Ruane Remy, The Catholic Register

Ruane Remy, The Catholic Register

Ruane is a former Youth Editor at The Catholic Register. She attended Ryerson University's Master of Journalism program and studied Professional Writing with a Biology minor at York University. Follow her on Twitter @RuaneRemy.

Fr. David Shulist is inviting First Nations youth to strengthen the good aspirations and desires that already exist within them.

The Working to Empower Youth program will launch in January from the Anishinabe Spiritual Centre in Espanola, Ont., where Shulist is director. WEY has been a year in the making and was created in response to concerns from native communities, especially the Sagamok community, that youth are lacking spirituality and direction.

Elders, parents and teachers are “recognizing that there’s alienation and despair between the youth and the members of the community, especially at the level of their spirituality, at the level of their religious teachings,” said Shulist. “Religion is not popular in the world today, especially in the Western world, so this has compounded in the communities as well.”

Beginning with 12- and 13- year-olds, Shulist says the “hope is that they could have an avenue with which they would be able to invite and encourage and help young people to be able to participate in discovering their spiritual roots, their spiritual traditions, both the Anishinabe and Christian, and this could be a program that could do that.”

The teens will engage in community oriented activities, such as learning how to build a sweat lodge, under the guidance of an elder. The theme could be one of forgiveness and reconciliation.

A sense of community is one of the values Shulist hopes to instill. Staff from the centre, elders and teachers will take leading roles. This is a “program that is very much of a partnership with the centre and a community. It’s not the community coming to us saying you run a program,” Shulist said. With modern culture promoting individualism, “The (program’s) core value would be the communal value. They are a part of the community, a collective,” said Shulist. “A person is never defined as an individual alone. They are always part of a set of relationships. So to instill this realization, this understanding, this awareness that they belong to a communal reality.”

Shulist also hopes the program will instill in the teens a sense of honour for the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the value of empowerment, the virtue of patience, rights of passage and the importance of being a source of inspiration, among others. He wants the youth to know they have the power “to make a difference, to choose what is good and to perpetuate the good.” And in the process, he wants to incorporate into the program the fact that the youth are close to nature.

“If I were to promote it to you as a 12-year-old,” said Shulist, “I would want to know what desires have you got, what are your hopes. I’d want to know, who are you? Who do you hope to be? Who are people that you look up to?”

His hope is that participants will discover themselves and be aware that there are institutions within their community, such as those relating to health care, that they can contribute to one day.

Shulist also hopes the program will receive financial support from the wider Catholic community. And if WEY proves to be successful, he plans on expanding it beyond the Manitoulin North Shore district and include youth up to ages 17 and 18.

They say the sky’s the limit. Just don’t say it to someone as practical as Toronto native Eric Leong.

The strategy that won him and partner Han Yong-fei the 2012 Autostyle Design Competition for designing a new popemobile was based on plans that were never too “blue sky,” never too unattainable.

“There are things that we could have done that might have looked really cool,” said Leong. “Even though it might seem cool, being blue sky is something that we didn’t want to do because it’s not in a way feasible or possible.”

Leong and Yong-fei’s popemobile design, a modification of a hybrid Volkswagen Cross Coupé, included spray-on batteries to decrease weight, bullet-proof kevlar-belted wheels and a solar panel on the roof for a “greener aspect,” said Leong, who promises that everything in their design can be produced.

The pair were among 22 young designer finalists chosen out of 70 applicants invited to the 19th-century Villa di Bagno in Italy in October where their popemobile proposals were on display. They competed with the goal to build an eco-friendly vehicle with high Pope visibility and strict security requirements. Pope Benedict XVI has spoken on protecting the environment, and the Vatican aims to use renewable energy sources for 20 per cent of its energy needs by 2020.

The popemobile designs had to be based on a production hybrid car model or concept car design and keep the car model's front features so as to maintain the brand image. Only the rear of the vehicle could be modified and in such a way as to guarantee comfort for five passengers and maximum visibility of the Pope. Projects needed to use alternative energy, cutting-edge materials and innovative technology that allowed for rapid and easy rear access to and from the vehicle.

