As the Associate Director of Pastoral Formation for Seminarians at the Saint Paul Seminary, Sister Charlotte Berres, CSJ, D.Min. has worked with seminarians since 1999 to prepare them for pastoral care and to provide them with evangelization opportunities in the local community.
She has watched as many Twin Cities parishes have become more diverse with greater populations of immigrants, especially on the east side of St. Paul. One such parish, Blessed Sacrament, was selected to be the site for a summer evangelization program developed for seminarian formation. To effectively evangelize to the surrounding neighborhood of Blessed Sacrament she knew residents would need to hear from Catholics in their native languages. That gave Sr. Charlotte an idea.
She turned to three young women she knew from the Catholic Women’s Community (CWC), a joint effort between St. Catherine University students and several CSJ sisters, offering spiritual formation for young women through communal living. Fluent in Hmong and Spanish with hearts on fire for the Faith, these young women would be the perfect companions for the seminarians evangelizing at Blessed Sacrament. And the experience would pair perfectly with the CWC’s rigorous curriculum on the methodology of evangelization. Sr. Charlotte applied for a grant from the Catholic Community Foundation (CCF) to see if her idea could become a reality.
In June 2016, her project received a grant from CCF’s Guild of Catholic Women’s Endowment. One of the endowment’s goals is to build healthy communities by supporting immigrant needs.
The three women quickly got to work preparing for five weeks of summer outreach, which included preparing handouts and inviting neighbors to attend weekly activities at Blessed Sacrament ranging from games and social events to opportunities for prayer and faith formation.
Paired with parishioners, the young women and seminarians visited more than 2,300 homes during their outreach, honing their listening and evangelization skills, taking prayer requests and developing the ability to approach strangers in a multi-cultural setting. They also documented demographic information to help parish leaders better understand the community around them.
“These women are going out, knocking on doors, getting to know the people. They’re identifying the needs of the elders and the needs of the poor and the needs of the immigrants. It just made such wonderful sense, especially since Sisters of St. Joseph strive to ‘divide the city and identify the needs,'” Sr. Charlotte said about the grant.
Senior Hillary Lor, a Hmong-American who grew up on St. Paul’s east side, said she felt empowered by the program as she ministered in her own neighborhood. “I wanted people to know that you can be both Hmong and Catholic,” she said.
In addition to their on the ground evangelization, the young women spent time in the classroom and out touring with Sr. Charlotte learning about the history of evangelization, beginning with Jesus’ own ministry and following the thread to the arrival of the Sisters of St. Joseph and the leadership of Bishop John Ireland.
Junior Ruth Lopez from Portland, Oregon said that Sr. Charlotte’s seminars helped her approach her outreach efforts strategically.
“We learned day-by-day what the earlier evangelizers did. It was more about being neighbors. That’s a perspective that we implemented when we went out,” said Lopez, who considers her Spanish-speaking abilities a “handy gift” that helped build relationships.
Reflecting on the grant from CCF, Sr. Charlotte speaks to the importance of female leadership in the Church, recalling the example of her own mother and aunts in the early and mid-1900s. “It’s our duty,” she said, “to pass on the basics of the faith to future generations. That’s evangelizing.”
“We are not just in the now,” she said. “We build on the past, and this grant allowed these women to continue that tradition of preparing women for future service in the church.”