Members of the Aboriginal Stream Advisory Committee gathered recently to mark the end of their work in establishing an Aboriginal Lay Formation program. Standing, from left: Mona Goodman, Germaine Lafond, Agnes Pelletier, Leah Perrault, Michael Averyt, Donna Kristian, Oblate Archbishop Sylvain Lavoie, of Keewatin-Le Pas, Ivan and Kathy Hitchings. Seated, from left: Bishop Albert LeGatt, Gayle Weenie, Sister Bonnie Komarnicki, S.S.M.I., Irene Sharp, Cecilia Morin and Sister Marijka Konderewicz, S.S.M.I. The other committee members are: Vivian Whitehawk; Father Bill Bernard, C.S.s.R.; Harry Lafond; Frank and Jenny Munroe; Father Bill Stang, O.M.I.; Verna Vandale; Sister Cecile Fahl, S.M.S.; Dr. Cecil King; Sister Ethel Detz; and Bishop Albert Thevenot.
A unique Aboriginal Catholic Lay Formation program developed by three Western Canadian dioceses sent forth another 14 graduates last June.
Meeting one weekend a month over the past two years in Saskatoon, the graduates have journeyed deeper into understanding of their Catholic faith as well as exploring Aboriginal spirituality and traditions during the formation program of learning, prayer and community life.
The Aboriginal Catholic Lay Formation participants share portions of their program with Lay Formation participants from both the Saskatoon Roman Catholic diocese, and the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Saskatoon. The Aboriginal Catholic program developed as a joint project of three Roman Catholic—Saskatoon, Prince Albert, and Keewatin-Le Pas—and is offered with support from Catholic Missions In Canada.
Lay Formation coordinator Kathy Hitchings reflected on how the program was developed, beginning with a Native Dialogue Group in 2004.
“We always had aboriginal people coming to our diocesan Lay Formation program, but we wanted to be more welcoming and sensitive to their needs,” Hitchings said. “As we gathered to listen and learn and pray together, the idea of having an Aboriginal stream of Lay Formation came forth.”
Oblate Archbishop Sylvain Lavoie of Keewatin-Le Pas presents a certificate of appreciation to Aboriginal Stream Advisory Committee member Cecilia Morin.
In January 2005, the bishops of Saskatoon, Prince Albert and Keewatin-Le Pas gave their support to the idea of developing the Aboriginal Catholic stream of Lay Formation, and a joint advisory committee was established to develop the program. “An intense period of planning was launched, with committee members considering how the program would work—looking at topics, looking at presenters, looking at prayer, looking at community life,” Hitchings recalled.
Vivian Whitehawk was hired as coordinator of Aboriginal Lay Formation and the first two-year program began in the fall of 2007. There were 11 participants in the Aboriginal stream, 13 in the Eparchial program, and 20 in the Saskatoon diocesan program.
Throughout the first two years of the program, the Aboriginal Stream Advisory Committee continued to provide support, feedback, and consultation, Hitchings said.
“When we look at the level of respectful sharing—the way attitudes have shifted and changed among people, the way the learning has helped us to really come to know each other in new and wonderful ways…the shared friendship, the shared faith, the shared prayer—it has been a wonderful, wonderful experience,” Hitchings said.
Aboriginal Lay Formation is “a way of sharing, of building spirituality and of building up the church community,” said Germaine Lafond, who participated on the Advisory Committee along with her husband Harry Lafond, now a member of the board of governors of Catholic Missions In Canada. The experience provides a way for Aboriginal people to “take ownership” of their faith, and bring their gifts to the Church, she added.
“It opened me up as a person to want to help my people. We really need help in our communities,” said committee member Cecilia Morin. “I feel like we’re all one, united together for God.”
At a wind-up celebration to express appreciation for the planning committee’s work, then-Saskatoon Bishop Albert LeGatt (now Archbishop of St. Boniface) stressed that the establishment of the Aboriginal Catholic Lay Formation program is one part of a much larger process of dialogue and understanding.
“A lot of the things we talk about in terms of greater understanding, greater respect, greater cooperation—we are seeing that happening at Lay Formation,” observed Archbishop LeGatt, noting that participants take that new understanding back to their parishes and local communities."
Kiply Lukan Yaworski is communications director of the Diocese of Saskatoon in Saskatchewan.
—With files from The Prairie Messenger
Reprinted from Catholic Missions In Canada Magazine, Spring 2012. (www.cmic.info).