Erika Keulen on a trip with the LA Centre for Active Living. Photo courtesy of ShareLife

ShareLife helps create great life stories

By 
  • October 30, 2020

On June 30, Fr. Martin Dicuangco, 32, was ordained to the priesthood in the Archdiocese of Toronto. He is now exemplifying his vocation as an associate pastor at St. Barnabas Parish in Scarborough. 

But nearly a decade ago, the highway of his life was not heading towards the priesthood. He was working towards a kinesiology degree in hopes of becoming a nurse or a physical therapist.

But a chance encounter at Serra House in downtown Toronto, a residence for men discerning formation at St. Augustine’s Seminary, changed his life path forever. Thanks in large part to the money raised by ShareLife, the charitable fundraising arm of the Archdiocese of Toronto, generations of men have been gifted to understand their faith and discover God’s plan through Serra House.

Dicuangco had no idea Serra House was a place to discern a vocation when he knocked on the door of a vocational director’s office looking for answers.

“I was a university student, and I decided to speak to (a) priest about whether God really existed. I wanted answers to the existential questions that were burning in my heart,” he said.

He was instead greeted by a young seminarian. 

“I thought Serra House was just a place where a priest lived. I was stunned, and then I met other young men there training to be priests,” said Dicuangco. “I was invited to stay and have dinner with them and play ping pong. I remember their transparency and joy with living a life of discernment. It was the first time in my life that I encountered young men who were on fire for Jesus Christ.”

Dicuangco, who experienced a stirring to join the priesthood back in high school, appreciated the opportunity to be vulnerable about his faith and ponder the spiritual questions on his mind and heart. He said it was freeing from the “sometimes suffocating” university environment that precludes questions about faith.

“It answered a question in my heart and affirmed I was on the same path as them,” he said.

 He decided to become a priest. He enjoyed over eight years of formation at St. Augustine’s Seminary, fully aware that funding from ShareLife helped him and his brother seminarians accomplish the Lord’s plan. 

“Without ShareLife, I don’t think that the seminary could operate to train priests. We rely on their and people’s generosity. I know I would not be here without ShareLife.”

The Loyola Arrupe (LA) Centre for Active Living for senior citizens has also significantly benefitted from ShareLife contributions over the years, particularly during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Sandra Cardillo, the executive director of the LA Centre for Active Living since 2014, said the centre, like basically every organization, had to shift to an entirely virtual operational methodology because of COVID-19. Despite logistical limitations, the centre still aims to provide seniors with a digital offering of its programming.

“We were able to engage our seniors with computers that enabled them to participate in our exercise classes, various health and safety protocol checks and to engage in friendly conversation with other people,” said Cardillo. 

Undoubtedly, the LA Centre’s most ambitious undertaking during the pandemic is the door-to-door delivery of over 3,000 meals per week to seniors. This could not be achieved without ShareLife funding covering the cost of mileage and compensating staff for training a team of volunteers.

ShareLife vowed at the start of the pandemic to allocate funds close to its normal level for the over 40 agencies it serves every year. Cardillo says the LA Centre is grateful for the ShareLife team’s fidelity to its mission and vision during these fraught times.

“Seniors are seen as the most vulnerable population affected by (COVID-19),” she said. “We were in the eye of the storm for the lack of a better term. A lot of individuals (from ShareLife) were sympathetic and empathetic to the needs of vulnerable seniors who had to shelter in place and not have access to essentials.”

Suspending field trips was another difficult blow. One of Cardillo’s favourite memories is providing client Erika Keulen with a memorable experience at the Stratford Garlic Festival and St. Jacob’s Farmer and Flea Market in Woolwich, Ont., several years ago.

Before the trip, Keulen was despondent because she assumed that a stroke that left her with left-sided weakness would disqualify her from this experience.

“She said she could not attend the trip, and we asked her, ‘why can’t you attend the trip,’ ” recalls Cardillo. “She said, ‘look at me, I had a stroke and can barely get off the mobility bus and into the building. How can I move around all day?’

“We told her that we have many well-bodied people that would be able to support her completely. I said, ‘Erika, you’re thinking in terms of your disability. Let’s think about what abilities you do have.’ ”

Cardillo says her team ultimately rented a wheelchair for Keulen so she could participate. Keulen later hailed the outing as one of the best days she has ever had. 

Cardillo waits for a return to normalcy so that the LA Centre for Active Living can renew in-person fellowship activities like bingo nights, movie screenings and congregate dining. 

For more on ShareLife, see sharelife.org.

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