In high school, Leong, now 25, knew he was interested in art and engineering. But he found neither to be fulfilling enough. Then he came across industrial design.

“That was a pretty good mixture,” he said, “and so that’s how I ended up in the design field.”

Leong completed his degree in industrial design at Toronto’s Humber College. But he met teammate and classmate Yong-fei, 23, at Sweden’s Umeå Institute of Design.

“I just finished my master’s in transportation design,” said Leong, who is now looking for a placement in this field.

Representatives from the ninth Autostyle competition came to the school looking for contestants to design a new popemobile, he said. Berman, an Italian car-parts manufacturer, sponsored the contest. This year, the Vatican Publishing House also supported the competition and will publish the best eco-popemobile design drawings. The panel of judges included design directors from Alfa Romeo, Audi, Bentley, Fiat, Ford, Ferrari and Toyota.

(With files from the Catholic News Service.)

TORONTO - A stack of Monopoly money sits on Marisa Rogucki’s desk, but she isn’t preparing for board game domination. Rogucki plans on taking the colourful bills to one of her clients, an elderly priest suffering from dementia.

When he was younger, the priest would carry money in his pocket, readily available to be given to those he thought were more in need than himself, said Rogucki.

“At this point in his life, he can only remember things that he has done in the past.”

So now, to provide him with a sense of security in the long-term care facility where he resides, she’s bringing the priest the fake money so that he may share it with the staff and residents at the facility.

“It might actually make him feel a little bit better about himself because now he doesn’t have any money in his pocket,” she said.

As the priest’s power of attorney, Rogucki “tries as much as possible to give him a semblance of a life that he’s had before.” Rogucki co-ordinates the care of the 83 retired priests under the The Shepherds’ Trust, a retirement fund for priests of the archdiocese of Toronto. According to Rogucki, the plan is for the fund to be self-sufficient within seven to eight years.

“This money will protect those retired now and those in the future for whatever they may need, whether it’s housing (or) health care,” she said.

“My role as co-ordinator for the retired priests, for the archdiocese, is to care for their well-being, emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually.”

Rogucki has power of attorney for priests when they have no family or no family close by. She’s been taking care of priests up to and at the time of their death for the past eight years. About six years ago, she recalls her first death experience with one of the priests. Rogucki was travelling back and forth to his home.

“We had just finished saying the rosary when he passed away. We all watched him just take his last breath,” she said. “Having had the opportunity to be by his side was very momentous, was very touching, something that I’ll never forget.”

But priests are living longer, says Msgr. Ken Robitaille.

“It’s important to always tell people that priests never retire,” he said. “We’re priests for life.”

Robitaille was ordained at age 23 and retired in 2001. When priests retire, he said, they leave behind administration work. If they’re healthy enough, they will continue to do parish work, like helping out on weekends, which Robitaille has been doing for years.

The monsignor, now 82, lives on his own and receives a monthly pension from The Shepherds’ Trust, but the organization is much more than a distributor of cheques. The trust keeps track of all the retired priests’ needs. It also helps priests find homes. There is no specific Shepherds’ Trust residence, so priests can live in different locations across the city and Canada or move back to their homelands. Some live with family or in facilities that care for those who need extra help.

In Robitaille’s case, he lives in his own apartment.

“Marisa helps us to find a place when we retire, nursing homes and things like that,” he said. “I’m looking after myself, but it’s more and more difficult because I have arthritis now.”

Robitaille remembers a time years ago when there was no retirement support system and no pension fund for priests.

“Before the (Second) Vatican Council, priests didn’t retire, they stayed on in the rectory until they died,” he said, because there was nowhere else to go. Younger, healthier priests would run the parish.

“But after the Vatican Council, two things happened: priests are living longer and then all the social systems have changed with pensions and health plans,” said Robitaille. “Also after the Vatican Council, all priests and bishops had to retire at the age of 75.”

The Shepherds’ Trust money goes directly to the diocesan priests, “and they are responsible for their own needs, whether it’s clothing or housing,” Rogucki said. For their religious order counterparts, the monies raised from religious order parishes is sent to their respective orders for their care.

“We are happy the way we are cared for. And we are grateful for what the people give every year in The Shepherds’ Trust collection to maintain this retirement fund,” said Robitaille.

