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Called to Serve


National vocations conference to be held in Winnipeg
By James Buchok


Those who have an interest in nurturing a vocation culture in the church, be they laypersons, religious or priests, young or experienced, are welcome to attend the National Association of Vocation/Formation Directors conference in Winnipeg, April 25 to 28.

“They will be enriched,” said Sister Mary Coswin, one of the planners of the event entitled Live the Word Courageously: New Voices in Vocation Culture.

Coswin, who has been part of the community of the Sisters of St. Benedict in Winnipeg since 1963, said the conference is held every two years and after 2014 in Toronto a group of Winnipeggers offered to be the next hosts.

While society in general sees religious orders and communities as a disappearing way of live, the NAVFD website lists a surprising number of groups devoted to vocations. “The large groups of the 1940s and ‘50s was a blip,” said Coswin. “Religious communities were never before so numerous. What we see now is more normal. And with the advance of women in professional work there are many alternatives for living a committed Christian life as a single or married person. We also don’t have large families as we once did and many families do not aspire to have a son or daughter in religious life. Much of this is mystery, the mystery of God’s unfolding plan and the Holy Spirit is still at work among us.”

Coswin said there are several communities that have “lively and growing numbers of associates, or Oblates as Benedictines refer to them. This is evidence that the spirit of those communities is alive and growing. The charism of the communities can be lived outside the community to a large extent and associates and community mutually enrich each other.”

The conference line-up reads like a vocations mini-university beginning with keynote speakers Rev. Scott Lewis, SJ, and Sister Amy Hereford, CSJ.

Lewis, academic dean of Regis College, Toronto School of Theology, will speak on “God is Really among You! Recovering the Transcendent in Religious Communities.”

“One of the problems facing religious communities today is that they have become virtually invisible and in many ways indistinguishable from the culture in which they dwell,” writes Lewis. “In a series of short biblical reflections, I will explore the attraction of the community of the People of God over the centuries. Recent studies of religious culture in Canada indicate that many people, especially the young, hunger for both religious experience and a sense of genuine community.”

Hereford is an Attorney Canonist based in St. Louis, Missouri. Her presentation is “Nurturing Mystics and Prophets.”

“Vocation and formation for religious life, taken together, are the process by which men and women encounter and join a religious congregation, are initiated into its spirituality, life and mission, and gradually become members of our communities,” writes Hereford. “It is a process, not a program. The programmatic elements play an important role in the process. They facilitate discernment. They help candidates to grow in knowledge and wisdom about God, spirituality, community and charism.”

Workshops include New Wine, New Wineskins — Social Media Strategies, demonstrating how what is rooted in time and tradition can be enhanced by the blessings of the digital age. “Social media challenges us to new and creative ways to share our lives, build communities, grow in faith and provide formation resources.”

Other workshop titles are: Vocation Discernment In The Ignatian Style; Eastern Spirituality And The New Evangelization; Clearness Committee Discernment Process; Ministry 2021: Where Are You?; Sharing Our Wisdom As Church; I’m No Priest, So What Now?; and The Enneagram Symbol: A Challenge To Religious Complacency.

A group presentation will be offered by gospel communities including Chemin Neuf, House Blend Ministries and Christian Life Communities, with representatives reflecting on how the Gospel continues to inspire new expressions of community today, and how society’s social and spiritual needs are being met by these communities.

The conference takes place at the Clarion Hotel, 10 minutes west of downtown Winnipeg. For complete details go to