By Sr.Bonita Komarnicki, SSMI
In 1996, the Eparchy of Saskatoon had a Needs Assessment Survey. From that Survey, the biggest need from the Assessment was Adult Education. Sr. Patricia Lacey, SSMI and Sr. Gloria Mokry, SSMI from the Ukrainian Catholic Religious Education Centre met with the Saskatoon Diocesan Lay Formation Program Directors. After a great deal of discussion it was agreed that some classes, like Scripture, would be shared with both East and West, but other classes like, Christology would be separate. Fr. Erik Reichers, SAC, Fr. Myroslaw Tataryn and Sr. Patricia developed the Theological component of the Eastern Program.
The first Eparchial Stream of the Shared Lay Formation Program began in September, 1999. It was once a month for 10 months for two years. It began on Friday night and ended on Sunday afternoon around 4 p.m. The weekends were full with 15 hours of teaching. Our first group consisted of 12 participants from around the Eparchy. There was a great deal of enthusiasm in the group to be part of the first Eparchial Lay Formation Program. From the beginning, we prayed Matins and Compline as an Eparchial Group. It was a struggle but it was worth it in the end. Some people still pray Matins or Compline even after Lay Formation is over.
To this Lay Formation Program we introduced to the West the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, St. Nicholas Social, the Great Water Blessing and Forgiveness Vespers. Each of these were a taste of our Byzantine Rite Culture and Liturgical Heritage. These services were received warmly and with prayerful respect.
In 2004, the Aboriginal Stream joined the Lay Formation Program. We became a three-streamed Program; East, West and Indigenous. It was one of a kind in the world. It was exciting. The Indigenous Stream very much liked the Eparchial Stream and embraced our Divine Liturgy and other services wholeheartedly.
We shared prayer groups. Small groups of people who shared about the Sunday Gospel and how it impacted their daily lives. These small groups were intermingled with East, West and Aboriginal and became the strength of the Lay Formation Community experience. It was in these small groups that life and loss were shared. People encountered the Living Christ in the midst of these groups and helped participants grow in ways that were beyond words. Some groups still meet once a month for prayer and fellowship.
One of the most recent participants of the Eparchial Lay Formation says “The Lay Formation Program is a wonderful opportunity to learn about the history of the Christian faith, the environment in which Jesus lived, and how relevant that history is to us today. All efforts have been made for participants to arrive at a Lay Formation weekend and lay aside all cares of life. It is a blessed opportunity”.
Kathy Kalyn said “the highlight of the two-year experience is writing an icon. At first we were using Acrylic paints. Then, Brian Ander joined our Team and has started using egg tempera so the icons are amazing. It is a prayerful and healing journey.”
At the end of two years, there is a graduation. It is a wonderful time. The participants are excited to be missioned off by the Bishop to go and spread the Good News in new and exciting ways. The Divine Liturgy and blessing of each graduate is a true culmination of learning, community and celebration. After the celebration in the Church, the reception is a time for feasting and continuing to enjoy family and friends.
The program continued with changing leaders and Team members. The current Team is Sr. Marijka Konderewicz, SSMI, Sr. Bonita Komarnicki, SSMI, Sr. Georgia Shchavii, SSMI, Mr. Henry Spilchuk and Mr. Bob Friesen. We also have a faithful Alumna who volunteers almost every weekend—Ms. Gloria Milos. Our weekends are now Friday night to Saturday night and the teaching hours have been reduced. It is still an amazing experience and people are committed to learning about our Eastern Church and our wonderful theology, Liturgy, mysteries and Catechism. We have 110 Alumni who are active in the Church in many ways. They are: Priests, Deacons, Cantors, UCWLC members, Knights of Columbus, Ukrainian Catholic Brotherhood, Catechists, Choir members, Extraordinary Eucharistic Ministers, Visitors of Hospitals or Shut-ins, Finance and Parish Council members, Youth leaders, teachers of Altar Servers and Children of Mary, and involved with Social Justice including HASHI.
In 2016, we heard the cry of the people in Yorkton Deanery. Two Alumni from the Saskatoon Lay Formation Program approached us about bringing Formation to Yorkton. They had a vision of how it would work.
Geraldine Koban and Doreen Rathgeber spoke to the pastor, Fr. Bohdan Lukie, C.Ss.R, and organized the meal planning, the cleaning of the monastery and the preparation of the Golden Agers Room. All we had to do was come and bring the program. We brought Adult Faith Formation. It is a shortened version of Lay Formation and doesn’t have the Indigenous or Roman Catholic streams. It starts on Friday night and ends on Saturday at 5 p.m. with Divine Liturgy. In the first group we had 25 people, which started in February, 2016. Most were from Yorkton but we had others from: Foam Lake, Melville, Ituna, Swan River, MB, Benito, MB, and Regina, SK. The Redemptorist Fathers were a blessing because they opened up their monastery for the out of town participants.
Geraldine Koban had an excellent experience at the Eparchial Lay Formation: “Lay Formation was a life changing two years for me. It shaped and strengthened me so that I can now be more confident in witnessing to others. Bonds of friendship with other strong Christians were formed there which have supported me and will continue to be an influence on my faith life. We can achieve more in community than we can alone.”
Meanwhile, the Regina Deanery began to ask for a program like Yorkton’s. Andrji Lazurko approached us with the blessing of the two pastor’s in Regina—Fr. Vladimir Simunovic and Fr. Basil Malowany. The interest in the program was there and in March, 2017, 24 participants began the program. As a nod to the two parishes, 5 weekends were at St. Basil’s and 5 were at St. Athanasius. The majority of people were from Regina. One person was from Moose Jaw, SK. They are as enthusiastic about the program as the other groups and they have built a beautiful community together. The graduation was testament to their growth and development as they shared time and talent together to present valedictory address and other presentations.
Art and Theresa Ingleby say this about the Regina experience: “One of the greatest gifts the program provided which we did not anticipate when signing up was the sense of community we felt with our fellow participants. Knowing you are with like-minded people helps your journey.”
Karen and Mark Woitas also spoke highly of their experience and what it meant to them: “I would like to say that coming to the program has encouraged me to not be complacent about our Ukrainian Catholic faith. Mark and I have been married for 35 years now and have been attending church together for that long, and you tend to make coming to church just something you do on Sunday morning, the program has reminded me how beautiful and rich in symbolism our Liturgy is. Faith Formation made me more aware of how lovely and unique our sung services are. All in all I guess the classes have reminded me how fortunate we are to be able to attend services in this rite.”
This year we are starting Year II of the Eparchial Lay Formation in Saskatoon, the third Adult Faith Formation in Yorkton and the second Adult Faith Formation in Regina. We are very blessed to have Fr. Gregory Hrynkiw who has been teaching the new Catechism, Christ our Pascha, to all our participants in this Eparchy. He has been an asset in helping up plan our programs in Yorkton and Regina.
The Eparchial Alumni are excited for more learning and are committed to meeting at least once a year to have a retreat or some other educational experience. We met in April. There were 40 Alumni who attended. A retreat with Fr. Gregory Hrynkiw, ASTH was the event. It was positively received.
There are about 160 Alumni in total for the Eparchy and 75 Alumni that desire ongoing formation and return to Adult Faith Formation in Yorkton or Regina or events in Saskatoon. They are dedicated to growing deeper in their faith and we continue to provide resources for their personal growth.
Sister Bonni Komarnicki, SSMI works at the Ukrainian Catholic Religious Education Centre in Saskatoon, SK