Vocations out do Quebec

PORT-AU-PRINCE — For the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of Saint-Hyacinthe, the future lies in Haiti, where six novices and 17 sisters have taken temporary vows. Canada, however, offers little promise for new vocations. Many Quebec congregations, who see their ranks dwindling here but whose work is growing in Haiti, are living the same reality.

“Canada has formed many generations of religious men and women in Haiti,” said Fr. André-Paul Garraud, CSV, president of the Haitian Religious Conference. “We have strong ties with Canada, canonic and economic. There are many more religious men and women here from Quebec than from France.”

These close ties partly inspired the meeting among Haitian and Canadian religious men and women in Port-au-Prince, aimed at building and strengthening solidarity, at the end of May. 

“Very few superiors from Canada did not register, and those who did asked if they could be accompanied by their counsellors,” said Sr. Kesta Occident, general animator of the Sisters of Holy Cross, who conceived the event.

For Canadian religious women, one of the primary issues that made the meeting necessary was the formation of future generations of Haitian religious, as well as the future of religious life in general. A country of fervent faith and practice, Haiti counts the presence of 90 Catholic congregations and is currently experiencing an increase in vocations. 

“There are many, and their numbers are increasing, especially in communities of religious men,” reported Fr. Garraud. 

The Catholic Church in Haiti had 260 seminarians at the time of the 2010 earthquake, which killed about 30. According to the Haitian Religious Conference, there are at least 130 novices, men who are seeking to become priests or brothers.

In a country where religious life remains a vehicle for social mobility, this increase brings the great challenge of ensuring that these men receive good formation and guidance in the discernment of their vocations.  

Sr. Suzanne Bridet of the Canadian province of the Sisters of Saint Francis of Assisi said her great concern is the formation of young sisters. Her community has 96 Haitian sisters.

“We are short of qualified teachers, and the young women that arrive here don't always have the sufficient basic theological knowledge to keep up with us,” she said. 

Already, the shortage of resources in various communities has led to the establishment of inter-community formation sessions. At the end of the four-day Haitian-Canadian meeting, participants committed to developing these sessions, which would seek to: “unify the person in every dimension of his/her being: human, Christian, and religious, mystic and prophetic.” 

“It would be beneficial to work together in preparing the next generation (of religious),” said Sr. Ghislaine Landry of the Quebec-based Sisters of Providence.

Sr. Louise Gauthier, superior general of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Saint-Vallier, said she hopes the 15 Haitian sisters of her community — half of whom are young — become independent of the aging “mother community”.

“We are no longer appointing a Canadian superior,” she said. “It is not easy for (the Haitian sisters); they have always had a Canadian model. I would like us to give them our trust and their rightful place (in the leadership).”

Like her colleagues, Sr. Gauthier has become keenly interested in the idea of pooling the resources of the various congregations in Haiti. She, for one, does not fear that the communities’ different ways of operating are incompatible. 

“The charism varies from one congregation to the other,” she said, “but the essential remains the same.”

 

Sophie Brouillet