Message from the President – Fall 2018

Dear Friend,

Greetings from John Murphy, President of Pillars Trust Fund Inc. (Pillars) and Rev. Raymond
Lafontaine E.V. Pillars is the sole fund-raising organization specific to the English-language portion
of the Montreal Roman Catholic Archdiocese. We seek your financial support in this our 46th year.

We urge you to read our enclosed newsletter “The Column”. It explains more fully why we chose
“Catholic Strong!” as our 2018 campaign theme. It details the many wonderful projects that Pillars
has supported or initiated during the past year. It also addresses the dismay that we and all Catholics
felt in learning the extent to which so many young children suffered abuse by members of the
clergy. In “The Column” you will find links to various statements of condemnation with a strong
determination to prevent it from ever happening again. For our part and in our sphere of activity
we must not be disheartened, but we must faithfully carry-on as followers of Christ, continue with
our much-needed good works with the support from each other along with our dedicated clergy.

“Catholic Strong!” encompasses (among other subjects) the ongoing strong bonds being built by
Pillars with parishioners and priests to support them in their work towards greater parish vitality.
To that end we engaged Terrel Joseph as our Parish Vitality Facilitator. With his expertise and
experience, he is focused on supporting the vital role that clergy and lay leaders play in the vitality
of our diocese, parishes and family life.

Our theme is also underscored by our support of the Diocesan Priesthood Guild (DPG), which helps
defray the seminary costs of young seminarians to the priesthood (of which there are four this year).
We chatted with Father Peter Sabbath, a recipient of assistance from the DPG and pastor at
St. Thomas à Becket church, about working with Terrel to enhance parishioner engagement at
St. Thomas à Becket.

“Catholic Strong!” begins with our youth. Read about Pillars’ successful cooperation with Mission
Jeunesse, which sent 44 local teens to the Steubenville Catholic youth conference in Toronto in July.

In a nutshell and with your help, Pillars continues to donate to causes and initiatives that build a
strong Roman Catholic community in the English-language parishes of Montreal.

The success of our campaign again requires the strength of prayer and we again call upon the patron
saint of parish priests worldwide, Saint John Mary Vianney (Curé of Ars), to be the Special Patron of
our 2018 Fundraising Campaign. Read on for some exciting news, which we feel is due, in no small
way, to the special blessings he has brought to those considering priestly vocations in Montreal.

Your donation to the 2018 Pillars Trust Fund Campaign is an investment. It ensures a strong
missionary community living The Gospel. Our work together will continue to ensure that your
donations serve the temporal and spiritual development of people in Montreal. Please be
generous, we all benefit. Let us be “Catholic Strong!”.

Sincerely in Christ,

John G. Murphy Rev.                                         Raymond Lafontaine E.V.
President                                                           Director, Office for English Pastoral Services, Pastor, St. Monica Parish



Pillars this Easter: The Resurrection of Jesus and signs of life in the Church


Greetings everyone,

First off…Christ is Risen!!!  Truly He is risen alleluia!!!!

With Holy Week behind us, we have just kicked off the Easter season, in which the Church invites us to reflect on and appreciate anew the fact that Jesus Christ rose bodily from the dead just over 2000 years ago.  Through our faith in Him and our baptism into His Church, we all share in the hope of the resurrection of our own bodies and of the whole world at the end of time.  Pretty cool stuff if you sit down and really think about it!

As Catholics, at our core we are people of the Resurrection.  People who live in the hope of the life of the world to come, and in the hope of the resurrection of the Church and our world, right here and now.

Since its inception in 1972, the Pillars Trust Fund has been an organization living in the spirit of the Resurrection.  Its initial mandate from Bishop Crowley called us, among other things, to “encourage individual initiative”.  Individual initiative and the leadership required to make it happen has long been the engine driving growth and renewal in the Church.

As winter 2018 slowly draws to a close (emphasis on “slowly”), we can look proudly back at the many “individual initiatives” undertaken by our beneficiaries that have helped to bud new life into many different corners of the English speaking Catholic community.

