A new Justice and Outreach Year (JOY) of Formation graduated its first class of 13 participants June 10 at Queen’s House of Retreat and Renewal in Saskatoon. Grounded in a practical experience of Catholic social teaching, the JOY program was launched in the fall of 2016. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon first began discussing the initiative some three years ago, with the first class meeting in August 2016 for an orientation weekend, before continuing with monthly sessions for the next 10 months.
Each month, JOY participants gathered Friday evening and all day Saturday to reflect, learn and be formed through experience and presentations by staff of many local ministries and outreach organizations. The program went beyond simply educating participants about various social justice issues – it offered an opportunity to wrestle with the deeper sociological causes of injustice and the theological responses that were percolating in them as Christians.
During the year, each participant also dedicated eight additional hours each month to volunteering with a local agency. Volunteer placements included the Sherbrooke Centre, the Friendship Inn, the L’arche Community, and the Saskatoon Correctional Centre.
On Friday nights, the group gathered at Queen’s House for theological reflection based on their experience of their field placements. During this time, they shared stories about their volunteer hours and also worked together to discuss what insights they could glean through dialogue and prayer. This added an extra layer of depth to their volunteer experience, according to JOY coordinator Kate O’Gorman.
On Saturdays, the group met at a variety of venues in the community, interacting with volunteers from the city’s various outreach groups. Weekends explored themes based on the various pillars of Catholic social teaching, such as international development, economic justice and peace, refugees, walking with Indigenous and Métis people, poverty, human dignity, health and elder care, hunger and food accessibility, restorative justice, youth and family, and ecology.
At the end of each Saturday, the entire group would visit various parishes in the city and attend mass together. Parishes would also host a supper for participants, with family members joining them to discuss some of what they learned on the weekend.
“Our inaugural year of the JOY program has been really amazing,” said O’Gorman. “We've learned a lot about the various needs that exist within our city and we've carried each other in community and prayer as we discerned the ways in which we, as individuals and as church, are being called to respond to that need.”
O’Gorman said participants were highly engaged in the JOY process. “I've been extremely impressed with the level of commitment each participant gave to the program, particularly in terms of their volunteer field placements. This has really proven to be the heart of the JOY program in many ways, and I am so very proud that through this new diocesan initiative, we are offering laypeople an opportunity to explore and discover what it means to be missionary disciples.”
The class concluded their weekend with a simple graduation ritual and a mass celebrated at Queen’s House. Rev. Marvin Lishchynsky, judicial vicar for the diocese of Saskatoon, presided and preached at the liturgy.
“In many ways, the offering of justice is like love in marriage,” said Lishchynsky. “Love and justice cannot be kept to yourself or in your family… God calls us to share it with the world, to bring it where it is not.”
Graduate Diane Cote described the impact of the program. “JOY developed in me a deep awareness of the many people and organizations that are active in our community…people who are doing wonderful things passionately,” she said.
Cote described the experience of being uncomfortable at times – but it was when she was pushed to the edge of her comfort zone that she learned the most. “It is then that you learn from the bottom up, just meeting them as people first,” she said. “It is all about relationship and seeing that God is in everyone.”
Married couple Bonnie and Ken Roberts went through the program together. “For me, it was a low-burning fire,” Ken offered. “With every experience, every presentation, I learned something more and wanted to learn more. It has been a conversion experience”.
Ken worked at the Friendship Inn for his field placement. “I became more comfortable over the year working there and really got appreciate the work they do,” he said. “I am going to continue on there.”
Ken urged other Catholics to consider the program. “What I would tell someone though is not to take it if you don’t want to change – because this program will change you,” he laughed.
Bonnie Roberts says the program gives lifelong Catholics a new way of growing in their faith through concrete action.
“For me, it was a framework to start learning about and paying attention to the dignity of each human being,” she said. “The poor were invisible to me [but now] I can’t turn away…I ask myself, ‘How can I help my brother? My sister?’”
The first graduates of the diocesan Justice and Outreach Year of Formation are Helen Belsher, Nicholas Blom, Mike Broda, Diane Cote, Denise DeBrou, Lori Ethier, Ryan LeBlanc, Margaret Marcoux, Peter Oliver, Bonnie Roberts, Ken Roberts, Marie-Jeanne Will, and Murray Wood. Sr. Marie-Noëlle Rondot, SMS, assisted O’Gorman on the weekends and journeyed with the participants.
“This is where our church is going,” Ken said. “This is the future of our church”.
The JOY Program is currently accepting applications for the 2017-2018 year. For more information contact Kate O’Gorman at email@example.com or (306) 659-5847.