Catholic Family Service was founded in 1957 with five staff members. Today, more than 100 employees deliver affordable counselling and a wide range of community programs aimed at building strong families.
Catholic Family Service has faithfully upheld Fr. Pat O’Byrne’s legacy of professional and compassionate service to vulnerable Calgarians for 60 years. Fr. Pat was one of the first trained social workers in Calgary. In 1957, he founded Catholic Family Service, employing five staff members to provide pre-marital and individual counselling, adoption services and financial assistance to all faiths and cultures. Fr. Pat had a hand in establishing several interdenominational social agencies in those years, including the Calgary Drop-in Centre.
Within a few years, satellite offices were established in Medicine Hat and Lethbridge. These offices closed in the late 1960s, as we evolved to meet changing priorities. Joining the United Way (then called Community Chest) in the 1960s led to a greater focus on community-wide needs. Today, Catholic Family Service employs 100 professionals who deliver affordable counselling and a wide range of community programs aimed at building strong families.
A succession of dedicated CEOs — only five in 60 years — has ensured that Fr. Pat’s legacy lives on. Frank Bach was CEO from 1964 to 1968. During his tenure, we became recognized for the professionalism of our staff and our willingness to work cooperatively with other agencies in the community. Under Jack Kirley’s leadership from 1968 to 1984, we formed a partnership with the Calgary Board of Education to provide services to “unwed mothers.” This successful collaboration continues today at the Louise Dean Centre, where we provide counselling, life skills training, on-site child care and financial support to pregnant and parenting teenagers while they complete their high school education.
Greg Campbell was appointed CEO in 1984, serving for the next 27 years. Greg worked with staff to develop programs that connect families within their communities. Under Greg’s leadership, innovative programs were launched such as Crew (formerly Athletes Mentoring), matching youth aged 10 – 14 with student-athlete mentors, and Never Too Late, an academic and social support program for adult learners as they prepare to write their high school equivalency exams. Motherhood Matters (formerly named Volunteers Teaching Important Parent Skills (V-TIPS) and Teen Parent Friend) continues today, as does the Family & Schools Together Program (F&ST), an international school-based family skills program that we brought to Calgary 21 years ago. Under Greg Campbell, volunteers were welcomed as valued partners into the organization (now 400 strong!) We also launched our fundraising arm, the Unlocking Potential (UP) Foundation, during that time. Greg handed the reins to Patricia Jones in 2011. Patricia has championed greater involvement of all fathers, regardless of age, in our services, including the research-based Fathers Moving Forward program which supports the fathers of babies born to young mothers attending Louise Dean Centre. Collaborative approaches continue today through our innovative finance model for students at Louise Dean Centre (a partnership with Terra Centre, Edmonton and the Alberta Government) and our partnership with Carya offering Functional Family Therapy to the community.
Catholic Family Service has never strayed from its original goal to strengthen families through marriage preparation. In partnership with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Calgary, we offer a Marriage Preparation Weekend to couples planning the sacrament of marriage. Grounded in Catholic values, this weekend is open to couples of all faiths and cultural backgrounds.
Among the many funders, partners and donors — far too many to list here — supporting Fr. Pat’s vision over the years, one in particular stands out in our 60th anniversary year. Alberta Teachers’ Association Local 55, Catholic Teachers Charities invites teachers in the Calgary Catholic School District to allocate a donation from each pay cheque for distribution among local charities. Since Catholic Family Service started benefiting from these donations in 2000, we have received more than one million dollars from Catholic teachers. Thank you so much for this amazing support!
A lot may change in six decades, but some things never change. As we celebrate, we are eternally grateful for the vision and leadership of Fr. Pat O’Byrne, our staff and volunteers, and the thousands of Calgarians who have stood beside us to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to live the life they want.
The Office of Youth Ministry is hoping a pilot project will help draw First Nations Youth closer to God, and closer to each other while offering them leadership skills to serve their people today and into the future. The pastors of the First Nation Reserves in southern Alberta met this year on several occasions with pastoral staff and members of the Mission Council who strongly supported the idea of a camp experience for First Nation Youth. The camp was held at Camp Columbus, the Knights of Columbus Camp in Waterton, National Park. A perfect backdrop to wonderful week.
Diocesan Youth Retreat Team (DYRT) coordinator Wesley Raymundo, directed the camp pilot project. He was working with the DYRT members, and religious sisters from the Seeds of the Word, Franciscan Missionaries of Mary (FMM), and the Daughters of Mary Mother of the Church (DM) as they reached out to 13 high school youth from the Blood Reserve at Standoff, and the Piikani Reserve at Brocket. Youths were offered an experience of fun and faith over the five days, and together they laughed, played games, took part in skits, celebrated Mass, went horse backing riding, took short hikes, made crafts, prayed and sang songs.