Catholic Professionals Network event 

On Thursday February 8, Sacred Heart High School hosted the latest Catholic Professionals Network event, sponsored by The Pillars Trust.  The mission of these events is to draw together Catholic working professionals from all over the island for an evening of relationship-building and reflecting on our shared catholic faith. This year’s key-note address was given by Deacon Marco Argentino of St Ignatius of Loyola parish.  He gave a moving testimony about his faith journey and the discovery of his vocation to be a family man, a business man, and a deacon. Over 100 people attended.

Challenge 38

On the weekend of Friday, March 9 to Sunday, March 11, the Montreal Catholic Challenge Movement (Challenge) held their 38th bi-annual Challenge weekend retreat for young adults.  This Spring’s retreat was co-sponsored by The Pillars Trust.  Challenge is a Catholic movement run by and for young adults , promoting evangelization and engagement in the life of the Church.  Like all Challenge retreats, Challenge 38 was the fruit of months of planning on the part of over 50 young adult volunteers.  The Challenge movement is also entering its 20th year of ministry in Montreal, having been co-founded in October 1998 by Bishop Thomas Dowd, V.G., among others.

Human Rights and Bioethics: A Workshop on the Critical Questions

On Saturday, March 17th , the Newman Centre hosted a panel discussion and workshop discussing questions related to bio-ethics, co-sponsored by The Pillars Trust.   The Newman Centre hosted this event in partnership with the newly founded Gianna Molla Society, Cardus, the Association Jérôme Lejeune des médecins catholiques de Montréal and the Diocesan Centre for Marriage, Life and Family.  The afternoon of activities was capped off by the Newman Catholic Students Society’s traditional Saturday Night Supper, which is a homemade meal prepared by the students.

The Lenten Armchair Retreat

The 6 weeks of Lent this year also saw the continuation of a decades-old annual collaboration between the Ignatian Spirituality Centre and the Newman Centre, known as the Arm Chair Retreat. Each Lent, trained spiritual directors from the Ignatian Centre are paired with students from the Newman Centre for 6 weeks of one-on-one spiritual direction.  Both the Ignatian Centre and the Newman Centre are long time beneficiaries of The Pillars Trust.  We are proud to see our beneficiaries working together towards a common goal.

Parish Vitality Conference November 2018

While this event is still many months away, the Office of English Pastoral Services (OEPS) at the Archiocese, in partnership with the English Speaking Catholic Council (ESCC), is busy coordinating and planning the next Parish Vitality Conference.  This November’s key note speaker will be Fr. James Mallon, E.V. of Parish Renewal for the Archdiocese of Halifax and author of Divine Renovation: From maintenance to mission.  The Pillars Trust is proud to co-sponsor both the ESCC and the Parish Vitality Conference.

As we move into spring, we at the Pillars Trust will continue to seek out “individual initiatives” like these to help to build up the life of the Church and manifest the Resurrection of Jesus right here in Montreal today.

Terrel Joseph,

Parish Vitality Facilitator

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

Lenten reflection from our Parish Vitality Facilitator

Lenten reflection from our Parish Vitality Facilitator – Terrel Joseph

Pillar’s this Lent: Journeying with young people to the foot of the Cross of Jesus

Greetings everyone,

As we continue through these early weeks of this year’s Lenten season, I wanted to share with you a short reflection on the gospel for the second week of Lent. I will also be outlining some of the tremendous work of youth ministry in our Archdiocese made possible in part by The Pillars Trust Fund.

Gospel for the Second Sunday of Lent 2018

Mark 9:2-10: The Transfiguration of our Lord

Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.

                And there appeared to them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbit, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Peter did not know what to say, for they were terrified.

                Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus.

                As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.

During Lent, the Church invites us to journey with Jesus to the foot of the cross on Calvary and to witness again the greatest of all acts of love. In a few short weeks, we will re-live Good Friday and Easter Sunday, and remember again our Lord’s death and resurrection.

The Gospel account of the Transfiguration of our Lord on the mountain top is rich in meaning.  However, the one theme I would like to reflect on briefly is the last line of the gospel passage when Peter, James and John wondered for themselves, “what this rising from the dead could mean.”

Along with these three apostles, we can ask ourselves: What does it mean, not only to rise from the dead at the end our days, but also to be resurrected and transfigured in our world today. The promise inherent in this event is good news for people of all ages, but is especially good news for young people.