“Fifty years ago, we didn’t have enough money to save. We weren’t making enough money to become part of the Canada Pension Plan.”

Robitaille wants the laity within the diocese to know “that their priests are happy and being well taken care of.” And as for the younger priests coming into the priesthood, Robitaille said they can expect to be taken care of with a health plan and pension in their senior years.

Still, when asked why people should donate, a question Rogucki has been asked many times over the years, she asks a question in return. “Who is the Church?” Her answer: “We are the Church.”

Catholics look to priests during baptisms, communion, confirmation, marriage and death, she said.

“So we have to put back into the Church what we got out of it when we needed it.”

Being with the priests makes Rogucki happy. She organizes monthly luncheons and help for the priests for everyday things, including setting up utility bills and the Internet.

TORONTO - The greatest challenge for Christians today is forgiveness, says Fr. Stan Chu Ilo.

“The more you forgive, the freer you become, and the more you forgive, the healthier you become spiritually, physically and otherwise,” he said.

Ilo’s healthy habits of spiritual joy not only include forgiveness, but also involve being patient with ourselves, others and God.

Ilo is author of Discover Your Divine Investment: The path to spiritual joy, which he says will surprise readers with the fact that God is not done with them. There are stories in his book that he promises will draw people out of the ordinary human experience.

Ilo has purposely stepped away from the more heavy, speculative and abstract style of his past works to what he calls “theology of the marketplace.”

The challenge facing the Church today, said Ilo, is “communicating God’s word and communicating the truth about what we believe and what we hope for and what we celebrate (and) how we live. We need to find a good way of communicating God’s work.”

Ilo says Discover Your Divine Investment, published by Catholic Register Books, is intended to start a conversation with and be more accessible to the average Catholic or Christian. By book’s end, he hopes readers will walk away happy to be alive, happy God has kept them going and hopeful for the future.

“God speaks to us within the very ark of our humanity,” said Ilo. “Being attuned to this divine harmony is what this book is trying to tell people.”

While some look to palm readings and astrology for answers, Ilo urges readers to be introspective. “Shakespeare said the fault is not in our stars; the fault is in us,” said Ilo.

He promotes a more “reflective practice that attunes our daily actions and choices to the deepest hunger of our souls.” Ilo believes that if people do this on a consistent basis, they will find a pattern to what makes them happiest.

“That which makes me happiest and promotes the joy, happiness and fulfilment of people around me, if I do that on a consistent basis, is the purpose of my life,” he said.

For the author, “life is play,” and he would like people “to strike a balance between playfulness and seriousness” in their own lives.

“God invested in the cosmos, invested in every human being,” so Ilo wants each individual reader to grasp that not only does God love him or her, but that everyone’s life, happiness and self-actualization is important to Him.

“You are a treasure of inestimable value, no matter your age, no matter your sex, your sexuality, your race, no matter your history, no matter your past,” he said.

Ilo, originally from the Ebo ethnic group in eastern Nigeria, arrived in Canada 10 years ago after studying in Rome.

He had planned on a temporary stay before heading back to Europe, but three months into his visit, Ellen Mary MacAdam, to whom the book is dedicated, convinced him to stay. Ilo calls MacAdam, 91, his second mother.

“She said to me, you come from Africa, life must be hard and lonely for you, so I thought to invite you to have a meal and to assure you that there are people like us who will be here for you in case you need someone to talk to.”

He credits her with helping him discover the treasure within himself through Catholic education. MacAdam sponsored his graduate studies in Canada. He went on to doctoral studies and now teaches at the Faculty of Theology at the University of St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto.

“She represents, to some extent, what I consider an ideal way of living, how through love we can cross borders of race, of religion, of creed, of social or economic class.”

To order Discover Your Divine Investment, at $14.99, call (416) 934-3410 or visit

For Barbara Decker Pierce, seeing the joy in the faces of those taking part in King’s College University’s Liberal Arts 101 course is priceless.

The co-founder of the free course offered to London’s underprivileged at the Catholic college at London, Ont.’s Western University, Pierce says she loves “the enthusiasm with which the participants come to the program.”

