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


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

Pillars Blog Friday, November 3, 2017


Adventures of a Parish Vitality Consultant

Episode 1: “Jesus loves you…and so does your pastor?!?”


When I started my new role 4 months ago as a consultant for parish vitality, I was given a unique mandate to visit all 34 English language parishes in the Archdiocese of Montreal. Other than Bishop Dowd, I’m not sure if anyone else in recent memory has attempted to visit all of them. I must admit that I thought that since all these parishes (except Holy Name of Jesus in Laval) were all on one relatively “small island” that my visits would quickly become routine.

But on the contrary, the actual experience of visiting 20 of these parishes so far has given me new appreciation for the share size of our “little island” and the amazing diversity of our parish communities, both in terms of their cultural and socio-economic makeup, as well as, the diversity of pastoral styles and approaches used by their leaders.

I’ve meet with big parishes like St Kevin’s that sees over 2000 people at Mass every weekend, and I’ve meet with small parishes like St Francis of Assisi that sees about 150 people each weekend. I’ve met with very busy parishes like St John Brebeuf that sees activity virtually every night of the week, and calmer parishes like Holy Cross which focus on only a few key pastoral initiatives for their neighbourhood. I’ve meet with pastors who are brand new in this role, and I’ve meet with pastors who have been in the same place for several decades.

The only thing in common across the board is the love our pastors have for Jesus, and their love for us, their parishioners. All our pastors seem to love their parishioners with what can best be described as a love of a father for his family.

Our parishes, like our families can be dysfunctional at times. And our pastors, just like our fathers will never be perfect men, but based on my meetings so far they are nevertheless all men striving every day to love us to the best of their abilities. So while all of our parishes are somewhere on the spectrum of lesser or greater vitality, their pastors’ faith in Christ and love for his community is something that every parish can build on towards a brighter future.

Another observation that I’ve made across the board is that being a pastor is a very tough job. Pastors have to simultaneously be administrators, spiritual fathers, teachers, emotional support, complaint handlers, role models, team leaders, and community builders, just to name a few of their more obvious roles. They often have to be all things for all peoples without losing their sense of who they are and what their mission is. No easy task!

Over the coming months, I would like to take you on a tour of our parishes, and share with you their beauty and complexity; their common challenges; their unique strengths; and some of the new initiatives taking place to help them progress towards greater parish vitality.

I believe that the future of our parishes and the English Catholic community in Montreal is bright for all who have the courage to believe in it and fight for it! I invite you to believe again with me in the dream that is the Catholic Church of Montreal, and fight with us to help her to become fully alive.

In the second century, one of the fathers of the Church, St Irenaeus of Lyon, wrote that “the glory of God is a human being fully alive”. If we are able to give God glory when one human being comes alive, imagine how much more glory we can give to God by helping every individual in an entire parish community to become fully alive. This is the goal of parish vitality! To create whole communities of people who have become “fully alive” in Jesus Christ and who are sent out to invite others to come and experience the same.

So with our pastors in mind, I would like to conclude this first blog post with a call to action to everyone who loves their parish. I would like to invite everyone to pray for our priests. To pray for the strengthening of the passion and perseverance of these men who have given up pursuing their own personal ambitions in order to dedicate their entire lives towards building up God’s Kingdom here in Montreal. Parish life, like family life, can be very complicated and at times we might not always like our father or our priest. But we are called to love our fathers and our priests all the same, and it’s their vocation/mission in life to love us in return to the best of their ability. Thanks be to God!

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



Mr. John Murphy, LLB was elected President of The Pillars Trust Fund (PTF) at its Annual General Meeting in June (2015). The Board of PTF wishes to congratulate and warmly welcome John to this new role.

John is a member of the law firm Borden Ladner Gervais (BLG).  He is nationally regarded as a top expert in his field with many honours to his name.  (He has also had the special pleasure of seeing his daughter, Sarah, elected Queen of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, 2014).

