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Society of St. Edmund's 175th anniversary

As the Society of St. Edmund celebrates the 175th anniversary of its founding in France, its members continue to serve God with zeal.
“That zeal was in our DNA right from the beginning,” said Father Stephen Hornat, superior general of the order based at St. Michael’s College in Colchester.  “Our founders were holy men with passion for the faith and the priesthood. … I see that same zeal playing out” in current Edmundite missions of education, social justice, spiritual renewal and pastoral ministry.
The Society of St. Edmund began in a rural region of France to revitalize the faith of people who had become increasingly alienated from the Catholic Church. The founder, Father Jean-Baptiste Muard, began the society at St. Mary’s Abbey in Pontigny, the final resting place of St. Edmund of Canterbury.
The arm of St. Edmund, once enshrined at St. Michael’s College then at Nativity of the Blessed Mary Church in Swanton (once staffed by the Edmundites), is now at the order’s Enders Island retreat center in Connecticut.
At the end of the 19th century as politics became increasingly hostile toward religious orders, the Society of St. Edmund decided to establish a new ministry in Canada, ministering to the French-speaking Catholics in Quebec.
Later asked to serve the French-speaking Catholics of northern Vermont, the Edmundites established several parishes and St. Michael’s College in Vermont.
The order also provided priests to minister in Venezuela for many years; the last Edmundite to serve there returned to the United States in July after 51 years.
The order currently has 25 members – priests and brothers -- most living in Vermont.
Edmundites serve in parish ministry in Selma, Ala., and in retreat house administration in Mystic, Conn. In Vermont they serve at St. Michael’s College – an educational institution the order founded – and in churches in Essex Junction, Essex Center, Putney, Townshend, Stratton, Hinesburg, Charlotte and Winooski. They also run St. Anne’s Shrine in Isle LaMotte.
Their ministries are diverse, but all seek to make God known and loved in deep and meaningful ways.
Looking to the future, Father Hornat noted that after the order’s foundation, members lived together at a monastery and went out to do their ministry, so he would like to return to the spirit of that foundation by strengthening community life. “Nicolle Hall [the order’s residence and headquarters at St. Michael’s College] is going to be the new Pontigny,” he said, where members will focus on community and prayer life and have an increased presence on campus. “When we can be strong as a religious community, we can make an impact in evangelization. We need to be that witness. We need to find our strength and our sustenance in community life and prayer.”
Zeal, he added, “is a contagious quality we have in the community.”
Among the future events to celebrate the 175 anniversary of the founding of the Society of St. Edmund is an St. Edmund’s Lecture and Reception Nov. 15 at St. Michael’s College; a Nov. 16 Mass at the college’s Chapel of St. Michael the Archangel; a heritage trip to France in May 2018; a July 3, 2018, Mass and picnic at Holy Family Church in Essex Junction marking the beginning of the Edmundite community; and the Aug. 15, 2018, closing of the anniversary year at the shrine.
For more information, call the Edmundite Generalate at 802-654-3400.
  • Published in Diocesan

Society of St. Edmund opens anniversary celebration

The Gospel story about the apostles in a boat on a stormy Sea of Galilee is essentially the story of a French religious order’s early decades after its founding 175 years ago – or, for that matter, of those founders’ spiritual heirs at a Vermont Catholic college in 2017, suggested the homilist for a historically significant Holy Day celebration at St. Anne’s Shrine in Isle LaMotte Aug. 15.
“Men of great faith invited by Jesus to come across turbulent waters” is how Edmundite Father Stephen Hornat, the Society of St. Edmund’s superior general, put it during the well-attended, late-morning Feast of the Assumption Mass at the shrine.
The liturgy officially began a year of events to note the 175th anniversary of the Edmundites’ 1843 founding at a humble and ruined former Cistercian Abbey in Pontigny, France, by Fathers Jean Baptiste Muard and Pierre Boyer, French diocesan priests who, as Fathr Hornat described, dedicated their lives to evangelism, the caretaking of holy shrines and, most significantly on this Marian Feast, to the intercessory protection and aid of Mary, the Mother of Jesus.
A parishioner at Winooski’s St. Stephen Church had asked him why not have the Mass at the Edmundite-founded St. Michael’s College rather than the Edmundite-administered shrine, Father Hornat said in his homily. “When I thought about it, the longest running ministry that Edmundites had during our 175-year history, wasn’t education, wasn’t retreat work, wasn’t administering parishes, but rather, caretakers of shrines (including Mont St. Michel in France and St. Anne’s in Vermont).”
Yet all those vital pieces of the Edmundites’ history and present mission were represented at the Mass. Most of the St. Michael’s College-based Edmundite community concelebrated, numbering a dozen or more priests and brothers, including those who administer nearby parishes. Present also were many current and former administrators of St. Michael’s College and other faculty, staff and alumni.
Father Hornat’s homily shed light on the order’s name and mission from its history: How St. Edmund is buried over the main altar at Pontigny Abbey where Fathers Muard and Boyer first gathered; that originally, the Edmundites were called the Oblates of the Sacred Heart; that Pontigny Abbey happened to be named in honor of St. Mary of the Assumption, “by coincidence or divine intervention,” making the day’s feast most significant to the group; or that the group didn’t become officially recognized as a Church religious order (rather than just a diocesan group) until 1876, and they didn’t become “Fathers of St. Edmund” until 1907.
Another guest for the day was a scholar of the history and legacy of St. Edmund who also is Anglican chaplain of St. Edmund Hall, Oxford – Rev. Will Donaldson, who at a reception and light lunch following Mass said he is traveling to sites related to the 12th/13th-century namesake of the place where he is chaplain.
As to his interest in Edmund given his present position, he said, “I was thinking I need to find out about him … and the more I look, the more I like it … I want to find out everything I can about him; so I’m over here in Vermont really to chat to people, meet the Edmundites, and particularly ask the question, ‘What is it about the life of St. Edmund that continues to inspire you today?’”
He said he and his wife are touring North America as part of research for what he expects to be about a 10,000-word short book on Edmund in three sections: first, a brief historical survey of Edmund’s life and ministry; second, a look at his character through the lens of the Beatitudes, “because I think he hits the Beatitudes on every point – the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the pure in heart, those who are persecuted, these kinds of things are his characteristics;” – and third, a look at how St. Edmund continues to influence Christian communities today, including in Vermont.
Other events relating to the Edmundite 175th anniversary in the coming year will include:
Nov. 15: St. Edmund’s Lecture and Reception at St. Michael's College.
Nov. 16: Mass at the Chapel of St. Michael the Archangel, St. Michael's College (Feast of St. Edmund).
May 13-21, 2018: Heritage Trip to France, led by Edmundite Father Marcel Rainville.
July 3, 2018: Celebration marking Fathers Muard and Bravard moving into the Cistercian Abbey in Pontigny. Mass and picnic at Holy Family Church, Essex Junction.
Aug. 15, 2018: Closing of the Anniversary Year; Mass and reception at St. Anne’s Shrine in Isle LaMotte.