She enjoys “the look on their faces when they connect with knowledge, when they are treated with respect, when they feel like they’re part of something that is helping them grow as individuals.”

Pierce is the director of King’s School of Social Work. Though the program is run by King’s, it’s a joint activity between Western’s Registrar’s Office, the Dean of Students and the School of Social Work.

King’s is wrapping up the fifth session of its increasingly popular Liberal Arts 101 course. Every fall semester since 2008, the Catholic college has offered free university-level classes to underprivileged members of the London community.

Fifteen participants are selected for each session, and every Tuesday night for the duration of the program, a different liberal arts topic is covered.

This past semester, lectures covered serious issues facing First Nations communities, what psychoactive drugs really do to the mind and body, the economic rise of China, the history of electricity in Canada, the Occupy movement and understanding the U.S. sub-prime mortgage crisis.

The cross-section of subjects covered is largely dependent on which faculty members volunteer and what they would like to teach. This semester, there are six faculty volunteers.

“The faculty love it,” said Pierce. They enjoy “the love of learning that they see on the faces of people in the program.”

Pierce describes the participants as attentive and always eager to jot down notes and ask questions.

Before the lecture, each class begins with a communal meal.

“The meal is important I think in terms of showing hospitality,” said Pierce. It brings together classmates, faculty, the co-ordinators and the six or seven student volunteers from the School of Social Work.

After the meal, the lecture lasts for about an hour, followed by discussion groups.

“We divide into small groups for some questions that the lecture has presented or provided, and those small groups are facilitated by our social work students,” said Pierce.

“This is a chance for them to work on some of their facilitation skills and also to connect them to the participants.”

The program also provides bus tickets and child care subsidies to participants in need “to remove any barriers people might have from participating,” Pierce said.

Some participants attend the program to test their readiness for post-secondary education. Participants have included those with physical or psychiatric challenges, single parents, immigrants and refugees.

King’s College was founded in 1954 and is sponsored by the diocese of London. Its mission is in part “to foster an environment based on open inquiry, Christian values and service to the larger community.”

The Liberal Arts 101 program is run out of the School of Social Work, said Pierce, as “It’s consistent with our mission to reach out to community, to be present in our community, and it’s also consistent with the values of the School of Social Work, which are clearly to support and assist people in making change.”

The seventh and last class of the program is a dinner and awards night where participants are acknowledged for completing this non-credit course and asked what could be improved upon.

Felicity Sattan walked away from Brescia University’s Take the Lead contest a more confident young woman.

Sattan, now a third-year Nutrition and Family student at Canada’s only women’s university, was introduced to Brescia in 2010 when she competed in the London, Ont., school’s all-female public speaking contest. She was a finalist in that year’s contest.

“I always tell my profs and my classmates that Take the Lead was really instrumental in improving my public speaking skills and becoming more confident and just being an all round better presenter, which I think is an important skill in post-secondary,” Sattan said.

She uses those skills often and at least once a semester in each of her university classes.

Take the Lead has been held five times since 2008. It is a recruitment initiative Brescia usually holds once a year where the university invites Grade 11 and 12 female students to develop public speaking skills and compete for the top prize of a one-year academic scholarship to Brescia.

There are two contests this year, the first held last spring and the next on Nov. 10.

With four contest rooms simultaneously active, six or seven student speakers have five minutes each to give their all to their speeches on women who inspire leadership. Then the top six or seven participants make it to the final round. The judges in both rounds are always female. Second prize is $250 and third prize is $100.

“I want them to leave with pride in themselves, for just stepping up to that microphone. That podium is amazing,” said Sheila Blagrave, one of the organizers and director of Communications, Marketing and External Relations at Brescia.

Blagrave wants participants, whether they win or not, to leave with “a sense of community and a sense of belonging to a group of women who share in that.”

Brescia’s close-knit and family like community is what attracted Sattan, who is from Stoney Creek, Ont. But it was Brescia’s “focus on leadership (that) was the big turning point,” she said.

“We stand for cultivating leadership among women,” said Blagrave. “And we propose that women, by the time they leave, are quite bold and willing to take on leadership positions. This contest aligns itself really well with our mission and our strategic objective in post-secondary education.”

