By Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News
A new vocation formation program in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon began the academic and ministry year with an opening Mass at the Sts. Benedict and Scholastica residence Sept. 1, followed by a day of orientation and reflection for the first two program participants.
The new program combines diocesan-led faith formation and vocation discernment with an academic path at St. Thomas More College.
The Sts. Benedict and Scholastica Formation Program is designed for candidates who are pursuing “an academic and vocational pathway” – which includes men discerning ordained priesthood, as well as men or women discerning religious life or professional lay ecclesial ministry in the Church. Program participants will live in community and study while discerning their life’s vocation, obtaining spiritual formation while they obtain a degree.
In addition to moving into the residence established for the program and launching into “spiritual and human formation” led by the Verbum Dei Sisters, inaugural participants Jerome Montpetit of Bruno and Huy Le of Saskatoon will also shortly begin their academic year at St. Thomas More College.
Bishop Mark Hagemoen celebrated Mass and blessed the altar and chapel of the residence on Temperance Street in Saskatoon Sept. 1, before joining two Verbum Dei sisters in leading the orientation day.
Sr. Malou Tibayan is coordinating the diocesan side of the program, along with another soon-to-arrive member of the Verbum Dei Missionary Community, Sr. Claudia Vázquez Díaz and Fr Daniel Yasinski, vocation director and pastor at Our Lady of the Assumption-Kerrobert, with input and planning also provided by Sr. Marta Piano of Verbum Dei, and Fr. Matthew Ramsay, pastor at St. Anne Parish in Saskatoon.
“I am very excited,” said Tibayan. “And I am looking forward to journeying with Jerome and Huy. We are making history, because they are the pioneers, the first candidates of this formation program. This is also the start of this work in the diocese – so everything is ‘in the making.’ And everything is in the hands of the Holy Spirit.”
Originally from Vietnam, program participant Huy Le has lived in Saskatoon for the past 10 years and has a degree from the U of S. “When I decided to pursue priesthood, I came to meet the bishop and he introduced me to this program,” he says. “I am excited to begin.”
“I am grateful to the bishop for his support and for this program,” says Jerome Montpetit, who previously completed the formation program at St. Therese Institute of Faith and Mission at Bruno, SK.
The new diocesan formation program has the potential to be a “next step” for young Catholics who have completed formation through St. Therese, suggests Bishop Mark Hagemoen. And as a federated Catholic College at the University of Saskatchewan, St. Thomas More College (STM) provides a top-notch academic path for those enrolled in the Sts. Benedict and Scholastica program, he adds.
“ STM has the ability to offer classical philosophy, which is the fundamental feature and academic basis for a Masters of Divinity or other Theology program,” says the bishop. “Participants will get a University of Saskatchewan Bachelors’ degree that is recognized across the country.”
The common thread for all who will participate in the Sts. Benedict and Scholastica Formation Program is that it is “for people who have discerned that God is calling them to a kind of formation that tracks towards pursuing ordained priesthood, religious life or lay professional ministry in the Church,” says Hagemoen.
He notes that “human and spiritual formation” is an even greater emphasis of the Church when it comes to preparing men for ordained priesthood. “That curriculum, which has been adopted by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, is informing the human and spiritual program that is being overseen by the Verbum Dei Sisters and several of our own qualified clergy.”
The vision for the Sts. Benedict and Scholastica program is to eventually have a women’s community alongside the men’s community.
“I see this as more than the first step,” says Sr. Marta Piano of this year’s opening of a first residence for men. “I see this as a sprout of life, that is just beginning. It is a spring, coming out and then we will see it opening wide, and growing.”
For the Verbum Dei sisters, the Sts. Benedict and Scholastica Formation Program fits with the charism of their religious community, which is to pray, live and proclaim the Word of God.
Working with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon on evangelization and faith formation also constitutes the first Verbum Dei presence in Canada. “We are hoping to found a community in Canada, depending on this apostolic experience,” says Tibayan.
“I want to express gratitude in the name of our community, the Verbum Dei, to Bishop Mark for inviting us. It is a huge trust,” says Tibayan.
During his homily at the opening Mass Sept. 1, the bishop reflected on the Church’s primary mission to “proclaim the Good News – to proclaim Christ.” Discernment, formation and mission are life-long pursuits, he added. “It is not just the task of an academic term, a year or eight years. It’s a trajectory of a lifetime.”
Related article: Sts Benedict & Scholastica Formation Program introduced