread the Good News of God’s love through my love for the people.”