This past Sunday’s gospel was a reminder that God wants to transform our lives right here and now.  One powerful example of this is the way Christ has inspired His Church to reach out to teenagers and young adults, to help them encounter Him and experience this transfiguration.

For many years now, The Pillars Trust Fund has been a proud sponsor of youth ministry in Montreal in a number of different ways. One of its primary financial beneficiaries is Mission Jeunesse, the Archdiocesan Youth Ministry Office. This dedicated team of passionate women and men is devoted to helping young people encounter Jesus and become His disciples.

Take a look at Mission Jeunesse’s special Lent Challenge email to young people for this year Click Here

A sizable portion of donations to the Pillars Trust Fund goes to Mission Jeunesse, enabling them to organize major events like Diocesan World Youth Day (WYD). This event takes place every year at the beginning of Holy Week on the Saturday of Palm Sunday weekend. The Archbishop of Montreal invites young people from all over the diocese to join him for a day to celebrate young people living in the heart of the Church, and to journey with him all the way to the foot of the cross of Jesus.

Diocesan WYD typically begins with parallel “youth festivals” for teens and for young adults, respectively. This is followed by a procession with palm branches through the streets of Montreal to St Patrick’s basilica for a blessing and then on to Marie-Reine-du-Monde Cathedral.  The event concludes with Palm Sunday Mass at the Cathedral, including a dramatized reading of the Passion of Our Lord.  Well over 1000 young people attend each year, their lives touched and often transformed by Christ through this event.  This year Diocesan WYD will take place on Saturday March 24, 2018.

Take a look at the Archbishop’s invitation to the youth of Montreal for Diocesan WYD 2018, and please share it with all the young people in your parish Click Here

In addition to sponsoring youth initiatives indirectly through Mission Jeunesse, The Pillars Trust Fund also supports youth ministry directly through other projects.

One of our big youth investments for 2018 is to help local teens (14 to 18 years old) attend the Steubenville Toronto Youth Conference. The Steubenville conferences were developed at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, in Ohio.  Over the decades, these conferences have spread all over North America and become known as the “best of the best” of Catholic youth events.  The next Steubenville Toronto conference is planned for July 13-15, 2018, and over two thousand young people from Canada and the United States are expected to gather for three days of music, prayer, world class speakers, Eucharistic Adoration, and the sacraments.  Steubenville conferences have a reputation for challenging lukewarm Catholic teens to light their faith on fire.  Corpus Christi parish in the West Island of Montreal has brought several groups of teens to Steubenville conferences, which have inspired several of their young people to become leaders in their parish youth ministry.  This sort of transformational (transfiguration!) experience is the hope of the 5+ parishes who are already committed to sending youth from Montreal to this conference with the help of The Pillars Trust Fund.

This year’s Steubenville Toronto Conference is taking place July 13-15, 2018. For more information, check out the event website (, and contact our Parish Vitality Facilitator ( and/or Mission Jeunesse ( for more details.

Our hope for this special one-time investment in this year’s Steubenville Toronto delegation is that this year’s multi-parish delegation will be the first of many from Montreal in the years to come, ultimately strengthening the faith of hundreds of future Catholic leaders for tomorrow’s Church.

So on behalf of all of us working for The Pillars Trust Fund, we would like to wish you a very blessed and holy Lenten season. We will continue to pray that you and the young people in your parish can experience the transfiguration of our Lord in your lives.


Take care and God Bless,


Terrel Joseph

Parish Vitality Facilitator

The Pillars Trust Fund of Montreal


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

Advent Video message from our Parish Vitality Consultant

Season’s Greetings! A video reflection on the gospel for the second Sunday of Advent

Greetings Friends & Happy Advent!

Click here: Advent video message from Terrel Joseph!

I recently had the great privilege of being invited by the Archdiocese of Montreal to share a short reflection on the gospel for the second Sunday of Advent. The gospel passage for this Sunday is the opening verses of Mark (Mk 1: 1-8):

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “the one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

In my message, I spoke about how John the Baptist is challenging us to prepare for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, both with the celebration of his birth at Christmas, as well as with his second coming at the end of time. I concluded my message by underscoring that John is also calling us to prepare to encounter Christ, today, in the midst of our ordinary lives, and in our parishes.

