WATROUS, Sask. — Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, St. Therese Institute of Faith and Mission at Bruno, Sask., provides spiritual formation for young Catholic adults trying to find their place in the world, Chris O’Hara told delegates at a Saskatoon diocesan CWL convention held May 1 in Watrous.
“St. Therese exists in order to provide something for these young Catholics who desire to serve the church, who desire to live out their faith, but who feel like they are alone and don’t know where to turn. So we are a school for 18- to 35-year olds to come and learn how to live out their faith actively.”
Some 200 alumni have graduated from the formation program over the past decade.
Originally from Halifax, O’Hara himself experienced St. Therese when he took a break from university to enrol in the nine-month formation program offered at the former Ursuline convent.
“I signed up about seven years ago, and encountered a wonderful community and a bunch of teachings that challenged the way that I lived, and that ultimately challenged me to recognize who God was — a Father who loved me perfectly, wanted to take care of me, who I could trust entirely, just as St. Therese of Lisieux did.”
After returning to Halifax to complete a degree in music, he eventually returned to St. Therese as co-ordinator of program promotion. He is also studying for his masters in theology, and teaches introduction to Scripture at St. Therese.
O’Hara described the St. Therese program as a blend between a university curriculum and a spiritual retreat.
“It is a nine-month retreat where the sessions that you take are the classes,” he said. “We have mass every day, rosary offered every day, opportunities for eucharistic adoration multiple times a week, and times for prayer together as a community.”
He added that sessions offered during the day are university-calibre courses in subjects related to church history and teachings, critical thinking and philosophy, Scripture and “the fundamentals of Catholic life.”
St. Therese alumni can apply to transfer credits toward classes at several post-secondary institutions, including St. Stephen’s University in New Brunswick, Trinity Western University/Redeemer Pacific College in British Columbia, St. Philip Seminary in Toronto and Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Connecticut, USA.
“We have a very strong academic formation where students are challenged to learn, to study, to try their best,” O’Hara said. “What we find is that when students really embrace their vocation as a student, approach it with an attitude of prayer, that they do try their best and really glorify God through the excellent work that they are doing.”
However, the program is primarily about spiritual formation rather than academics, he stressed.
“We are there to teach young people how to be involved in the church, how to encounter God in a deeper way, how to learn to pray and be close to God at all times — so that when they leave St. Therese they will be equipped with the tools they need not only to stay strong in university, in their vocations, in their careers, wherever God might be leading them, but actually to be a light of Christ to the world, bringing young people back to the church, bringing their peers and co-workers and family members back into communion with the church.”
St. Therese alumni are serving as leaders in many settings, he noted. Some graduates are getting involved in mission projects or youth ministry initiatives, while others are going on to discern religious life or the priesthood.
“Roughly a 10th of the men (sent forth from St. Therese) are going off to the seminary, so I guess that’s a good sign. And there are young women who are pursuing religious life all over North America, and there are more every year signing up to do vocation years at different convents.”
O’Hara added that all the academic and spiritual growth takes place in the context of Christian community, with enrolment kept at about 40 students each year in order to foster a family environment.
“We often pray to the Holy Family, we like to talk about Nazareth spirituality,” he said. “Students can learn how to relate to each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, how to practice virtue, how to pray for each other, how to really do what we would see as an ideal Christian community,” he said. “St. Therese is a training place for all that to happen — not so that it stays in the bubble of St. Therese, but so that students can go outward and create Christian communities all over North America, wherever they might go.”
O’Hara also noted that throughout the year St. Therese holds conferences and events that are open to the public. This includes a series of week-long intensive Springtime of the Faith courses on subjects such as Ignatian spirituality, the theology of the laity, or Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, as well as Advent and lenten conferences featuring facilitators and speakers from across North America.
St. Therese partnered with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon to be a host site for the New Evangelization Summit, which was live-streamed from Ottawa May 12 - 13. Another notable event was the 10th anniversary celebration and commissioning of this year’s class on May 20, with special guest Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi, Apostolic Nuncio to Canada.
Donations to support St. Therese are also appreciated, O’Hara added, pointing to a fund-raising project underway to repair the roof of the former Ursuline convent.
“We are truly blessed to be able to carry on the legacy and heritage of the Ursulines who were spiritual teachers — witnesses of lived Christian life. St. Therese is continuing that legacy into the next generation.”