St. Stephen Parish in Winooski is a model of Bishop's Fund success

Gone are the days when members of a parish committee went door-to-door to collect for the annual Bishop’s Fund appeal; there simply isn’t parish-level personnel support to do that. So the Diocese of Burlington depends on the parish leadership -- particularly the pastors -- to promote the appeal within the parish.
There are several phases to the appeal. The Leadership and Major Gift phase takes place during the final week in April; at the end of May the official kickoff coincides with the In-Pew phase. The largest mailing phase with more than 30,000 letters goes out in July and is then followed by two additional phases.
When looking at parish successes, Shannon Tran, assistant director of appeals and operations for the Diocese of Burlington, immediately thinks of St. Stephen Parish in Winooski.
With 162 registered families – 80 percent of which are considered active in their parish to some degree – the parish had a Bishop’s Fund participation rate of 66 percent, “much higher than the participation rate of the entire appeal diocesan-wide, which is only about 35 percent,” Tran pointed out. “By the second week in June, they’d exceeded their goal!”
St. Stephen’s was the first parish to do so.
“We all have [Edmundite] Father [Stephen] Hornat [the pastor] to praise for that,” said parishioner Jocelyn Barton. “He has a way when he explains things to bring them to your perspective…. He speaks from the heart.”
She said not only did he prepare parishioners ahead of time for the In-Pew phase of the collection, he inspires people by the way he acts and speaks.
Father Hornat served as pastor of Queen of Peace Parish in Selma, Ala., from 2011-2014, and there parishes had only one month to complete the annual Archdiocese of Mobile fundraising appeal. “I was used to making a big pitch and promotion for the In-Pew weekend,” he said. “I relied on my experience from the South.”
He told St. Stephen parishioners he thought the Bishop’s Fund could be wrapped up in a month, and they responded positively. “I thought if we could do it in Mobile, we could do it here,” he said. “That was my goal.”
For the most recent appeal, St. Stephen’s had an average pledge of $240, a 13 percent increase from 2014. That is a 23 percent increase in pledge total for the parish from 2014, part of what Tran called a “steady increase over a three-year period.”
More than 80 percent of pledges were made in May and June.
“Overall, they’ve increased in giving, yes, but in doing so they give themselves so much more opportunity for event planning and promotion of parish collections and national collections because they have fulfilled their annual appeal participation obligation,” Tran said.  “There is a cost for managing donor lists, address verification, printing and of course postage. The earlier we apply pledges to a parish’s goal, the less follow-up is required by the diocese and parishes.”
The diocese and parishes work together to ensure parishioner data is correct throughout the year.
Father Hornat said people were surprised the parish made its goal in about three weeks. “When I told the people, they applauded,” he said. “I said, ‘see what we can do when we put our minds to it.’”
To foster success with the appeal, pastors are given promotional materials directly, and parish administrators are given at least weekly communications with bulletin requests and pulpit announcements from the Diocesan Office of Development and Communications. This includes a manual for assistance in appeal promotion, a video with the bishop’s message, updated information about appeal outcomes from the prior year, a statement about fund designation and in-pew materials.
  • Published in Diocesan
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