Vanessa Santilli-Raimondo, The Catholic Register

Vanessa Santilli-Raimondo, The Catholic Register

Vanessa is a communications coordinator in the Office of Public Relations and Communications for the Archdiocese of Toronto and former reporter and youth editor for The Catholic Register. 

You can follow her on twitter @V_Santilli.

TORONTO - Dr. Stephen Hwang has been appointed the first endowed Chair of Homelessness, Housing and Health at St. Michael’s Hospital and the University of Toronto.

Each year thousands of high school students seek the next step in their educational journey — and there are plenty of options.

TORONTO - In the campus ministry context, every year is the Year of Faith, said Josh Canning.

MARKHAM, ONT. - The newly formed Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada are moving forward with a direction statement reflecting the unified congregation.

TORONTO - Canada’s Syro-Malankara Catholic community may be modest in size but its members are reacting with immense pride to the elevation of its first cardinal.

Major Archbishop Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal, the head of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, was to be among eight prelates elevated to cardinal by Pope Benedict on Nov. 24. He is the first cardinal ever selected from the India-based Syro-Malankara Church.

For the 250-member Syro- Malankara congregation of Toronto, the unexpected honour is cause for celebration.

“I’m really, really thrilled for this recognition because the universal Church is recognizing our Church as a deeper part of communion,” said Sebin Alexander, 24, a parishioner at St. Mary’s Malankara Catholic Mission in Toronto.

The elevation of the head of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church puts the entire world congregation of approximately 500,000 members into the limelight, said Fr. John Kuriakose, pastor at St. Mary’s.

“Hopefully, since he received this elevation, it will put (the new cardinal) in a better position to work towards the unification of the Church,” Kuriakose said.

A handful of parishioners from St. Mary’s went to Rome for the elevation ceremony, where they expected to meet up with about 80 members of the faith from across North America. There is a second Canadian mission in Edmonton and approximately 10 congregations scattered across the United States, Kuriakose said.

The Syro-Malankara Church was founded in India by St. Thomas the Apostle in AD 52. In its long history it has experienced schisms and a break with Rome. Full communion for the Syro- Malankara Church with Rome was re-established in 1930.

Church members are hopeful that Thottunkal’s elevation to cardinal will help bring unification to the many branches of India’s Christian churches.

“Since this happened, it is with great hope we can extend our hands to our brothers in the Orthodox community, in the Jacobite community,” Alexander said, referring to the many splits in the Indian Church. “We can have more of an ecumenical movement to bring them back to the Church.

“It’s also a reminder of my responsibility as a youth to really understand the call of the evangelization in this culture and to have a greater dedication to the Church.”

Francis Thazhamon was to join the pilgrims in Rome.

“This is something he (Thottunkal) deserves and the universal Church is moving in the right direction realizing the need of the Church at this time,” said Thazhamon.

Thottunkal, 53, is one of six new cardinals being created by the Pope. They hail from six different countries and, in a rare twist, none are European. They are U.S. Archbishop James M. Harvey, 63, Lebanon’s Maronite Patriarch Bechara Rai, 72, Nigerian Archbishop John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan of Abuja, 68, Colombian

Archbishop Ruben Salazar Gomez of Bogota, 70, and Philippine Archbishop Luis Tagle of Manila, 55.

MARKHAM, ONT. - After a four-year process, and the amalgamation of four congregations, the Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada have emerged.

“We have shifted in our identity from the Sisters of St. Joseph of Hamilton, London, Peterborough and Pembroke and now we are the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada,” said Sr. Margo Ritchie, speaking via telephone from the order’s chapter in Markham, Ont., which ran from Nov. 18-24.

“Together, we feel that we can engage the crucial issues in a way that transforms us and the systems in our world and we could perhaps have a larger voice.”

The move actually brings the Sisters of St. Joseph closer to their origins, when there was only one congregation.

