Priests look ahead after completing the 2023 Clergy Study Days program

The call to serve as a priest in Christ’s Church is one of constant sacrifice, constant mission and constant learning.

In hopes to grow and further develop in their vocations, the priests of our archdiocese have just completed a nine month program of gradual reflection and study, gathering insights and inspirations from Fr. James Mallon’s 2014 text “Divine Renovation: Bringing Your Parish from Maintenance to Mission”.

For Manning pastor Fr. Hansel Nwachukwouji, SMMM, this Clergy Study Days program has been above all a call to be more courageous in his pastoral work – and to always place evangelization at the heart and center of his ministry.

“It has been wonderful for me; it has been both challenging and encouraging,” Fr. Hansel reflected. “In his book, Fr. James is challenging us to evangelize, to be missionaries, to make disciples of everybody in the parish. Often we can lack the courage to do that, and so that aspect of courage is what struck me most when reading of his experience and how he handled each of his challenges.

“His experience has filled me with a courage to better embrace the mission which is at the core of the Church’s mandate. Evangelization is a challenge, it can be frightening. But this has invited me to move my parish from a maintenance parish to a missional one – one that welcomes everybody, raises disciples, and gives them the tools to evangelize and to carry on the mission of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Fr. Emmanuel Ekanem offers some insights during the closing gathering for the Clergy Study Days program on Dec. 5th

Clergy Study Days is the brainchild of Fr. Emmanuel Ekanem and the archdiocesan Office of Evangelization and Catechesis. Its primary objectives, says Fr. Emmanuel, is to enhance parish life and foster faith renewal across the archdiocese. The chapters of Fr. Mallon’s book were to serve as a foundation upon which the priests of the archdiocese could come together, reflect on their ministries and discover new ways to do catechesis and evangelization within their respective churches.

Beginning in March of 2023, priests, seminarians and religious have come together for a number of gatherings, each one centered on a specific chapter of Divine Renovation. In terms of attendance, participation and discussion, Fr. Emmanuel says the program has already proved a major success.

But, of course, the goal of Clergy Study Days is much more than making time for discussion and reflection.

“The real goal is to ‘domesticate’ whatever we have learned and shared together in these experiences in each of our parish communities,” said Ekanem.

For Beaverlodge pastor Fr. Michael Dias, the biggest takeaway has been a firm reminder that he is not alone in his ministry. He now feels called not only to collaborate more with his parishioners in the mission to evangelize, but also with his brother priests.

“It has been very fruitful to me to study Divine Renovation. It was a forum for all of us to come together, to reflect, and share in our responsibility in this archdiocese,” Dias said. “I’ve very much been energized and enlightened by this year of studies. I’ve been really inspired and I would like to inspire others, not only my parishioners but to inspire others wherever I go, speaking of Jesus as a minister of God’s word – that is the biggest thing for me.”

A new sense of the importance of collaboration was noted by many of the priests, as well as the importance of “ongoing formation”, that the priests are constantly called to reflect on their ministry, and see in what ways they can improve and grow.

Rudy Jerome Mallannao, pastoral intern with the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis, has played a leading role in running and organizing several of the Clergy Study Days gatherings.

For this reason, the OEC is already making plans to continue the Clergy Study Days program into the new year.

“We realized that having this time where we could gather together and discuss our ministry was very important to us,” said Fr. Emmanuel. “This was our first time trying something like this, and it revealed to us a need to continue doing it, that it’s a good practice that should be sustained. It was great to learn from each of the pastors their strengths, challenges and insights. And it was a unique opportunity for each of us to reflect on our own ministry, and ask, ‘How am I doing in each of these areas?’”

Archbishop Pettipas has been happy to support the program over the past year and is hopeful it can bear real and practical fruits in the archdiocese. He particularly hopes it has been a reminder of the fundamental “missional” nature of the Church for his priests, that their foremost duty is to go out and spread the Good News of Jesus Christ.

“For me it’s wonderful to have this opportunity to really reflect on and take seriously this call to proclaim, to be the Christian community Jesus Christ calls all of our communities to be – with Him at the center and with the resources that the Holy Spirit gives us,” said the archbishop.

Priests gathered for one final Clergy Study Days gathering on Dec. 5th, beginning with Mass.

Thomas Wollis is a seminarian who is currently doing his pastoral internship in St. Martin of Tours Church in Wabasca. Although he has been absent from some of the sessions, while studying at St. Joseph Seminary in Edmonton, the four meetings he has been able to attend have given him much food for thought as he continues in his discernment to the priesthood and in his new ministry in Wabasca.

“It’s been interesting for me especially as I am doing my internship in a mission parish,” Wollis said. “We have some pillars in place, but we’re starting very much from the ground up – growing alongside the community, trying to pick up the pieces where they’ve fallen. And that’s a lot easier said than done.

“As I look at the book and see what it offers in terms of practical ways of doing things, what realities you have to face up to, and how you gain a sense of what works and what doesn’t work in a parish, it helps give me an idea of where to start in my internship. It was also a reminder of where my seminary formation helps and where actual experiences helps.”

This is only an excerpt. Read the full story in the December 2023 edition of Northern Light