Spring 2016, I returned to the Novitiate house after attending a NAVFD (National Association of Vocation Formators and Directors) conference in my home town of Winnipeg. While I was at the conference, I had a good look around the room and it prompted my wonderings and question, “who I am going to grow old with as a Religious in Canada?” This question accompanied me in my prayer. I loved to pray in my room, which had a comfortable tan colored Laz-y-boy chair that faced the windows. It offered me a prime view of God’s handiwork as I gazed out. So I sat with this question and allowed it to just rest in me. One day I recall concluding that we have to gather Religious who are younger / newer in formation together. The question then became, how? With our communities stretched in all ways with resources, planning a conference or a workshops was highly unlikely. Then the thought that all religious do make annual retreats and perhaps that is something we could share in together. This possibility led me to imagining when? Where? Who could lead this? What was most important or non-negotiable for this experience to be authentic?
As I would journal and reflect on these questions, it seemed obvious, to me anyways, that whomever we get to lead this must have Canadian roots or be in Canada; should be a Religious and be a respected voice in their field. As I continued to dream…Fr. Ron Rolheiser’s name was coming to mind. I knew how busy he was and that his schedule is quite booked. I also remembered that that he visits his home diocese of Saskatoon each summer and offers a retreat at the local retreat house. Then the, “I wonder if’s…” began. So I called the retreat house in Saskatoon asked about the following summer retreat dates, and if there was availability following the retreat. Then I made a call to Fr. Ron’s assistant. Explained to her what it was, that I knew him and if he would be interested. While all of this was happening, I was sharing this dream with my Novice Director and another younger religious from Canada, Ken Thorson, omi who knows Fr. Ron well. The responses were positive so I thought,” let’s see where this goes”. I heard back from his assistant and she indicated he was interested but the schedule was not finalized for the summer 2017. She said she would let me know. This was June 2016. That summer I returned to Winnipeg to begin my Missionary Novice year. While on retreat that summer, I consciously asked for God’s grace to be free about this dream. If it moves forward, it does and if not, it is not meant to be at this time. I prayed that I might have the grace to not hold on to something or force something that was not spirit-led.
October came, and I still had not heard back. I made a call to follow up (sometimes things fall off the radar). No, it was not known yet. She told me she would let me know. As Advent approached, I found myself truly entering the time of waiting. I also knew that time was going by and if we wanted to launch this for the summer, time was of the essence. Again, I thought, ok God, this is on your watch, not mine.
It was December 22. I called his assistant and left a message. I knew this was highly unlikely to happen for the summer and I was ok with that. It was a good dream but the time was not right. So my message thanked her for her assistance and since I had not heard, maybe this needs to be put to rest for another time. The next day I had a call back from her. She indicated that she and Fr. Ron had met the day before and were reviewing the request and schedule for the 2017 year. She informed me that it was a go and to contact him directly to discuss the details. I was stunned. Overwhelmed with joy and some disbelief. It was still a long journey before it could be realized, but the doors had been opened to proceed to the next level of planning. I remember being at Christmas Eve mass and truly feeling like Christ WAS born for me that year.
And so after further conversations with my community, and with their encouragement and prayers, more planning followed. The assistance that NAVFD provided in publicizing the retreat was invaluable. They have been wonderful companions to us on this journey.
Our Retreat in the summer of 2017 gathered 23 participants from various parts of Canada. Male and female we gathered to pray, build community, share in silence and conversation and learn from our facilitator. It was surreal. It was from God.
Following the summer retreat in 2017, I received a call from Fr. Ron and he asked about the next retreat and doing it again. I know the evaluations /summary of reflections indicated that we should be doing it again. He was willing to lead us with another topic. Queens House had availability and it seemed that the call was clear – do it again. This time, I had others to invite to share in the promotion, and tasks of the retreat. We had 20 participants in 2018 with nearly three-quarters of the group being new. We were also reaching different communities and clearly the word was spreading.
So here we are, the fall after our 2018 retreat. The group clearly felt that we needed to continue with the retreats. However, the new “shoot” that sprouted was the need to keep the spark burring between retreats. Thus with the idea, vision and commitment of Toby Collins CR and a small group of others to develop the idea of the blog site.
And God said, “let there be a blog site!” The hope is to share a posting each week with our viewers. Though our targeted audience is Religious under 55 or newer in formation, here in Canada or abroad with Canadian roots, all are welcome to visit it. The focus is celebrating the joy, challenges and life that being a Religious, at this age or stage offers to one another and the world.
Fr. Ron’s words in our initial conversation in January 2017, about the retreat, echo in my heart. I said, “I have no idea how many to expect or if we should be doing this” and he responded, “It is too important not to do.”
So welcome to our dream! It is too important not to follow!
Something good CAN come from a Laz-y-boy.
Written by: Michelle Garlinski, SNJM – Sister of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary
2017 Retreat (above), and 2018 Retreat (below)