“So it’s a natural impulse for becoming one again. But there was an emerging energy in all of us to do something new and we felt we could be that better together.”

Ritchie believes the change will expand the sisters’ consciousness of who they are.

“And some of us may make choices to move if there is a particular job opening in another neighbourhood.”
The Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto and of Sault Ste. Marie were also a part of the four-year process but decided it was best for them to not take part in the amalgamation at this time.

That said, “All the congregations will continue to work together,” said Ritchie.

With approximately 300 sisters in the newly formed congregation, 137 sisters were in attendance at the chapter.

“People were very eager to be part of this new moment.”

At press time, the chapter had only undergone its initial two days which began exploring the direction the unified sisters will head in for the next four years. The “coalescing of various voices” discussed ecological justice, the growing disparity between the rich and the poor and indigenous rights, said Ritchie.

Sr. Sue Wilson said the conversation focused on the interconnected nature of the sisters’ lives.

“No matter what issue we try to take hold of — whether it’s poverty or environmental damage — you start to see how the issue is connected with our social systems, our economic systems, our political systems and environmental systems,” said Wilson. “So given the interconnected nature, we really see a lot of value in contemplative practice to get at that level of interconnection.”

Through this, the sisters will be better able to see root causes of injustice and how to bring about systemic change, she added.

Sr. Joyce Murray said the discussion tried to better understand what the needs of today mean for the ministry and mission of the sisters.

“We have always tried to respond to the needs around us at the moment and have always been conscious of currents in our world,” said Murray.

One of the objectives of the chapter is to formulate a new direction statement, said Ritchie.

“We’re really clear we don’t want a nice statement that gets framed and put on a wall,” she said. “We want to challenge ourselves.”

Ritchie, who held the position of congregational leader for the Sisters of St. Joseph of London as of press time, said the congregational leadership circle of five women was to be elected during the chapter, after The Register’s press time.

For most of us, stilling the mind seems too unproductive to be a good idea. But then again, it’s an attractive idea.

“Who do you say I am?” is the burning question Jesus asks His disciples in chapter nine of the Gospel of Luke. In Benedictine Dom Laurence Freeman’s 75-page book The Goal of Life, the author seeks to illustrate how Christian meditation can help us come up with our own answer.

Freeman, the director of The World Community for Christian Meditation, is essentially giving readers a road map to happiness via the mind and spirit, should they choose to follow his lead.

But first he debunks the widely held misconception that meditation is a “get-away-from-it-all narcissistic indulgence” à la Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-selling Eat, Pray, Love. Instead, it is “the practice of silence and stillness, of non-action beyond thought and imagination.” It’s also not a leisure activity. It’s hard work.

Meditation is the work we do to accept the gift of contemplation which is already given and present in the heart, writes Freeman.

The goal of life — heaven — is to know who we are. But to figure this out we must be able to say who Jesus is. If you’re willing to give the gift of total self, you may one day be able to answer that question. He is asking no small feat.

The book is small, but don’t be deceived. You’re in for some heavy reading. It’s also chock full of strong declarations and promises. “The humanity of Jesus and His relationship to the universe come to be experienced from within.”

Never having meditated, I read the book with an open mind. But how does one meditate? It takes a while to get to that. In fact, the majority of the book is spent discussing what it is and why one would seek to achieve Christian enlightenment, with only a few pages dedicated to the how.

Essentially, you are to sit upright and breathe calmly. Then, close your eyes and in your mind and heart repeat the word “maranatha.” It’s an Aramaic word he recommends to beginners which means “Come Lord. Come Lord Jesus.”

But it’s not quite so easy to clear your mind of your busy life. Freeman admits this and addresses the very real challenges of doing anything so counter-cultural.

To meditate, we must accept Jesus’ challenge to go beyond the fear of letting go of our favourite anxieties, the ones we’ve grown accustomed to, along with getting over our fear of peace. “The practice of meditation is a way of applying His teaching on prayer; it proves through experience that the human mind can indeed choose not to worry.”