Brescia, a Catholic university, was founded 93 years ago by the Ursuline Sisters. It accepts women of all faiths. Affiliated with Western University, students have access to classes on Western’s main campus and its two smaller campuses.

Brescia was also to host the National Conference of the Canadian Catholic Students’ Association Oct. 26.

TORONTO - In March of 2011, Toronto student Isabel Ng-Lai took part in a service trip to India, where she volunteered at two schools run by the Loreto Sisters. It was an eye-opening trip that also helped her to be named Mary Ward Catholic Secondary School’s Catholic student of the year.

Ng-Lai was one of the 100 Ontario students who was to be recognized Oct. 20 at the 29th Annual Patrick Fogarty Awards Dinner. The dinner celebrates students at each Ontario Catholic high school who provide “service to community, service to their Church, service to their parish and service to their parents,” said Michael Monk, executive secretary of the Catholic Education Foundation of Ontario, which sponsors the awards.

“We feel we need to recognize the good things that are going on in Catholic high schools,” said Monk.

Ng-Lai went to India for a month with Adventure Learning Experiences. She volunteered at Loreto Sealdah and Loreto Panighatta, where she learned about the local culture and students’ daily lives.

“I had the opportunity to teach English and art to class 3 and 4 students. They were an absolute joy to teach, very respectful and hardworking, which I think is a testament to what the Loreto Sisters are doing in their schools,” she said.

Of the 49 students under her tutelage, Ng-Lai recalls accompanying one student on her hour-long walk home from school.

“She told me that when she grew up, she wanted to be like me and volunteer abroad to help children in Africa. It was a pivotal moment in my life because I came to the realization that my actions could inspire others,” said Ng-Lai.

“Many of these students are street children or come from families who suffer from extreme poverty. I tried to pass on the message to my students that they can break the cycle of poverty through education. They should always strive to achieve their full potential.”

When Ng-Lai returned home, she and a friend founded the non-profit organization 1Focus that chooses a specific cause each year, alternating between international and local.

“Last year 1Focus raised $8,000 for Loreto Panighata,” she said. “The funds will help expand the educational system and provide the opportunity for underprivileged children to attend school on a full-time basis.”

This year, 1Focus is raising funds for two youth homeless shelters, Eva’s Initiatives and Pathway.

“One of the main things I learned from my trip is that children are the same everywhere, they need affection, love to play with their peers and are very curious. So if children are the same everywhere, then they should be given equal rights,” she said.

Ng-Lai is now a first year student at York University’s Schulich School of Business.

Chris Harrison is also among this year’s Fogarty Award winners. The Grade 12 student at Burlington, Ont.’s Corpus Christi Secondary School was recognized for his efforts at home and abroad. He has been an altar server since Grade 6 at St. Raphael’s parish, where he’s also served as a eucharistic minister. This year, he took part in his school’s Hope trip to the Dominican Republic.

“I’ve been to a lot of places,” said Harrison, “but that was definitely one of the best trips I’ve ever been on.”

Harrison recalls that the locals were strong in their faith.

“It’s nice to see the smiles everywhere, even though they had so much less than us,” he said. “It really brought you down to earth.”

At the awards dinner, the CEFO’s medal of honour was to be presented to Archbishop Paul- André Durocher. And the Michael Carty Awards, financial grants of up to $2,000 each, were to be presented to eight elementary and secondary schools for proposing “innovative and engaging programs or projects” in their Catholic school environment.

TORONTO - Serra Canada is celebrating 60 years of encouraging and supporting those who are contemplating religious life.

“We need priests particularly to keep our Church alive,” said Anne MacCarthy, current president of the Serra Club of Toronto Downtown. “We just know that there’s a strong need for vocations to the priesthood and religious life in the Catholic Church, so we think we have a stake in it.”

The Toronto club is part of Serra Club International, a non-profit organization of lay Catholics devoted to praying and fostering vocations to the priesthood and other consecrated religious vocations.

MacCarthy and her husband Dane have been part of Serra since 2003. One morning, a neighbour walked her home from church, she recalls, and asked her to join Serra.

