Upon returning from a Sisters of Life retreat in Connecticut, I decided my Lenten resolution would be to incorporate 20 minutes of prayer into my daily routine.

Finding it hard to fit prayer time into a hectic schedule, one of the sisters told me it might be helpful to get creative in my prayer life in order to better understand how God is speaking to me. So, along with the regular Hail Marys and Our Fathers, I started reading random Bible passages and keeping a journal to better open the lines of communication.

Published in Vatican

Engaging in a retreat often suggests a certain solitude while withdrawing from the world to contemplate and renew. The summer programs at Living Water College in Derwent, Alta. combine both mental and spiritual renewal with intensive arts studies to create unique experiences.

College president Deacon Kenneth Noster describes the programs as a “a great opportunity to develop skills, while refreshing your mind and spirit amidst some of Alberta's most beautiful countryside.”

“No matter what your faith background, you will grow here,” he said.

The college has enlisted instructors with an impressive range of experience to teach two courses — Iconography and Sacred Polyphony — being offered in July and August respectively. In keeping with Living Water's central tenets (art, faith and reason) the courses are designed to promote artistic and spiritual growth.

“That's one of the reasons why we've crafted the course the way we have,” said instructor Frank C. Turner, who has been studying  iconography since 1991. “You can learn the physical techniques of iconography, and you can get okay results. But icon is a prayer.

“As Thomas Aquinas says: 'Prayer is the raising of the mind and heart to God.' Iconography is the raising of inanimate substances to the glory of God. And so that's a prayer.”

Part of the iconography experience involves creating an egg tempera paint solution by mixing one part liquid egg yolk, two parts white wine and essence of lavender. That particular mixture, which pre-dates Christianity, was taught to Turner by master iconographer Fr. Gianluca Busi while studying in Italy.

“In many ways, I mean, I have a great devotion to iconography because of the subject, but the little techniques within the process are very fascinating,” Turner said. “I really enjoy making my egg emulsion every time.”

Turner believes artistic workshops set in a religious context work much better than those that are simply a craft workshop.

Sacred Polyphony is similar. The course seeks to explore some of the Church's oldest musical repertoire through polyphony and Gregorian chant. Maestro Uwe Lieflander, the instructor, has a strong musical pedigree, having studied at the Regensburg Akademie für Kirchenmusik in Germany and at The Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto.

In addition to studying the complexities of the music, which formed the foundation for choral music as we know it today, students perform Franz Schubert's second setting of the Latin Mass, his Mass in G major, as well as Vivaldi's Gloria. Both works provide opportunity for vocal coaching for singers of all levels and solo work for professionals.

Both the iconography and polyphony programs combine a spiritual element with a precise study of two of the Church's oldest and most celebrated art forms.

Published in Arts News

At some point who among us hasn’t wondered what God wants of us? Sometimes we may sense His calling but how do we know for sure?

Fr. Timothy Gallagher has dedicated many years to helping people who are seeking answers to these difficult questions. Through his ministry of retreats, the American priest provides spiritual direction by using the teachings of St. Ignatius of Loyola as a saintly roadmap to guide spiritual discernment and renewal.

At the invitation of the Sisters of Life, Gallagher directed a two-day discernment of spirits retreat on Mar. 17-18 at St. Catherine of Sienna Church in Toronto that was attended by about 225 people.

Published in Vatican

Not many retreat houses can boast that guests will be greeted by Noah himself. But, then, there aren’t many retreat houses like the Villa St. Joseph Spirituality Centre in Cobourg, Ont.

Noah is the Centre’s friendly golden retriever. He is seen regularly patrolling the spacious grounds,  providing emotional and spiritual warmth but also reminding visitors of the Villa’s deep connection to nature.

Situated on the bank of Lake Ontario about an hour’s drive from Toronto, the Villa was originally purchased to provide a home for orphaned girls. It later became the summer home of the sisters and is now a vibrant place of prayer and spiritual growth.

Published in Features