Pope emeritus Benedict XVI wrote in his encyclical letter Deus Caritas Est published on Christmas Day 2005, that “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”

So I invite you to prepare with me this Advent to be ready for this encounter or re-encounter with Jesus Christ, and pray with me that our parishes can continue to increase their ability to be places where ordinary people experience this encounter.

And last but not least, my work this year in parish vitality and all the other good works in the English Catholic Community supported by the Pillars Trust, are only possible because of the ongoing generous financial support of ordinary Catholics like yourself.

So this Advent, I invite you to please consider making a tax-deductible donation to the annual campaign of the Pillars Trust Fund by clicking here (insert link to donate now page).

God Bless you all and happy Advent,


Terrel Joseph

Parish Vitality Consultant

The Pillars Trust Fund


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

Christmas Message from the President

December 2017

Dear Friend,

Greetings from John Murphy, President of Pillars Trust Fund.

In these waning days of this blessed season of Advent, we are readying ourselves and preparing our hearts to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

It’s sometimes difficult to remain focussed on what’s important about Christmas and too easy for our preparation to be sidetracked by the “noise” of our busy lives.

But at the end of the day, what matters is that we love God, love others as ourselves and spread the joy and the light we share as Christians to our families, our community and beyond.

In this spirit of giving, and if you haven’t done so already, I would humbly request that you consider making a donation to Pillars in support of our 45th annual fundraising campaign.

If you have donated, please accept my heartfelt thanks for your generous support to our beloved Roman Catholic Church in the Montreal archdiocese.

Your gift ensures that good works for those in need are sustained, projects to revitalize our parishes are launched and programs to help our hardworking and dedicated pastors and priests are implemented.

When you donate to the Pillars Trust Fund, we all benefit. Please be generous.

 Merry Christmas to you and yours,


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

Adventures of a Parish Vitality consultant – Episode 5

Episode 5: Reflections on the Newman Centre and other Unsung Heroes – my experience in campus ministry at McGill


Tuesday November 28, 2017 started out as an ordinary day for me. Follow-up emails and phone calls to parish leaders in the morning, and a series of meetings with my vitality advisory committee in the afternoon. But then after work I was treated to a very special evening at a very special place.

Members of the board of directors, staff, and students of the Newman Centre of McGill University held a pot luck dinner in honor of the completion of my six years of service as their campus minister.

It was a night of delicious food, and reminiscing on all the memories that we have built together as a community. Especially touching were the testimonies of former students and friends from many years ago who came out to show their appreciation for me and for the Newman Centre.

People who work in pastoral ministry I’m sure will agree with me that we can sometimes feel a bit like farmers. We scatter seeds of God’s word in people’s lives, and sometimes we are not always around to see those seeds grow into plants that bear fruit.

This is especially true in campus ministry where most of our students are in and out in four years. But nights like Tuesday remind us that our labours are not in vain and that God does bless his servants’ efforts with fruit on His own time.

The 11 years I spent frequenting that cute early 20th century era mansion house on Peel street that is home to the Newman Centre and my interactions with all its staff that preceded me have had a massive impact on my becoming the committed Catholic and the missionary disciple of Jesus Christ that I am today.

Her bible studies helped me to gain a mature appreciation of the beauty of God’s word in sacred scripture. Her Saturday Night Suppers and student socials allowed me to build lasting friendships with other young Catholics that I still cherish to this day. Her lectures and academic events gave me a taste of the rich theological tradition of the Catholic Church. Her social justice events allowed me to experience the joy that comes from living out Jesus’ call to love even the least of our brothers and sisters. Her retreats helped me experience the power of contemplative prayer and learn how to speak to God as a friend. Her Faith Study small groups helped me to encounter Christ in a personal way and build my relationship with Him. Her catechesis and RCIA helped me to take a closer look at my specific questions about the content of our faith and the moral teachings of the Church. Her ecumenical events allowed me to experience both the beauty of fellowship with other Christians, as well as, the pain caused by the divisions in the Church that persist to this day. Her liturgies and accessible sacraments helped me worship God with unconfined joy and remain close to Him event amid the craziness of school.

But above all else, Newman Centre, from my time as a student, through my years on staff and up to this day, has always been for me and many others, a home away from home.