“I hauled my husband behind me,” she jokes, and nine years later, even their son has joined the club.

“The harvest is plentiful, the labourers are few, and so we want to encourage as many priests and potential sisters to come forward,” Dane, treasurer and past president of Serra Club of Toronto Downtown, said on the importance of lay people in another’s vocation. “Being a priest or a sister is not an easy task, so we’re trying to affirm those who have chosen that path as well. We offer our support to them and we pray for them on a regular basis.”

The MacCarthys enjoy the countless speakers the club invites to its bi-monthly meetings. And at the Serra Fall Conference in late September, celebrating the 60th anniversary of Serra in Canada, Anne presented an award to the longest-serving Serran in the world, Vincent DeMarco, who joined the local branch shortly after it was founded.

The Serra Club began in Seattle in 1935. The club was named after Spanish Franciscan Blessed Junipero Serra who founded missions in Mexico and the United States. In 1952, the Toronto Downtown club was the first to open outside of the United States.

There are currently three clubs in Toronto, 15 in Canada and 1,109 in 46 countries across the globe.

Serra Club provides “an opportunity to hear speakers help us with our faith and with matters of day-to-day concern for Catholics,” said Celeste Iacobelli, a past president of the Toronto Central Serra Club and a current board member of the Serra Canada Foundation.

Joining Serra “gave me an opportunity to meet with other like-minded Catholics interested in promoting vocations to the priesthood, interested in supporting our Catholic principles,” he said.

Iacobelli and the MacCarthys agree that one of the most memorable Serran events is the Ordinandi dinner, where seminarians soon to be ordained tell their vocation story.

“It’s the largest gathering of Catholics in the archdiocese of Toronto,” said Iacobelli.

He finds it “particularly satisfying” when students from schools across the archdiocese are invited to the dinner.

Some students attend a dialogue session with the ordinandi.

“It gives them a wonderful perspective on what it means to be an ordained priest, what went through the process of discernment, how the young men struggled with their decisions in some cases, how they left other careers behind.”

Toronto - Bishop Roman Danylak, retired bishop of the Ukrainian Catholic eparchy of Toronto, was remembered for never turning away a person in need.

"He was very much a pastor," said his sister Olga Danylak. "He was very much a people person."

The bishop passed away at age 81 on Oct. 7. He was laid to rest at St. Volodymyr Cemetery in Oakville, Ont., on Oct. 11 following a funeral service at St. Jospahat's the same day.

Danylak, who kept her maiden name after marrying, would frequently be asked if she was Bishop Danylak's sister. When people found out she was, many would share with her "how he affected their lives, what he'd done for them, how he brought them to the faith or how he had helped them."

The bishop had a great devotion to the Blessed Mother, she said, recalling a trip the siblings made to Germany years ago. Danylak had just finished university and was heading to Europe to study, and the bishop was going to Rome.

"We were travelling a little bit before he dropped me off in Belgium before he went on," Danylak said, recalling one hectic trip to the airport.

"We'd just got the electrical train, we'd just got the bus, we'd just got to the airport," she said. "So when we were finally on the plane flying to Brussels, I said, you know Roman, weren't you concerned that we would lose our flight? And his answer, and he said this very matter-of-factly, (was) 'I placed our trip in the hands of the Blessed Mother, and she's looking after us.' ”

Bishop Danylak was born in Toronto in 1930 and ordained to the priesthood in 1957 at St. Josaphat's Seminary Chapel in Rome. He was a Doctor of Canon Law.

Bishop Stephen Chmilar, of the Ukrainian Catholic eparchy of Toronto and Eastern Canada, recalled to mourners that 50 years ago the then Fr. Danylak was present at the Second Vatican Council in Rome.

After completing his studies, Bishop Danylak returned home and became pastor at St. Jospahat's, as well as chancellor of the Toronto eparchy for 25 years. In 1992 he was appointed Apostolic Administrator of the Ukrainian Catholic eparchy of Toronto and Eastern Canada and ordained as Titular Bishop of Nyssa in 1993 at St. Michael's Cathedral in Toronto. He returned to Rome in 1998.

He fulfilled “his commitment to the portion of the flock of Jesus Christ entrusted to him,” said Archeparch Lawrence Huculak.