Fr. Long Vu from the Siksika Nation in Cluny assisted at the camp as Chaplain for the five-day camp. One of Fr. Long Vu’s parishioners, Kelsey Solway, visited the camp and was encouraged by what she saw. She would like to be more involved next year, and bring some youth from the Siksika Reserve at Cluny. Kelsey shared:
“What I hope is that next year we are able to send more children to St. Kateri from Holy Trinity Parish in Siksika. Fr. Long expressed how important it was for our youth to be involved with building a relationship within the Catholic church and to become more involved. St. Kateri camp is a great way to foster those relationships. I was very impressed and cannot wait to attend next year. We hope that this is an annual event and I hope we can help more of our First Nations youth attend.”
First Nation youth, are not unlike youth in our cities and countryside who are longing for meaning and purpose in their lives. They desire to have fun, and experience God’s presence in their midst. As a diocese, we share a responsibility to reach out to the youth on our Reserves, and to communicate the Good News with them. Building community and relationships by our words and deeds speaks of God’s transforming love of peace and reconciliation, and is part of our mission as Catholics.
The youth who attended the camp came away feeling loved and part of a bigger family, and they were encouraged to be examples to others, to “Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” [1 Tim: 4]. Selina Young Pine, from the Blood Reserve made sure prior to camp that she told everyone that, “at camp we are family, brothers and sisters.” She was not disappointed when she reflected, “From this camp I have gained more faith, and strength in Jesus, and I am humbled to say that I am a child of God.” Janelle Many Bears, told us that she “loves her new holy family.”
Taila Big Throat of the Blood Reserve summed up her experience by saying: “I really enjoyed coming to this camp; it was very nice meeting everyone and getting to know everyone, and most of all sharing each and everyone’s stories about faith. I really loved how everyone was Catholic and we all love and share in our God.”
Justin Lang, one of the counsellors for the week commented that “he had gained an incredible experience which was getting to know the youth, and being able to see them grow in their faith and really bond together with each other and with counselors to become more of a family.”
Let us continue to shape what has begun. Together we can build a civilization of love, and transform the communities that make up our diocese. We cannot just talk about what is possible, but we must have the courage to get involved, and take action going forth to make a difference. As the youth step forward and are encouraged in their faith they too will be formed as leaders who reflect the Gospel message in their lives, helping to transform the communities that they have grown up in, and also the world itself. St. Kateri is quoted as saying, “Who will teach me what is most pleasing to God, that I may do it?” May we do our part to reach out to the youth on the Reserves, and help to strengthen their faith.
It’s been said that Catholics have a saint for virtually every situation, event or possibility. Some of the more unusual include a saint for fireworks, unattractive people and dysentery (Saints Barbara, Drogo and Smyrna in that order)! Without being disrespectful, it is hard to imagine there being a saint of hangovers, oversleeping or caterpillars, but yes they do exist. There is even a Patron Saint of Beer (St. Arnulf of Metz). On the cool but strange side of the spectrum, St. Hubert of Liege is the Patron Saint of the Fear of Werewolves, while St. Columbanus is the Patron Saint of Motorcyclists. I will leave it to another time to muse on how St. Isidore of Seville, who died in 636 AD, is the Patron Saint of the Internet!
For all of the more unusual saints there are of course those most widely embraced and understood, from St. Valentine to St. George, St. Francis of Assisi to St. Joan of Arc. It’s also fair to say that many saints are invariably connected to a particular culture, from St. Mary MacKillop in Australia, to St. Kateri Tekakwitha for the First Nations in Canada, to St. Patrick in Ireland.
One of the most popular events at St. Mary’s University in Calgary is our annual hosting of our September Ghost Tour, an event that opens the campus to the community, that re-enacts scenes from our history, and that helps to mark our anniversary. As a Catholic university I often field questions from the media about why we are celebrating Hallowe’en, and I am always at pains to point out that we are, in fact, celebrating the stories of the institution’s founding, and not the feast so popular in October.
As a child, however, I was always confused that Hallowe’en preceded All Saints’ Day and wondered how they were connected. Needless to say I eventually learned of the rich thread that linked All Hallows’ Eve (31 October), to All Saints’ or Hallowmas (1 November) to All Souls’ Day (2 November), and I grew to look forward to the celebrations that acknowledged the saints that have transformed our faith life throughout the ages. Despite this long tradition, it remains a mystery to me how some saints have come to represent their particular attributes. Perhaps it’s enough to know that whatever befalls us, the saints have us covered! And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to say a prayer to St. Francis de Sales, Patron Saint of writers and journalists.
