Pillars Blog Friday, November 17, 2017
Adventures of a Parish Vitality Consultant
Episode 3: “Young at Heart”
I recently spent some quality time with Sr. Marianna Jung and Fr. Joachim Yoon, the new leaders of St Francis of Assisi parish. Nestled into a residential neighbourhood in Park Extension, St. Francis sees about 150 people pass through its doors to worship at Mass on Sundays.
This past August, Sr. Marianna and Fr. Joachim were named the co-parochial administrators of the parish after the previous pastor, Fr. Pierre Charland, OFM, was promoted by the Franciscan Order to be the next provincial in charge of all Franciscans in Quebec.
It’s easy to tell that youth ministry is what drives Sr. Marianna and Fr. Joachim. Prior to being appointed as the leaders of this parish, they were partnered as the parish youth ministers. Five years ago, they began meeting weekly with a single Filipino family with three children. Today, they have created a legitimate community of over 20 teens and young adults who drop by the parish several times a week.
Yes, you heard that correctly: “several times a week”.
On Sundays, the young people attend Mass, and then almost always head over to Sr. Marianna’s community residence next door for lunch and games. They come to the parish again on Tuesdays and Thursdays to study and receive tutoring under the care of another Franciscan, Sr. Theresa from the Congo. Another group of 14- to 23-year-olds also meets periodically with Fr. Joachim for weekly guitar lessons.
According to Fr. Joachim, the biggest problem with the youth ministry at St Francis is that the young people don’t want to go home, often staying to socialize well past the formal end of the activities. He admits it is a good problem to have!
What makes the development of youth ministry at St. Francis even more impressive is the fact that Fr. Joachim is a Franciscan missionary from Korea, who only arrived here five years ago barely speaking English. Also of Korean origin, Sr. Marianna has been in Canada now for over 30 years, having joined the Franciscan Sisters after immigrating to Canada.
When asked about their “secret” to effective youth ministry, both stressed the importance of getting to know each individual personally. In the case of St. Francis, there was no one program, retreat, or event that built their youth ministry. Rather, they connected with each young person one-on-one, and helped them find in Church an expanded sense of family. In Park Extension, parents are often working long hours at multiple jobs to make ends meet, creating a need for quality family time for a lot of these teens. In a sense, Sr. Marianna has become their second mother and Fr. Joachim, their big brother.
St. Francis is a multi-ethnic parish. Within the English-language community at the parish the young people are from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds. On top of that, St. Francis shares their building with a French-language parish (St Roch), and hosts a monthly Pakistani Mass as well as periodic events for a Vietnamese group. While St. Francis might be a small parish, its building is always busy and full of life.
When asked about their dream or vision for their parish, Fr. Joachim said that he wants the parish to continue to focus on youth ministry. In addition, he would like to improve their outreach to the immigrant families and refugees who live in large numbers in Park Extension. According to Fr. Joachim, one of the biggest pastoral challenges is the need to try to integrate all the different cultural communities that use the parish building. Fr. Joachim would love to see all these distinct and separate groups evolve into a single, multi-cultural Catholic community at St Francis.
Sr. Marianna’s pastoral priority is to get to know all her parishioners personally and be a mother figure to them. Because many of the families are immigrants and refugees, what they really need from the parish is a sense of a family and a worshipping community to call their own.
Sr. Marianna and Fr. Joachim’s emphasis on personal connections seems inspired by the work of St Jean Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests and of this year’s Pillars Trust Fund annual campaign. In his prime, St. Jean was known to spend 12 hours a day hearing confessions. He was a pastor who made it a priority to get to know his people personally, in order to lead them to Christ.
I invite you to please pray for Sr. Marianna, Fr. Joachim, the Franciscan Community in Montreal and the small growing parish of St. Francis of Assisi, as they continue to move forward together towards building up the Kingdom of God in Park Extension, with a particular focus on their young people.
If you’re excited by the work you’re seeing in your community, especially through those efforts of the Pillars Trust Fund, please consider donating to our campaign: Click here