Cana Family Institute refreshing materials to better meet mission

| Susan Klemond | September 7, 2018 | 0 Comments

Chris and Gina Rickert discuss the daily Scripture readings Aug. 31 in the dining room of their home in Rogers. They say it is a way for them to connect and deepen their relationship. Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

Chris and Gina Rickert focused more on themselves than their marriage for almost a decade, until the parishioners of Mary, Queen of Peace in Rogers began attending marriage and family programs through the Cana Family Institute five years ago.

Through the “mini-conversions” they experienced while studying and discussing Church teaching in men’s and women’s groups at a nearby parish, God transformed their marriage.

“It’s been such a beautiful journey,” said Gina, 39, who graduated from the Institute’s four-year Mothers of Young Children program in June. “For us it’s been really transformative in our love for the sacraments, in the way we view our marriage and the purpose of marriage, and the way we view our role as part of our parish family and larger community.”

Six years after purchasing the marriage and family programming formerly called “Familia,” the Crystal-based ministry is revamping the 25-year-old curriculum and defining its mission of accompanying families. Meanwhile, Cana Family Institute’s leaders are encouraging participants to become parish leaders as it collaborates with more parishes, schools and ministries.

“What we offer is a way for parents to understand their own Catholic faith and be catechized, which gives them a natural confidence to be able to give it to others,” said Jeannine Backstrom, 60, Cana Family Institute’s executive director and a parishioner of St. Albert in Albertville. “Building on 25 years of experience, we seek to become the most trusted partner for innovative, collaborative, integrated, and transformative marriage and family life ministry in the country.”

About 90 Catholics participate in Cana Family Institute programs at five parishes and two schools in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Programs also are offered in the dioceses of Covington, Kentucky; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Galveston-Houston, Texas.

In 2012, Backstrom and her husband, Gregg, together with three other Minneapolis couples, purchased rights and ownership of the Familia programming from Regnum Christi, when that international Catholic movement lacked resources to continue managing it, Backstrom said. In forming the nonprofit institute as a separate entity, Cana Family Institute leaders are retiring the Familia name but are building on the Familia experience as they update and rebrand the programming, she said.

At twice-monthly meetings during the school year, Cana Family Institute participants review and share about materials based on papal encyclicals, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and Scripture. Topics include men’s and women’s roles, the sacraments and parenting.

The Cana Family Institute offers a shorter introductory program on the four temperaments that is less focused on Church encyclicals, and it also plans to offer a couple’s program, Backstrom said.

Institute leaders want to partner with more parishes, diocesan leaders and schools, and four are considering it, Backstrom said. They also seek to work with ministries, such as the Marriage In Christ seminar, to provide parishes with cohesive ministry, she said.

Backstrom said that one of the program’s natural outcomes is Catholics who to strengthen their engagement in parish life.

“People will lead when they know why,” she said. “Leadership is about service, and service is about Christ’s love for you. When you discover that, and you see that his Church is in need, you naturally want to serve with the gifts and talents that you have.”

Bishop Andrew Cozzens, the Institute’s ecclesial advisor who is helping the organization become canonically established, asked Father Joe Bambenek, the pastor of St. Pius X in White Bear Lake, to serve on its board.

“By strengthening people in their knowledge of the faith, in good parenting skills and in forming communities of faithful parents [Cana Family Institute] is helping to create the leaders of tomorrow in our parishes,” Father Bambenek said. “Having people in parish volunteer and leadership roles, having people who deeply understand the faith … and live that out in their life, that’s important for parishes to thrive.”

Over the past two years, Father John Gallas witnessed women who attended a Cana Family Institute women’s group at St. Thomas the Apostle in Corcoran grow in their faith and volunteering.

“I’ve seen a deepening of prayer, friendships and understanding of what God is calling them to in their marriage,” said Father Gallas, who served as the parish’s pastor before recently joining the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity faculty.

Since attending the Institute, the Rickerts are more active in their parish, said Gina, who is now also an Institute facilitator and trainer. She noticed the women in her group at St. Michael in St. Michael benefited from personal sharing.

“The beauty that I’ve seen unfold is in the women that I’ve had the honor to journey with and how they have gotten so involved and opened up their hearts and homes in the way that God might be calling them,” she said. “It’s different for everyone, and that’s the beauty of it.”

That also plays out in the men’s groups. When Ed Ricklick, 52, started in a men’s group 20 years ago, he realized he didn’t know how to spiritually lead his family but gained concrete ideas at each meeting.

“I know how to lead in many spaces,” said Ricklick, an Institute board member and parishioner at St. Nicholas in Elko New Market. “I knew [leading spiritually in the family] was important, but I didn’t know how important until I started taking the programs. They made it easier for me to make a decision as a husband, and as a father to prioritize.”

Cana Family Institute reaches other Catholics who share similar hopes, Backstrom said.

“They come because they’re looking for belonging, for friends, a community and maybe they don’t even know that,” she said. “When they’re invited to join a group, that opens the door to us being able to accompany them in that discovery of who they’re made to be, and then the Holy Spirit does the work.”

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