Despite a busy career he has always found time to serve the community being at varying times on the board of The Sacred Heart School of Montreal, Beaconsfield Elementary School Governing Council, and he was a past member of the English Speaking Catholic Council (ESCC).  As Vice President of PTF he was enormously supportive of the new directions and outreach that Pillars has begun (see the Pillars Trust Fund – Newsletter – under the category “ABOUT” on this website). John brings the same skills and energy to his new role and Pillars Trust will be ably served by his commitment and very capable leadership.

And in June two new Directors, Meghan Brown and Jonathan Elkas, joined the Pillars Trust Fund Board.  See a complete list of The Pillars Trust Fund’s Board of Directors under the category “ABOUT” on this website.




Mr. Michael Kieran stepped down as President of The Pillars Trust Fund (PTF) in June. The Board wishes to express our deepest gratitude to Michael for his unstinting dedication to the mission of PTF over many years. He will continue to serve with equal devotion in his new post as Past President.

Michael’s wise leadership and vision during a time of change and challenge led The Board to engage in new strategic thinking. He recognized that there was a new dynamism taking root in our community which had to be nourished. He also knew that Pillars had to adapt to new realities and must devise new pathways to better serve the English-Speaking Catholic Community. To that end PTF supported many new initiatives e.g. The Parish Vitality Conference, The Lenten Mission, The Last Chance Mass and the new website Ville Marie On Line.

Michael also encouraged closer communication with our beneficiaries, our sister organizations and our Pastors. In June of this year he gave a power point presentation at the annual deanery meeting. He has spent countless extra hours meeting with our sister organizations or attending events that foster the spiritual growth of the community. It was not unknown for Michael to attend two meetings in one day on behalf of Pillars –all this despite a heavy work and travel schedule for his company.

He made expanding our donor list a top priority. Continued financial resources are necessary for a vibrant and dynamic English-Speaking Catholic Community and the services it provides. We have already begun this work.

In the role of Past President, Michael will continue to ably assist The Board in its deliberations. For that and his past unselfish work we are indeed deeply indebted.




My name is Holly Kirsten Eugenio and I have been working with the Mission Jeunesse-Youth Ministry team of the Archdiocese of Montreal for the past five years. Working in Youth Ministry was not what I had originally planned as a career. I was working in the engineering field for four years when the opportunity developed, thanks to Pillars Trust Fund who committed to providing the Mission Jeunesse-Youth Ministry team with a salary for a full time position.

I had been involved in my parish for a number of years in variety of ministry settings (Choir, Youth Group, International WYD, lector, Eucharistic Minister and Pastoral Homecare etc.) I was eventually led to work as a volunteer with the DUC IN ALTUM Discernment Experience that was coordinated by the Mission Jeunesse Youth Ministry Team. The combination of participating in International World Youth Day and the Duc In Altum Discernment Experience helped me to discover that I had a mission as a lay person to serve the Church in the world. I continued to serve as I could where I could. With the offer of a full time position to join the Youth Ministry team, I started to discern the possibility of switching careers, which in my heart felt like responding to call, to a dream that had been there all along.

The decision to leave the beginning of an engineering career was not an easy one, as it meant leaving the title, prestige and financial benefits that came with it. However, Pillars Trust Funds’s generosity in offering a salary for a full time Youth Ministry worker made following my heart, and responding to God’s call a possibility.

Today I can say that it has been one of the most important decisions of my life. I have learnt to trust in God’s providence. I am using what I learned in my past work experience and have been able to develop numerous other skills. I have since completed the Canadian Certificate in Youth Ministry Studies and I am currently enrolled in the Pastoral Ministry Certificate Program at Concordia University. It has been a blessing to combine both my engineering skills and pastoral skills, and to use these gifts to serve others. Some have told me that I am like a new modern Kingdom builder!