When his health began to fail, "Bishop Roman returned to his native Toronto. During this time, although unable to dedicate himself to active ministry due to health reasons, he developed the apostolate of prayer at his home," Chmilar said.

Bishop Danylak's sister owned and lived in a sixplex and gave her brother an apartment downstairs.

"We set up one of his rooms, when he came back, as a chapel," she said. "He had Mass there everyday, and there were always people coming for Mass."

She recalls her brother’s talent for listening and for reaching out to youth.

“I’m a social worker by profession. I didn’t listen the same way he did,” she said. “He never tried to force anything down anybody. He just knew how to reach them.”

TORONTO - Sister Act, on stage at Toronto’s Ed Mirvish Theatre, will awaken your urge to boogie like it’s 1978.

In Philadelphia, we find wannabe star Deloris Van Cartier in thigh-high purple boots and a short leopard print dress. She’s just seen her married lover murder a man and now, under witness protection, the police have hidden her in the last place anyone would think to look — a convent.
Whoopi Goldberg, one of the musical’s producers, who first played Deloris on-screen, made Sister Act the film popular in 1992. And it is with this memory that many theatregoers walked into the performance. But with Ta’Rea Campbell as Deloris on stage, it’s easy to forget anyone else donned the black and white habit.

Campbell’s transformation from nightclub diva to divine singer was believable, while never losing the boisterous (in the best sense) personality of her character.

“She lacks a bit of self-control,” Campbell said about Deloris in an interview with The Catholic Register. “Not in a bad way. Just in a way that she only knows how to be one person and that’s herself. And sometimes, we as adults get to modify our behaviour when we’re in certain situations, and I don’t think Deloris Van Cartier is able to do that.”

It’s this freedom of spirit that comically conflicts with the convent’s Mother Superior, played by Hollis Resnik.

“I have to embody this very stern, rigid, pious nun,” said Resnik. “There’s a stoicism about her, there’s a strong belief system in her.”

An entire musical number is devoted to Mother Superior attempting to put Deloris in her place. Mother is traditional where Deloris likes change, stiff where Deloris is flexible, quiet where Deloris is loud and conservative where Deloris is anything but.

Though the characters are butting heads, the actors are in sync, finishing each other’s sentences during the interview.

“Deloris Van Cartier would like to take a bedazzler and bedazzle the habit if she could,” said Campbell. “Maybe I can jazz this outfit up a little bit,” she said mimicking her character’s attitude.

“It doesn’t cry out for accessories,” replied Resnik instantly in Mother Superior-mode.

The cast has great chemistry, but the music remains the main draw. If patrons expect songs from the movie, they will be slightly disappointed. Though productions such as this attract patrons who hope it will be a nostalgia-fest based on the film, the audience will still get value for their dollar because the show includes an original score by Alan Menken with lyrics by Glenn Slater. Hits such as “My God” from the film have been replaced with “Take Me To Heaven” where the nuns belt out cheeky lines, such as “I’ll take any vow, just take me now” and “I’ll get on my knees, just take me please.”

In “Sunday Morning Fever,” the sisters encourage the faithful to “shake it like you’re Mary Magdalene.”

Breakout musical performances also include Kinglsey Leggs as Curtis Jackson, Deloris’s mobster boyfriend, singing “When I Find My Baby.” Effortlessly switching from a sinister to a sweet tone, he promises to never let his baby go. Jackson’s clueless henchmen, played by Charles Barksdale, Todd A. Horman and Ernie Pruneda, also deliver a completely satisfying performance when they brainstorm via song ways to tempt the celibate nuns. In “Lady In The Long Black Dress” they promise to give the sisters something to confess.

Opening night was filled with plenty of laughs, including from the nuns in the audience. But there is a take home message in Deloris’s unexpected journey from sin to redemption, from loneliness to discovering the joy of sisterhood.

“Just be good to each other, no matter what the circumstances are,” said Resnik. “There’s always something to be learned and found in every relationship.”

No matter your religious beliefs, said Campbell, “It’s important to be good hearted, it’s important to respect other people, respect their journey, respect their path (and) respect their soul.” Amen, sister.