2024 North American Conference’s Annual Student Gathering: Unification Starts with Formation

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by Huy Pham & Andrew Tran-Chung

In the hot and dry desert of Tucson last week, May 20-24, the Denver Province’s Redemptorist Renewal Center hosted the North American Conference’s annual Student Gathering. Students from the Conference’s four houses of formation represented four Units: Denver, Baltimore, Canada and the Extra-Patriam Vice Province. We reveled in the shared Redemptorist way of life, and focused on building community – the one pillar of formation that is truly essential.

Last year, Msgr. Stephen Bosso led conferences on preaching and the essential tools necessary to prepare homilies, mission talks and reflections. This year, Fr. Kevin O’Neil led the students on an exploration of Moral Theology through an Alphonsian lens. He showed us the intricacies of moral theology and St. Alphonsus’ humanistic and mercy-focused approach to morality. We were encouraged to practice the skills we learned to navigate moral theology with a case study and a group discussion. Students gathered into four groups and elected speakers to present their findings and discussions at the final conference. Steven Urban, Cody Hill, Huy Pham and Andrew Tran-Chung presented their respective group’s conclusions.

Central to the purpose of the annual Student Gathering is the intermingling of communities and the building of relationships between Units. This year, we were privileged to be joined by Br. Larry Lujan and Fr. Paul Bao Vinh, General Consultors for North America and Asia-Oceania; Fr. Kevin Zubel, Provincial Superior of the Denver Province; Fr. John Collins, Provincial Superior of the Baltimore Province; Fr. Santo Arrigo, Vicar Provincial of the Province of Canada; and Fr. Thomas Ha, Vicar Provincial of the Extra-Patriam Vice Province; and their respective Councils. Formators from the four houses of formation and vocation directors also joined the gathering for afternoon meetings with their individual leadership teams.

The Redemptorist Renewal Center in Tucson is situated on 132 acres of beautiful desert-scape, filled with cacti and beautiful flora. We were privileged to be there during the spring season, so bright flowers were blooming on almost every plant. We may have attended conferences and celebrated liturgies, but the Student Gathering is primarily designed to help us build community. Various groups of students formed to explore Tucson and the surrounding desert. Fr. Greg May, Pre-Novitiate formation co-director in the Bronx, led students on early morning hikes along the wash, up to an abandoned mine, and through the desert bush. Some students visited the San Xavier del Bac Mission Church, the Pima Air and Space Museum, and even braved the midday sun for a hike.

We began each day with Morning Prayer together, and ended the day with the liturgy. Andrew Tran-Chung led the Wednesday Devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help and we all gathered for a group picture with all the attendees one afternoon. On the final day, 13 students renewed their vows at the Mass – five for Extra Patriam, three (Scott Partin, Steven Urban and Antonio Montoya) for Denver, one for Baltimore, and three for Canada.

The Student Gathering remains the one opportunity for students to reestablish bonds and comradery with class- mates from other Units that will help ensure our future collaboration in ministry. As our Provinces and the Vice Province look toward joining together, the Student Gathering is one of many events that will facilitate unification at formation, the most basic level. We hope our confreres attending the 55 and under Gathering in Mexico this August will get the same chance to come together and bond over a common mission.

Courtesy Denverlink, May 31, 2024.