Thanks to the Pillars Trust Fund, I am privileged to work among an amazing team of young people who love Jesus Christ and are passionate for the Mission. Together and under the direction and guidance of our director Isabel Correa, the Mission Jeunesse – Youth Ministry office is a coordination team mandated by the Archbishop of Montreal to promote in the diocese, outreach to teenagers (13-17 years old) and young adults (18-35 years old) through coordination, communication, animation and formation. We organize diocesan wide teen and young adult events, we offer support and training to local teen and young adult ministers, group leaders, and their teams, and help to co-ordinate local youth-ministry efforts, while promoting a comprehensive youth ministry vision. The Mission Jeunesse-Youth Ministry Office advocates for the place of teens and young adults in our Church and society, and promotes their contribution, and their potential in the Church and society. All diocesan events, projects and pastoral responses of the Mission Jeunesse – Youth Ministry Office are organized WITH and FOR teens, WITH and FOR young adults and youth ministers and their teams from the network.

Among these projects are:

  • Diocesan World Youth Day
  • International World Youth Day
  • Apostles’ Cup Ball Hockey tournament
  • Parish visits to support local Youth Ministry initiatives
  • YOUCAT sessions
  • Gathering of Youth Ministers

Counting on the grace of God, I look forward to continue serving the young people of the Archdiocese of Montreal thanks in part to the Pillars Trust Fund.


May 2015 Conference


I extend my sincere thanks to The Pillars Trust Fund for sponsoring me to attend the Forming Intentional Disciples workshop which was held on Saturday, May 30, 2015 in Ogdensburg, New York.

The workshop was inspiring and supported everything I had been thinking about for a long time. The workshop, held in our own diocese last November, was an ideal preparation for the Ogdensburg experience. Also having read Rebuilt and Tools for Rebuilding as well as Fr. James MaIllon’s book Divine Renovation and the text Growing an Engaged Church by Albert L. Winseman of the Gallop organization provided additional motivation and encouragement to become more fully involved in the mission of developing intentional disciples.

In November of 2014 I retired from my missionary work among the Inuit of Northern Quebec bringing to an end a unique sixteen year experience. I had no idea when I took on this work that I would end up doing crises counselling with sexually abused and battered children and women, working in the prison in St. Jerome or in the Native Peoples Women’s Shelter. In 2007 the Holy Spirit really swept me off my feet when I was asked to take over Mission St. André and the responsibility for the Catholic community on the entire Hudson coast!

Having spent this past winter in prayer and reflection I am convinced that my northern adventure has been a special training environment for a whole new ministry in evangelization in my parish of St. Veronica. I have recently been in touch with Josh Canning who has informed me that he will be in Montreal this fall to do a workshop on the Alpha Course. Coincidentally I had just purchased the director’s manual on how to set up and manage Alpha. Needless to say I have every intension of attending the workshop and will be putting much of my energy into launching the Alpha Course, at St. Veronica Parish sometime before the summer of 2016.

The fact that Pillars was prepared to sponsor people to attend the workshop in Ogdensburg is, for me, a sign that the Holy Spirit is indeed at work. Therefore I say again thank you for your support.


Deacon Gerry Turpin



Spotlight on the Newman Centre

The Newman Centre of Montreal benefits from the fund as it falls into Pillar II of supporting youth ministry. They address the religious, education and social needs of undergraduate and graduate Catholic students.

Inspired by the vision of Cardinal Newman, the Centre invites students to participate in spiritual and intellectual renaissance of the Catholic faith within modern culture.

Through leadership development, The Newman Centre equips young people for the pursuit of lay vocation. In recent years, the Centre has played a very constructive role in public policy debates about a key dimension of the lay vocation — marriage. It also provides practical support to young families through its summer retreat centre.

Faculty, staff, and the general public are also encouraged to participate and join in the Newman activities. They host various events and activities; from daily Soup and Bagel lunches during the week to coffeehouses each semester, as well as YouCat discussions every Friday to Daily Mass. The Centre has been a place for Catholic youths to gather in a welcoming community, where they can eat together, play together, study together, and pray together.

For more information about the Newman Centre, visit them at