Today, while I no longer work directly for the mission of the Newman Centre, I do have the unique privilege of working for arguably the greatest of the unsung heroes of the Newman Centre, the Pillars Trust Fund. That long list of good works that I mentioned above that so affected my life personally and the lives of many other young adults would not have been possible without the consistent reliable support of the Pillars Trust Fund.

From its inception under the leadership of the late Bishop Crowley, the Pillars Trust Fund has been committed to supporting the Newman Centre, notably by assuming responsibility for a significant portion of its operating budget through its annual fundraising campaign. It is this support that has enabled the Newman Centre to do all the things that she does to enrich the lives of the students and faculty at McGill, one of Canada’s leading universities.

So while on Tuesday night I personally received the applause and edification of the Newman community for my brief contribution to her life and mission, today I would like to take this opportunity to raise my glass in toast to the men and women of the Pillars Trust Fund, who have worked so hard over the years  to raise and manage the funds necessary to keep the Newman Centre open, permitting her (and other organizations like her) to actively build up the Church in the English-speaking Catholic community of Montreal.

So I invite you to please pray for the new pastoral team at the Newman Centre and for all the past and present Board members of the Pillars Trust Fund who have worked tirelessly behind the scenes to make Newman’s mission possible.

Our lady of Ville Marie,

Pray for us!

Terrel Joseph


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

Adventures of a Parish Vitality Consultant – Episode 4

Episode 4: “We confirmed them…and they stayed!!” –  Teen mentorship @ St Veronica’s parish


Throughout my visits to English-language parishes in Montreal, one of the most common challenges identified is the poor retention rate of young people who receive the Sacrament of Confirmation.

Across the diocese, it’s not uncommon to hear that 90% or more of confirmed young people and their families stop attending church altogether after the teen receives this last of the Sacraments of Initiation. There is even a popular joke among parish workers that the easiest and fastest way to get people to leave the church is to confirm them. Unfortunately, this joke often seems more accurate than it is amusing.

However, at St Veronica’s, at least one parish is defying this trend.

St. Veronica’s, situated in Dorval near the airport, is a typical busy, mid-sized West Island parish. Her pastor, Fr. Fred Kirouac, has been at the helm for 14 years now, and will typically see about 300-400 people attending their three Masses each weekend.  On any given evening, there might be a meeting of the Catholic Women’s League, the Knights of Columbus, or any of several other groups that use the parish building.  And on the weekend, their Parish Catechetical Leader (PCL), Beverly Wiltsie, runs a truly comprehensive family ministry that includes both the Faith First (FF) program and a very successful teen mentorship program.

Beverly is currently in her 11th year as PCL, and in her fourth year running the teen mentorship program she pioneered. Like many other success stories in parish ministry, this program was initially conceived in response to a need.  Attempting to improve retention of young people and their families after confirmation, Beverly invited the level 6 students in Faith First to help teach the level twos on a few occasions. Both the level two children and the level six teens loved the experience. After that initial cohort of level six students were confirmed in the Spring of 2013, Beverly decided to invite them back to help tutor younger students in Faith First. Fifteen teens returned from that “experimental” group to become mentors and tutors of the younger children. Four years later, she has maintained a group of about 15 teens ranging in age from 12 to 16 years old, who now help teach the younger children on a weekly basis.  The program has attracted an equal number of young men and young women.

When I asked Beverly what makes the teens want to stay involved, she said she suspects it has a lot to do with giving them a genuine way to serve and a true sense of belonging to the community. Over the four years of the program, Beverly has made small adjustments to increase the visibility, responsibility, and recognition of the young teens. Early on, for example, she gave them personalized name tags to identify them as official leaders in their ministry. In the second year, she started inviting the teens to participate every Sunday in the offertory procession with the younger children. At the end of each year, she also hosts a presentation after Mass where the teens are given awards to recognize them for their contributions to the ministry.

Every year, Beverly trains a new generation of potential teen mentors by inviting the level 6 teens to tutor the level twos. She typically has no difficulty in recruiting older students to try the program, because they have grown up watching their older siblings and friends return as teen mentors, making it an integral part of the parish culture.  Another positive side effect of the young people’s continued involvement is that they often bring their parents back to the Church. After all, someone has to drive them to Mass!

