THE SUPER SEVEN
Scarboro Missions’ four-month lay preparation program...a time to learn and a time to build community.
By Anne Quesnelle
“The Super Seven... What’s that?” This is a question I was often asked over the last few months. “Well,” I usually answered, “it’s the name the new group of lay missioners have been given.”
Anne Quesnelle and her husband Marc Chartrand are now serving in Ecuador.
To the Scarboro Missions community living at 2685 Kingston Road, the Super Seven were known as a fun-loving, social and interactive group who spent not only the preparation hours in each other’s company, but many evenings and weekends as well. For me, we also represented a treasure house of knowledge, experience, human struggle, and, most of all, faith, hope and love.
The four-month lay preparation program was nothing short of hectic to say the least. The days were all fairly structured. The seven of us, having left jobs, homes and families in different parts of the country, found ourselves all living under the same roof, adjusting to an entirely new community lifestyle.
I remember that most of us felt eager to start working overseas as soon as possible, with or without a preparation program. It was surely a sign of zeal, energy, generosity and good will. In time, we realized that it was good that we came together and walked together for a short while to share our joys and hopes, fears and pains.
Every Tuesday morning we studied scripture under the tutorship of Scarboro missioner Fr. Roger Brennan. In the afternoon, we set aside time to meet with our spiritual directors, to go for doctor’s appointments at the travel clinic (for the much-needed vaccinations), or to work on our studies. All of us started doing research on our ‘mission country’ as part of our preparation and for our end-of-program presentations, in which we would share facts and insights about the country with our group of missioners-in-formation.
My husband Marc and I were heading for Ecuador, Peter and Magda to Guyana, and Scott, Dorothy and Fernande to Thailand. As many can attest, the final presentations on each country proved to be very informative and enlightening.
Tuesday evenings we got together and invited the other residents at Scarboro Missions to join us in community prayer, which we took, turns organizing. We gathered together as well for Friday morning Eucharistic liturgies (for this we also formed a choir!). Wednesday mornings we trekked out to Regis College in downtown Toronto to attend Margaret Brennan’s “Spirituality and Culture” course which we all enjoyed tremendously.
In the afternoons, we split into small groups and headed out to do our outreach work. Peter, Scott, Fernande and I worked at St. Francis Table, helping the regular volunteers to prepare and serve a hot meal to many of Toronto’s homeless. Marc went to the St. Joseph Residence (run by the Good Shepherd Centre) to spend some time and to share his musical talents with the older homeless men residing there. Dorothy and Magda visited many refugee families living around the St. Martin de Porres parish, bringing them not only clothes and supplies, but much-needed warmth and attention.
Skills development and social analysis
On the other weekdays we welcomed many well-known and knowledgeable speakers who educated us through various workshops. The topics discussed throughout the four months included culture shock, mental wellness, conflict resolution, personality differences, sexuality and violence in mission, global feminism, intimacy, theological reflection, and social awareness and the Gospel.
The “super seven’-participants of the 2001 lay preparation program. Clockwise from far left, Magda vanZyl; Dorothy Novak; Marc Chartrand; Scott McDonald, Fernande Barnabé, m.o.; Peter vanZyl; and Anne Quesnelle.
Another memorable experience we shared was our day spent visiting numerous houses of worship in the Toronto area. We truly enjoyed and were impressed by the great welcome, hospitality and interfaith encounters we experienced at a Jewish synagogue, a Buddhist temple, a mosque, and a Sikh temple. The same could be said of our visit to the Baha’i Centre on a separate occasion.
Learning about the different faith traditions allowed us to become very aware that we were not going overseas bringing God in our suitcases, but that God was already present in all parts of the world, and is being worshipped through different customs and traditions.
As I mentioned before, the Super Seven spent many of our free-time hours together. Some of our activities included exploring different ethnic restaurants (to get a taste of what was to come in our mission placements). We also attended Taize or l’Arche community services, and many evenings at the local community pool.
We also had retreat days and prayer times, which allowed us to reflect together. Sharing our life experiences, our feelings, our concerns and apprehensions about going to mission definitely helped keep our interest and enthusiasm at a good level. A bond of mutual trust was built up in the process.
A more challenging but nonetheless enriching experience occurred during Holy Week when we entered into a week-long silent retreat at the Guelph Jesuit Loyola Centre. I say challenging because for many it was difficult not to utter a word to one another, especially at meal times. All in all, I experienced closeness to God and enjoyed a special Easter morning gift—the opportunity to hold in my arms a newborn lamb, reminding me of life’s fragility.
The preparation program proved to be a time to let go of what was past and to savour each day, each contact, each discussion and each celebration. In all these experiences, God spoke to each one of us personally while inviting us to look forward to what was not only going to be a life adventure, but a life-long vocation.
The program also made me realize how much we need each other and that mission work is not a task for individuals. Jesus sent his disciples into the unknown in small groups, not as individual heroes. We are sent out into the world together, so that together we can witness to God’s presence in our world.
On April 29, 2001, together with our Scarboro community, family and friends, and with members of other mission societies, we celebrated an unforgettable ceremony, sending us to witness the Gospel overseas.
Each of us also returned to our parish communities to be ‘sent’ before leaving for our mission placements. These missioning ceremonies meant more to me than I could ever express in words. I felt an inner freedom to go to mission in peace since those who love Marc and I the most sent us on our way with affection, support and prayers. Not only did I realize that I was truly loved, but I had a strong sense of community, aware that I would bring all these people with me wherever I go.
Even before leaving in different directions, we, the Super Seven, were able to be an important witness, as I know all those living in the Scarboro community could say of us, “See how they love each other.”