The book successfully breaks down preconceived notions about what meditation is. Freeman shows us instead a holistic path of prayer.

So, who is Jesus? Freeman isn’t going to put it in words for you. The real goal of Christian meditation is an encounter with Jesus that goes beyond words and tidy definitions. It’s a reality that has to be felt in your heart as well as your mind. When you get it, Jesus is there in everyday life, in all the distractions and tedium of the day and in the dreams that light the still mind before dawn. Christian meditation is just one more tool to be implemented on the neverending journey of faith.

TORONTO  - Struggling with parish finances, Fr. Joseph Tap Van Tran needed money for restorations at St. Cecilia’s Church in Toronto’s west end. His prayers were answered through substantial bequests from various parishioners totalling approximately $800,000.

Due to this generosity, the parish is getting a new roof along with exterior work, such as brick work on external walls, stone work around the windows and restoration of the front stairs.

Nestled between houses near High Park Avenue in the Junction, the church is immersed in scaffolding, a testament to the help of bequests.

“It’s a blessing that we got the donations,” said Tran, pastor at St. Cecilia’s Church and The Mission of the Vietnamese Martyrs, a community that shares the parish.

“St. Cecilia’s is not a rich parish. The financial resources are very limited. We would not be able to repair the roof, which is a major renovation, but with the money from the bequests we are able to do it.”

One particularly large bequest came in the form of a house, along with all of its contents, said Tran. Everything was sold and the funds are being given to the parish.

Upon hearing about the large bequests from members of the community, Tran said he felt joy and a strong sense of thankfulness to both God and the donors.

“As Catholics, we know the church is the house of God,” he said. “It’s the place we experience God’s love and experience His presence in a special way.”

Established in 1895, St. Cecilia’s is a fairly old parish, said Quentin Schesnuick, manager of planning giving and personal gifts at ShareLife.

For parishes that need major work done, bequests can go a long way.

“You get a few gifts in your will and what happens is the parishes can go ahead and do the projects and (renovations) to repair the parishes for the next generation,” he said.

TORONTO - Quentin Schesnuik was visiting St. Cecilia’s Church for an estate planning presentation when he spotted a little girl giving a leaf to the pastor. Fr. Joseph Tap Van Tran thanked her for the leaf, blessed her and kept the gift.

“At the moment she gave it to him, she meant it with all sincerity,” said Schesnuik, manager of planned giving and personal gifts for ShareLife, the charitable fundraising arm of the archdiocese of Toronto.

Similarly, whenever somebody puts the Church in their will, they should mirror this sincerity, he said.

“At the end of the day, it should be about how you make that gift… A lot of times people use their will to make the gift they always wanted to in life but just never thought they could.”

Any gift left to ShareLife in a will is turned into cash which lands in the ShareLife Legacy for Life Endowment Fund, said Schesnuik.

“An endowment is an investment that’s set aside for the long-term support of ShareLife,” he said. “Within the endowment, the principle is protected… And the principle is used to generate income to fund ShareLife programs.”
As the endowment grows, it strengthens the ShareLife allocations as a whole, he adds.

“The income that the endowment generates goes into general funding, so in a very real sense, the money is used to help fund all ShareLife agencies and grant recipients.”

The endowment fund currently sits at $2.8 million. Last year, it generated about $80,000 in income, said Schesnuik.

“Sometimes you could have a will where someone says, ‘I have a Harley Davidson and I want it to go to ShareLife.’ In that case, the estate trustee would contact us and we’d work with them, take possession of the Harley Davidson, sell it and use the proceeds to put in the endowment.”

When a person decides they’d like to donate to ShareLife, their lawyer contacts ShareLife and asks for their legal title, said Schesnuik.

“Knowing the proper legal title is really important because the law is all about language and the interpretation of language,” he said. By knowing this, the lawyer knows exactly where to direct the funds. ShareLife’s legal title is The ShareLife Trust.

