‘For the Holy Church’

| Susan Klemond for The Catholic Spirit | June 17, 2015 | 0 Comments

At St. Mark, men’s and women’s religious communities focus on family

Pro Ecclesia Sancta Brother Cesar Valencia prays during eucharistic adoration in the chapel at St. Mark in St. Paul June 3. Members of the community worked with eighth-graders at St. Mark School on a day-long retreat that featured games, talks and adoration.

Pro Ecclesia Sancta Brother Cesar Valencia prays during eucharistic adoration in the chapel at St. Mark in St. Paul June 3. Members of the community worked with eighth-graders at St. Mark School on a day-long retreat that featured games, talks and adoration.

Six years ago, a priest and two brothers from a religious community based in Peru arrived at St. Mark in St. Paul, determined to grow dedication to the Sacred Heart and evangelize youth and families. Three years later, in 2012, two professed sisters joined them, opening the community’s first convent of sisters outside Peru.

Today, its St. Paul members include two priests, one transitional deacon, two brothers, three professed sisters and two postulant sisters. They oversee St. Mark’s parish and school, outreach at the nearby University of St. Thomas and youth ministry at Our Lady of Grace in Edina. Called Pro Ecclesia Sancta — “For the Holy Church” — the community is transforming a pocket of the Twin Cities, drawing college-age men and women to the priesthood and consecrated life and attracting lay members from around the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Brother Cesar, left, and Sister Kathya Salas oversee eighth-graders making drawings during the retreat.

Brother Cesar, left, and Sister Kathya Salas oversee eighth-graders making drawings during the retreat.

“What is happening is people are starting to see the neighborhood, because of the parish and the school, to be a place for them to buy a house and raise their families,” said Father Humberto Palomino, St. Mark’s pastor and local Pro Ecclesia Sancta superior. “There is growth and also trust in the school and in the parish.”

Recent founding

Pro Ecclesia Sancta was founded in Lima, Peru, in 1992 by Jesuit Father Pablo Menor. It is recognized by the Church as an “ecclesial family” in which male and female branches follow the same way of life.  Along with its motherhouse in Lima, Pro Ecclesia Sancta has communities in other parts of Peru, Ecuador, Spain, Minnesota and California and approximately 30 priests, 70 religious brothers and 70 religious sisters. Most of the brothers go on to study for the priesthood.

Father Menor promoted a vocation to holiness and perfection for Catholics in all states in life with the goals of renewing, expanding and strengthening the Church to glorify the Trinity through the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Members dedicate themselves to the Sacred Heart, a centuries-old devotion that the Church particularly emphasizes in June.

Pro Ecclesia Sancta members attribute their establishment in the Twin Cities to providence. During a visit to Minnesota, a Pro Ecclesia Sancta priest met Archbishop John Nienstedt, who later invited the community to expand its apostolate at St. Mark. In August 2009, Father Palomino, then-Brother Alvaro Perez (who was ordained to the priesthood in May) and Brother Adam Tokashiki (now a transitional deacon) arrived at the parish.

“We’re called to bring life back to the Church through constant renewal and expansion,” said Deacon Tokashiki. The spirituality of the Sacred Heart — to love, repair and save souls — places emphasis on eucharistic adoration, the sacraments and consecrating families to the Sacred Heart.

All Pro Ecclesia Sancta members strive to embrace their community’s charism to live and promote holiness in the Church by following its spirituality, said Sister Emy Ychikawa, its local superior. “Our founder envisioned the vocations together, so [with] priests, sisters, brothers but also lay families. We’re all able to share this vocation to holiness.”

The foundation for Pro Ecclesia Sancta’s spirituality are seven points that constitute its program for life. They include practices such as daily prayer, self denial, frequent reception of the Eucharist, devotion to Mary, daily examination of conscience, spiritual guidance and frequent confession, study of the faith with emphasis on the Gospel, and annual retreats.

Father Alvaro Perez helps eighth-graders Bennett Theisen, center, and Roderick MacDonald play a game.

Father Alvaro Perez helps eighth-graders Bennett Theisen, center, and Roderick MacDonald play a game.

Shared mission

The sisters, priests and brothers work in concert; the consecrated religious ensure the priests can focus on providing the sacraments, Sister Emy said.

“Because we are a family we work together,” added Sister Eileen Leon. “There are things the sisters can do but the priests can’t. We are all able to combine our qualities to better serve the Church.”

When it comes to its work with youth and family, 80 percent of Pro Ecclesia Sancta’s efforts are in formation, Father Palomino said. Its members organize family First Fridays, Bible studies, retreats, spiritual direction, and seminars on Catholic social tradition and history. St. Mark’s parish motto is “A Strong Family United in Christ.”

Sister Kathya, right, and Sister Emy Ychikawa offer some encouragement and a helping hand to eighth-grader Claire Little during a game.

Sister Kathya, right, and Sister Emy Ychikawa offer some encouragement and a helping hand to eighth-grader Claire Little during a game.

Pro Ecclesia Sancta’s first aim is to instill in Catholics a desire for holiness and challenge them to go beyond their comfort zone in their faith, Sister Emy said. For her, that means “that they’re not just meant to be comfortable with being good Catholics, going to Sunday Mass or learning the catechism, [and] sending the kids to Catholic school, but letting them know that they are called to really be a saint.”

StMarkSrEmy

Sister Emy prays during eucharistic adoration.

As a result, St. Mark is growing. More than 130 of its 867 parishioners joined last year, Father Humberto said. He attributes the growth spurt, in part, to a reverent liturgy, noting that Catholics come from other parishes for formation activities.

Sister Eileen first encountered Pro Ecclesia Sancta as a 16-year-old in Peru and was attracted to the community’s attitude and invitation to live the ideals of the faith.

“They have so much joy living for the Lord and promoting this ideal of holiness and reminding all of us that we are called to be holy, and we are called for more,” she said.

Two Minnesota men are finishing the Pro Ecclesia Sancta novitiate in Peru, and this summer two Minnesota women will go there to enter the novitiate. Beginning this fall, several more Americans plan to live at St. Mark with its men’s and women’s communities to continue discerning their vocation to priesthood and religious life.

Sister Laura Holupchinski grew up in the St. Mark parish and is finishing her postulant year. “It was a great blessing when PES was assigned here, and it changed my life,” she said. “It’s exciting to see so many other people come closer to God through the order and now to be a part of the family.”

Lay Catholics have joined Catholic Advance, Pro Ecclesia Sancta’s lay movement. There are about 60 Catholic Advance members in the archdiocese. Cindy Starr, a St. Mark parishioner, joined about two years ago to grow closer to the Lord. She follows Pro Ecclesia Sancta’s spiritual practices and receives spiritual formation in a women’s group. Before becoming a member, “I was praying more at him than with him [Jesus],” she said. “Now I’m walking with him rather than just sitting on the pew.”

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Category: Featured, Year of Consecrated Life