The North American Conference Assembly in New Jersey

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(New Jersey, USA) The North American Conference Assembly met at San Alfonso Retreat House in Long Branch, New Jersey, September 16-27. Present were Michael Brehl (Superior General), Jack Kingsbury (Conference Director), Paul Borowski (Provincial, Baltimore), Charles Duval (Provincial, Canada), Steve Rehrauer (Provincial, Denver) and Peter Tuan Bui (Vice Provincial, Ex Patrium). Also present were members Jeffrey Rolle, Matt Allman, Santo Arrigo, John Fahey, Jerry Knapp, Dominic Long, Larry Lujan, Byron Miller, Mark Miller, Anthony Nguyen, Paul Nguyen, Kevin O’Neil, Regis Pelleren, Stanislaw Slaby, Mike Smolinksi, and Anne Walsh. Conference Communications Director Charlie Wehrley was also present.

Superior General Fr. Michael Brehl addressed the Assembly on Monday, September 16, emphasizing that we need to integrate the theme of Witnesses of the Redeemer in solidarity in Mission for a Wounded World and make it the focus of our decision making. He also provided the Superior General’s report, as well as presenting reports on the Directory for Chapters and the Directory for Superiors. He advised everyone to familiarize themselves with the documents as he noted changes that had been made. It was decided that the Directories for Superiors and for Chapters would not be updated until the next General Chapter in 2022.

Day two of the gathering focused on the Conference Apostolic and Restructuring Plan (CARP). The CARP Committee (comprising Ray Douziech (Canada), Jerome Chavarria (Baltimore) and Bin Tah (Denver) were present along with Jack Kingsbury. Kingsbury led the presentation and discussion of the document. The three missionary priorities, 1) Youth; 2) Immigrants, Migrants, Refugees, and Internally Displaced; and 3) Those Who Do Not Receive the Church’s Message of Good News were all discussed in detail. Several changes were made to the document on both Tuesday and Wednesday and a final draft was completed and voted upon by the Assembly members. The draft passed, section by section, with an average of 20 votes in favor.

On Wednesday, Steve Wilson from the General Government’s Finance Office, gave the Assembly an overview of Basic Finance.

Afterward, Jeffrey Rolle gave a presentation on the Plan for Community Life that emphasized the essential importance of the plan to all Units. On Friday, Jeffrey also gave a presentation on the Alphonsian Academy. Afterward, there was a discussion as to whether or not this plan addressed the areas that were discussed during the last General Chapter and the consensus seemed to be that it did not and would need some revision to address key problems at the Academy.

Friday afternoon, Jeffrey and Larry Lujan presented the report on the Brothers Commission. The 26th General Chapter made the decisions to 1) emphasize co-responsibility and leadership roles for Brothers; 2) ensure that vocation ministry for Brothers was an authentic priority; and 3) that a commission would be created for Bothers with one representative from every Region.

Across the world, the Redemptorists now have a total of 346 Brothers, and some Units have no Brothers. The presentation addressed the identity of a Brother today, limitations in promoting Brother vocations, weaknesses in formation, and specific tasks of the Brothers. There was good, positive discussion around the report.

Week two of the Assembly began with a presentation by Anne Walsh, Director of Partners in Mission. She noted that there are circles of mission in Zimbabwe, London, Lisbon, the United States, Newfoundland, Rome, and Toronto. She then outlined the four chapters of the Partnership in Mission report. The draft is current as of June 2019. After giving an overview, she asked for suggestions on how to improve the report. There was also much discussion around the difference between a lay missionary, an oblate, associates and other forms of lay Redemptorist support. Anne emphasized the importance of lay ministers seeing through the lense of Alphonsian Spirituality.

A vote was taken on where the next General Chapter would be held. The places that received the most votes were Rome, Ireland, and Colombia. Afterwards Fr. Michael Brehl discussed the safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults, noting the difference between protocol and policy. Protocol gives ways to respond in a given situation and policy is about safeguarding. He also discussed changes and policies implemented by the Vatican under Pope Francis.

On Tuesday, September 24, Jerry Knapp (Baltimore) presented the Conference’s budget for 2020. The budget now includes the Director, Communications Director and included the Theologate in San Antonio, Texas, and the Novitiate in Lima, Ohio. The budget was discussed at length and then was later passed 20 for, one against and one abstention.

Jeffrey Rolle also discussed the Assembly for Formation, requesting a complete and detailed analysis of those entering formation on the Unit level. They should be looked at through five dimensions (human, spiritual, community, academic and pastoral ministry). He said that there needed to be more of a Redemptorist spirituality/identity emphasis used in formatting our men. Later the Formation Ratio was presented and discussed. Mike Smolinski noted we are moving away from the term “theologate” in San Antonio and instead referring to it as Post-Formation House to be more sensitive to Brothers.

The Conference Council election was also held and Kevin O’Neil (Baltimore) and Mike Smolinski (Canada) were added to the council along with existing members John Fahey (Denver) and Dominic Long (Ex Patrium). Afterward, Anne Walsh spoke about the Secretariats for Partners in Mission, which has two new co-chairs Wendy Barnes (Denver) and Francis Garganni C.Ss.R. (Baltimore). The secretariat’s next gathering will be in Tucson November 22-24.

On Wednesday, September 25, Charles Duval, Provincial of Canada, gave a presentation on the current state of the Ste Anne de Beaupre shrine. Canada currently doesn’t have enough men to operate the shrine and is hoping for a possible international partnership of Redemptorist to help staff the shrine. Charles also discussed all of the various properties the shrine currently owns and how they are being utilized.

Charles Duval’s presentation was followed by Charlie Wehrley’s (Denver) presentation as the new Communications Director of the North American Conference. Because he began his position on September 1, the presentation was primarily about his communications background in lay life as an Assistant Press Secretary to the Kentucky Court of Justice and to the Mayor of Louisville, Kentucky. He also discussed his vision for the position. Afterward, the assembly offered ideas for moving forward with internal Redemptorist communications first, followed by external communications.

On Wednesday afternoon Santo Arrigo gave a presentation on Youth Ministry in Canada, primarily at St. Patrick’s in Toronto. The name of the youth group there is now called Ignite and has various gatherings for youth including Pub Nights (like Theology on Tap), Bible and Beer Scripture Study, Table for Two (for married couples) and a singles night. There will be a retreat at San Alfonso in 2020. There is the hope of expanding this ministry across the Conference.

On Thursday, September 26, the Assembly discussed possible initiatives, including 1) a home church ministry offered by John Phelps C.Ss.R. in Detroit; 2) A Ste Anne de  Beaupre out-reach to youth and native Canadians initiative; 3) A youth project headed Santo Arrigo, and 4) and an immigrants initiative. After much discussion, the immigrant initiative seemed to be most popular among members.

The meeting concluded with a group picture of all the participants.

Charlie Wehrley, CSsR.

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