If the Pope asked for your opinion or advice, would you give it? In fact, the Pope does just this as often as he convenes a Synod of Bishops. The word “synod” comes from the Greek word meaning assembly and since 1965, under the instruction of Blessed Pope Paul VI, synods of bishops have been called biennially for more than 50 years. It was a synod of bishops in the late 90s that actually prompted the establishment of this magazine, The Carillon, so that proceedings and information could begin being shared around the diocese.
As often as a synod is convoked, a representation of bishops from all around the world come together with the expectation of the Holy Father that they have consulted the faithful of their respective regions in order to bring their thoughts to the discussion. Next year, this will happen again under the chosen theme: Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment. It is the wish of Pope Francis to learn from the diverse perspectives of the universal Church what are the experiences, opportunities and obstacles for youth in our modern world to practice their faith and discover God’s plan for their lives. In the preparatory document which was distributed among all of the dioceses of the world, a set of questions was proposed at the end to guide the efforts of bishops to solicit the feedback of the young people among their flocks. In the Diocese of Calgary, under the direction of Bishop McGrattan, we are working on an exciting and innovative way to use these questions and engage in this discussion.
With the cooperation of the Office of Youth Ministry and the Office of Vocations, a team of young people along with those directly involved in working among them have come together to design a format of consultation which will be conducted throughout the diocese. We have undertaken to organize this process into ten distinct stages involving two phases of surveys. Using a digital platform of survey generation, we will be able to reach a diverse and vast population of the diocese. The idea behind the two phases is to use the first phase in order to collect demographic information about the respondents and thereby organize them into four broad contexts which will determine the style of survey they receive in the second phase. These customized surveys will produce more representative results of modern youth and young adults’ response to faith and vocation. The four broad categories have been identified as those: willingly practicing Faith; unwillingly practicing Faith (due to the influence of others); not practicing Faith due to lack of interest; & not practicing Faith due to disagreement with it.
On an experimental basis and with the invaluable collaboration of the Calgary Separate School District, we will launch our digital surveys among high school students before the widespread use of the surveys throughout the rest of the diocese later in the fall. We will compile the anonymous results into a report which can then be sent to the Vatican in advance of the Synod as well as for our own use in shaping the future of youth and young adult ministry in the Diocese of Calgary. When the Pope asks for your input, one is wise to give it!
Youth and Young Adults Ministry
I have had a naturopathic family practice for 11 years supporting natural women’s health, including fertility and pre- and post-natal issues. Over time in my practice, I’ve seen an increasing number of patients with fertility concerns that are not well served by conventional medicine. I’ve also heard many stories about both the side effects and ethical dilemmas involved in Assisted Reproduction Technology (ART) that is practiced at local fertility clinics.
As a doctor who has pledged to “first, do no harm,” I worry about the impact of powerful artificial hormones used in fertility medicines on children born using ART. I also worry about the emotional and spiritual effects of people being told that they cannot conceive without extensive technological intervention; where implantation in a medical outpatient clinic replaces conception in the loving environment of the home.
Fortunately, I have many tools besides medications for promoting fertility. In my practice, I have used Natural Family Planning (NFP) with cycle charting for many years to promote fertility literacy, and have used charting successfully with botanical and nutrient medicines to achieve pregnancy for many couples. Recently, I have also noticed increasing interest from patients in natural fertility methods, and patients often come in with their own cycle charting done on paper or with digital apps.
As a diagnostic tool, cycle charting also gives me useful information about when to test hormone levels so that the information acquired is clinically relevant. In the past, patients were often told that their levels of estrogen, progesterone, or other hormones were “fine” for fertility when they were not. With cycle charting, I have a much better idea when to send patients into the lab for blood testing to establish if there are specific problems with ovarian or uterine functioning or we are dealing with healthy cycle variations. Knowing when to test also helps if pregnancy is successful to monitor progesterone and other hormones to help prevent miscarriage or pre-term birth.
Earlier this year, I was accepted to the Pope Paul VI Institute at Creighton University for their post-graduate medical consultant program. This certification involves two eight-day sessions of intensive classroom instruction and a year of supervised practicum training (with long-distance faculty support) to help implement the Creighton protocols in a variety of clinical situations. What convinced me to follow Creighton was the fact that I will have more experienced medical professionals supporting me while I’m learning to put their protocols into practice.
Choosing to use fertility awareness forms of family planning has become profoundly counter-cultural in our secular society. However, almost 50 years since Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, Humanae Vitae, warned about divorcing the “unitive” and “procreative” aspects of marital intimacy, we are discovering that medicalizing fertility has in fact profoundly disempowered many couples. Instead, what has resulted from the “ease” of contraceptive culture is many people are now struggling with sub- and infertility, as well as increasing levels of miscarriage and premature birth. Natural fertility methods, using cycle charting and supportive natural or prescriptive medicines, help to heal this cultural wound in so many of our families, and provide medicine in support of life.