One hundred per cent of the proceeds bequeathed to ShareLife support ShareLife, adds Schesnuik.

But your estate doesn’t just mean your house, it means your total assets.

“It’s your assets minus your liabilities,” said Schesnuik. “If somebody has more liabilities than assets, there won’t be anything left to distribute.”

He emphasizes that it’s not necessarily about the amount left behind.

“God loves a cheerful giver, and so, it’s in that spirit I think that person should make a cheerful gift.”

TORONTO - When Angela Farrell was unsure about a career change, she turned for guidance to the sisters at the Notre Dame convent in Toronto.

“I think of the convent as the North Star,” she said. “This is the true north and you orient from there.”

So she is saddened now to learn that her North Star will soon be dark. After 60 years, the convent on Kingston Road in Toronto’s east end is closing.

The packing has already begun and the nuns, several in their 80s, are to all be moved by next August, although the date is not set in stone, says Sr. Eileen Power. She is clear the sisters are not leaving Toronto, but will cease to live in community as they move to other locations in the city.

“We have been engaged in a process of long-term planning for some time now in our congregation and in our province and many other communities are doing this too,” said Power, the local house leader. “The location is no longer meeting our housing needs.”

The convent and property will be sold but Power said she has no idea who the buyer will be.

“Only God knows that right now,” she said.

The convent has housed up to 20 people but is currently home to just 11 sisters, some of whom have lived there more than 40 years. The youngest is in her early 40s but most are retired. There are about two dozen Notre Dame sisters living in Toronto, said Power.

“The sisters here are looking to the future with hope and courage and they are hearing God’s call in this,” she said.

When Farrell was growing up in the neighbourhood, the convent was a much busier place. The Sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame provided teachers for many east-end Catholic schools and, in 1941, founded Notre Dame High School, which still operates nearby the convent. Farrell almost always lived close to the sisters. A graduate of Notre Dame, she has taught religion and belonged to the chaplaincy team at the school the past 12 years.

“My whole growing up was shaped by the presence of the sisters and there was always a sense of structure and security in knowing they were there,” she said.

The order has been in Toronto for 80 years. The first nuns arrived in 1932 at the invitation of Archbishop Neil McNeil to bolster Toronto’s Catholic teaching community, originally settling in a convent near St. Brigid’s Church. Over the years, the sisters taught in more than 20 elementary schools and several high schools. They’ve also been active in parishes through outreach to the poor, catechetics, retreats and social justice initiatives.

As their numbers increased, and after Notre Dame High School was built, the sisters obtained a plot of land near the school for a convent. It has been occupied since 1952 but, with vocations in dramatic decline, some difficult decisions were required.

“I think most families experience this,” Power said. “The kids grow up and move away and three or four bedrooms are empty and the parents say, ‘We need to do something now.’ We don’t have a lot of younger people at the moment here in Toronto.”

Power said it is important that the order prudently manage its resources.

“We pool our resources as sisters and then we support people who are doing other ministries,” she said, highlighting activities for social justice in Central America, Africa, Japan, France, the United States, as well as across Canada.

Nancy Devitt-Tremblay, a Notre Dame graduate (class of 1974), says the sisters gave the incredible gift of education to her mother’s generation.

“My mother grew up in an inner-city parish at a time when her brothers didn’t go to high school,” said Devitt-Tremblay, a teacher at Senator O’Connor College School. “If Notre Dame hadn’t opened, she probably wouldn’t have had a high school education.”

Ursula Thomson was a part of that generation. One of 16 members of the first graduating class in 1944, she keeps in touch with Notre Dame nuns almost 70 years later. She is grateful for the kindness, intelligence and devotion of the sisters.

The relocation process for the 11 nuns still in the convent will be co-ordinated between the leadership and administrative team in Halifax, Power said.