Monday, August 27, 2012

St. Clare and St. Francis of Assisi Memorial Chapel: Home to Roman Catholic Women Priests in Mayne Island, Canada

A small private Chapel on beautiful Mayne Island has, since 2005, been the spiritual
home of Roman Catholic Womenpriests in the area. On August 19th, 2012, the newly
ordained priest Victoria Marie of East Vancouver together with Priests Michele Birch-
Conery of Nanaimo and Rose Mewhort of Galiano Island con-celebrated the Eucharist
in the St Clare and St Francis of Assisi Memorial Chapel. Present to lay hands on Vikki
were Archdeacon Ellen Willingham; Andrew Loveridge of Galiano; Terry Engel of
Victoria; Pat Rupper and Pat McSherry of Vancouver; Yvette Buziak and Patricia
Fitzgerald of Mayne Island. Victoria Marie will write in a future Journal about her
ordination and the formation of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Tonantzin Community in
East Vancouver.
Our Lady of Guadalupe Tonantzin Community
The Chapel has a long and interesting history. It was built in the early 80's by Tom
Fitzgerald on his own property as place for Catholics to worship, and as happens in
small communities, many folk helped with the construction who belonged to other faith
traditions or none. It has always been an ecumenical Chapel. The Diocese refused
ownership though offered a loan at 5% interest which was declined in favour of
donations and volunteer labour.
Many Catholic families visiting Mayne Island worshipped in the Chapel of St Francis in
the Woods over nearly 30 years until Tom passed away on Jan 1st 2003. At this time, Church
authorities announced that the Chapel was closed and the Catholics started meeting at
the Anglican Church of St Mary Magdalene on Mayne Island. The pews and altar were
removed from the Chapel - even the wood stove was removed. However, knowing
Tom's desire for his Chapel to carry on serving after his death, his wife Patricia asked
the authorities: "How can you close a private Chapel?" Patricia also knew that Tom
privately favoured a married clergy and believed that women should be treated as equals
in the Church. She opened the Chapel to all who wished to use it and received many
donations, including another wood stove, chairs and cushions, and sacred objects from
various religious traditions that adorn the Chapel walls and altars today.
In 2004 the Chapel's sponsorship was taken over by The Victoria Human Exchange
Society a grassroots group that houses homeless people by sharing life's gifts much as
the early Christians did. VHES uses the chapel as a sacred space where members can go
for days of Retreat away from the city . On these days the marginalized persons who are
used to living at survival level in isolation and hopelessness, spend time learning about
tools for living with others, sharing gifts, and supporting one another towards a healthier
community in justice, peace and compassion. Comments from participants include: “We
live in an age of anxiety, but being with like-minded people can bring comfort and
peace”; “A ray of hope!”; “This is the human spirit at it's peak”; “Very productive - I feel
I have a safe place to say what I need without being judged”; " VHES has a life to it.
The Creator Spirit - a life force -- promotes it and propels it to make choices.” - Services--Mayne Island Branch
In 2005, Patricia heard of the prophetic obedience of women who felt called to the
priesthood and read of Priest Michele Birch-Conery's presence on Vancouver Island. She
sent Michele a ferry ticket and invited her to come and make the Chapel the home of the
RCWP for the area. Patricia knew that this meant implicit excommunication but saw
obedience to the Spirit as far more important than keeping man-made rules. Since then,
many beautiful liturgies and retreats have been held at what was renamed, the St Clare
and St Francis of Assisi Memorial Chapel. RCWP Bishop, Patricia Fresen, led a Retreat
here as early as 2006, when Monica Kilburn Smith and Jim Lauder were still on the path
to the diaconate and 3 other women were considering RCWP ordination. Jim Lauder
celebrated his First Eucharist at the chapel in 2007 and went on to form the St Iris Faith
Community in Victoria. The St Iris members look forward to a retreat day on Mayne
Island on October 28th, 2012.
In the Fall of 2008, Rose Mewhort, from Galiano Island came on the path to ordination
soon after attending an RCWP gathering at the chapel and not long afterwards, Kim
Sylvester, a long-time friend of Jim’s followed Rose. For a year, our gatherings
consisted of an equal number of priests, ordinands and persons from Mayne and
Vancouver Islands. In the summer of 2008, Bishop Patricia Fresen ordained Rose and
Kim to the diaconate and in 2009, to the priesthood. Kim began gathering a worship
community in Duncan and Rose became the priest for Mayne Island. Then we had a
year of retreat as it were, a time of various kinds of development until Victoria Marie
came on the path to ordination too after experiencing a concelebrated Eucharist with
Rose and me. She soon visited Rose on Galiano for retreat and quiet times as she
progressed towards her ordination. At those times, she also came to liturgy at the chapel
and it was only fitting that she should come again soon after her ordination to the
priesthood. All of us, once again recognized the chapel and the presence of the Spirit in
the chapel as one of our powerful heart-homes and Vikki, now with us, expands our
range of welcome to embrace another new beginning in the reality of her community,
Our Lady of Guadaloupe Tontanzin in Vancouver.
I always experience the chapel space as somewhere where I re-ground myself in the
foundational time we are still in, but without Patricia Fitzgerald’s personal prophetic
strength together with Rose’s deeply contemplative spirituality with the community,
none of this would have been possible. We continue with an unexplained vitality and
appreciation for everyone's personal gifts and the gift of the chapel space when we
come again to the Mayne Island community.
But many other groups began to use the sacred space and its peaceful surroundings
including Peter Renner, Buddhist lay monk, who regularly holds day long silent
retreats. Local persons and groups hold healing sessions, meditation workshops and
meetings to share insights and build community. The Chapel has become an interfaith
and inter spiritual sacred space. So the decision was made to gain charitable status for
the Chapel by incorporating the Mayne Island Awakening to Spirit Foundation, with
the purpose of promoting Gatherings, maintaining the building, paying travel costs and
fees for service. Charitable status was gained for MIASF in June of 2012, making it
possible to give charitable receipts for donations. On Sunday September 16th, the
Foundation will hold the third Annual General Meeting followed by an RCWP liturgy.
All are welcome! Should you wish to support this worthy cause, please send cheques to
MIASF at 313 Mariners Way, Mayne Island, V0N 2J2
Co-authored by Patricia Fitzgerald and Michele Birch-Conery
Photos from Victoria Marie's ordination to the priesthood, JULY 29, 2012
and from her concelebration with Rose and me on August 19, 2012.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Kimmy, you are so sweet and generous! You took such care in blogging about our swap and about me! Thank you so much!!
live tv streaming