In his book Growing an Engaged Church, Albert Winseman, a Gallup poll researcher specialized in religious congregations, notes that the principal factor that driving parish vitality is the concept of Congregational Engagement. Engagement measures the emotional bond individuals have with each other and their parish. Engaged members use language of the family to describe their parish, and ask two key questions: (1) Am I valued? And (2) Do I make a meaningful contribution? Research shows that the engaged are more loyal and more likely to invite, serve, give and be satisfied with life. They develop meaningful relationships within their parish, report strong personal and spiritual growth, and are proud of their parish.

While not the only such program in Montreal, St. Veronica’s mentorship program stands out as one of the most successful efforts at retaining teens and their families after confirmation. By this standard, Beverly is obviously succeeding at engaging her teens by making them feel valued and helping them make a meaningful contribution to the parish.  These small things can go a long way towards improving vitality in a parish.

In my role as parish vitality consultant, I’m excited to continue studying the teen mentorship program at St. Veronica’s, to learn how this program is bearing so much fruit. I hope that the principles I learn at St. Veronica’s can help other parishes keep teens and their parents engaged in their congregations, in the years immediately after their confirmation and beyond.

Please pray for Fr. Fred, Beverly and all the leaders at St. Veronica’s, that the Holy Spirit will continue to bless their efforts at engaging the younger generation.

De Colores,

Terrel Joseph


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

Adventures of a Parish Vitality Consultant – Episode 3

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.

De Colores,

Terrel Joseph


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

Adventures of a Parish Vitality Consultant – Episode 2

Pillars Blog Friday, November 10

Adventures of a Parish Vitality Consultant

Episode 2: “Christianity is about friendship” – The genesis of parish renewal at St Willibrords


In the spring of 2013 when I was still the campus minister of the Newman Centre, our then Chaplain Fr Gregory Nunez pulled me aside to share with me the news that he had just been named the new parochial administrator of St Willibrord’s parish in Verdun, and that he could use a pastoral assistant and a housemate if I needed extra work and  affordable housing. As I was only half-time at Newman at the time, I accepted his invitation, and began a 3 year immersion in parish life, with a front row seat to the genesis of St Willibrords on-going renewal process that has inspired me to build a career supporting parish renewal.

For those of you who might not be aware, St Willibrords was not exactly firing on all cylinders when Fr Gregory assumed the responsibility of pastoral leadership. Back in the day, she held five  Masses a weekend and over 2000 people passed through her doors every Sunday. In 2013, she had a small community of just under 100 regulars attending Mass. Also, like many other parishes that have been declining over the last few decades, times were tight financially and she had been in the red for 7 years in a row at that point. In terms of pastoral activities, the pride of St Willibrord was and still is her long standing soup kitchen for the low-income residents of Verdun. The soup kitchen was more or less the only pastoral initiative every week, other than Sunday Mass. And her monthly flea market kept her in touch with the wider community. But apart from that there was not much pastoral vitality at St Willibrord.

After the first 6 months of meeting one-on-one with parishioners, and observing how things worked at the parish, Fr Gregory slowly began work on re-shaping the culture of the parish. He often repeated to me and the other members of his initial hand-picked leadership team, that “Christianity is ultimately about friendship”. Friendship with our Lord Jesus Christ first of all, and friendship with each other. One of the first observations that Fr Greg made of the parish was that many of the different groups of parishioners where more “friend-enemies” than friends. The organizing of most parish events seemed to be a tug of war between different factions in the parish jealously guarding their turf and objecting to anything that inconvenienced them.

If this sounds like your parish, you are not alone. In my travels around the diocese so far, I have had several people confide in me that parish cultures of maintenance and seniority/entitlement are not exclusive to the St Willibrord of 4 years ago, but exist to some degree in many of our parishes, and frankly in many other secular organizations and institutions. To be self-interested is a very natural human tendency. Be this as it may, Fr Gregory preached that when parishes allow themselves to maintain a self-referential culture, they are living more “like the world” and less like the Gospel that challenges us to a life of radical love of neighbour. In his homilies during that first year, he would pose the following reiterate challenging question: “is this thought, action, feeling, leading me closer to God or away from him.”

After the initial 6 month period of observation without changing anything, Fr Gregory introduced the hand-picked leadership team at St Willibrord to a retreat called The Parish Renewal Experience (PREX). The focus of PREX is on addressing and mending personal relationships between parishioners, and between the laity and the parish herself. I would describe it as community boot camp for Catholics. Similar to Cursillo/Challenge, most of the talks and sharings on PREX are given by parishioners to other parishioners, peer to peer.

In his Divine Renovation Network webinars, Fr James Mallon, the Episcopal Vicar for parish renewal in the Archdiocese of Halifax, Nova Scotia, often states that the first of the three phases of parish renewal always involves some deliberate and persistent effort to effect a change in the culture of a parish. Fr James’ parish used programs like Alpha to begin to try and create a parish culture where ongoing spiritual growth for adults (aka discipleship) and making new disciples (aka evangelization) are the new normal. At St Willibrord, Fr Gregory decided to re-build authentic Christian community at the parish by focusing first on creating a culture of discipleship and a culture of stewardship. A culture of stewardship is one where people freely give of their time, talents, and treasures for the benefit of the whole community. He wanted a parish where the average parishioner is regularly devoting time to spiritual growth; a parish where people volunteer their talents in service of the parish; a parish where everyone contributes financially towards the needs of the parish within their means.

The advice to change the culture of a parish sounds simple in theory, but living it in practise was a very different experience. The theme of the last 4 years at St Willibrord was WORK! There was no easy button to press and no short cut to take, only months and months of hard work. And leading by example, Fr Gregory was the hardest worker of all. For example when we started the first PREX at St Willibrord in 2014, Fr Gregory gave all of the talks and all of the sharings himself to our leadership team at our weekly 8pm Sunday night meetings spread out over 5 months. He had to do this because there were no other PREX alumni in Montreal. PREX includes 12 talks and 12 sharings, so personally leading that first PREX by himself was no small feat. But hard work is the only way to build a new cultural momentum from nothing. And after that first PREX, the leadership team helped lead the next one, and then the participants of that second PREX helped lead the third, and so on and so forth. Now 3 years into the PREX revolution, our PREX committee is a well-oiled machine capable of helping other parishes and communities organize their own PREX. 2017 St Willibrord is currently helping the Filipino Catholic Mission to launch their own PREX.

Over the last four years, all this hard work with PREX and several other new initiatives has started to bear fruit at St Willibrord. Many new faith formation groups have started up on evenings and weekends. Very necessary deferred maintenance of the rectory and the soup kitchen was finally done mostly with free labour of skilled parishioners. And the finances of the parish have improved significantly, with increased financial giving and streamlining experiences.  Most strikingly, the mood and attitude of the people has changed. The new normal of St Willibrord is to stick around after Mass for an hour or more, and enjoy some of the home cooked meals that seem to be perpetually available, catch up with old friends and attend adult faith formation. More new parishioners are slowly starting to arrive and telling us that they decided to stay because they feel welcomed.

Fr Gregory’s vision for St Willibrord is that it become a family again. But families often experience growing pains. Not everyone at the parish appreciated the changes to the culture of the parish that our leadership team implemented. Many complained and protested at first. Some unfortunately decided to leave the parish all together. And many mistakes were made along the way. But the key to learn from mistakes and to avoid making the same mistake twice.

Ultimately, parish vitality comes down to parishioner vitality, because it is the people who make up the church. St Irenaeus said that “the glory of God is man fully alive”. A parish that is working hard to help individuals become fully alive, will herself become more alive. And as you can see from St Willibord’s example, the process of changing people’s attitudes and habits can take many years.  But I would submit that this process is worth it because as baptised Catholics we have a duty and responsibility to share our friendship with Jesus Christ to all nations and keep doing it until Christ comes again in glory!

I was privileged to be a part of the genesis of St Willibrord’s renewal of the “family” of God’s people living in Verdun. As the Pillars parish vitality consultant, I look forward to continuing to work closely with the team at St Willibrord, to study this “renewal experiment” closely and discover whichtransferable principles of parish renewal are actually working on the ground in an ordinary parish community in Montreal and how other parishes beginning their own unique renewal process can benefit from what we’ve learned at St Willibrord.


I ask you to please pray for the leadership team at St Willibrord, that the Holy Spirit continue to be activated by the good works they are doing to make their own parish more vital.


De Colores,


Terrel Joseph


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