Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 19, 2000
Walls came tumbling down
Grad says Bible school lifted her out of prison of drugs, alcohol
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Jolene Lefebvre of Barrhead came to John Paul II Bible School a year ago at the suggestion of her parish priest.
The 22-year-old had undergone many struggles with drugs and alcohol and needed help.
"I knew God was there but I kept pushing him away because he had the truth but I was scared of the truth," she said in an interview. "I had no other option but to come (to John Paul) because I had pretty much built walls around me and no one could reach me. I felt trapped."
The reasoning behind Lefebvre's coming to the Bible school was that she would find Jesus and straighten out her life.
It worked. "(The school) changed my life," she said. "Now I know God has a plan for me."
Lefebvre was one of 30 students from Alberta, Saskatchewan, British Columbia and parts of the United States who graduated with a diploma in sacred studies from John Paul II Bible School June 11.
In addition to life in community, the one-year program offers courses in Church history, Scripture, the sacraments and even a bit of psychology. Another six students graduated from the two-year diploma in spirituality and ministry studies program.
About 450 people attended the graduation ceremony at Radway's Agriplex. The event was preceded by a one-and-half-hour long Mass of thanksgiving presided by Father Walter Laliberty, administrator of the St. Paul Diocese, with the help of Fathers Joseph Goutier and Sylvain Casavant.
One by one the graduates paraded on the podium of the Agriplex to receive their diplomas and to give a 30-second highlight for the year.
"All I yearn right now is to be holy," a sobbing Lefebvre told the expectant crowd. She also revealed God's immediate plan for her: missionary work.
"So from not knowing who I was, from being very angry, from not wanting Jesus around me, I'm now going to Louisiana in August (to prepare) to be a missionary in Mexico," she told the WCR.
That's right, a lay Catholic missionary. Following a brief formation period in Abbeville, La., Lefebvre go to Mexico for a year to do missionary work among the poor.
John Paul II Bible School is known for having transformed the lives of many young people like Lefebvre over the years. Some 500 students have graduated from the school in the last 15 years with many going on to start new ministries or to join existing ones.
Lefebvre said her transformation didn't come easily. "It was very hard at first because I had to go through 12 spiritual steps and that brings out your past and things that God wants you to see," she said.
"It's very hard but the rewards are great. You have constant Christian community, you have adoration everyday, you have Mass every morning and you have teachers from all over North America coming to teach you."
Added Lefebvre: "This experience totally changed me. It transformed me to whom God wants me to be. It's no longer the world that forms me but Jesus Christ."
Kristy-Lea Westgeest of Calahoo also claims to have been transformed by her year at John Paul. "The change is so great it's hard to even describe it," the 20-year-old said. "You feel so much love here that you want to go into the world and share it with everyone else."
Westgeest said the experience changed her outlook and the way she feels about other people.
"I feel God has replaced my heart of stone with a heart so full of love that's undescribable," she said. "I just want to go all over the place and spread this love to everyone else and tell them how much Jesus loves them."
Westgeest plans to spend some time doing street ministry in Edmonton before going into youth counselling, her long-term career goal.
Darryl Way, a former evangelical protestant who became a Catholic a year ago, said John Paul School helped him discover the meaning of Christian community.
"I'm very impressed," the 23-year-old Calgary man said. "It helped me grow spiritually and socially, giving me a whole new perspective on my relationships with both people and God."
Cheryl Heffernan of Fort McMurray confessed that when her parents suggested that she come to John Paul last year she was shocked. "I would rather die," she said at the time.
But she prayed to God and he pointed her in the direction of Radway. Now she is glad she followed him.
"I went from feeling that I had to earn people's love to knowing that God loves me unconditionally," the 19-year-old said. "It's a wonderful feeling to know that God loves me regardless."
John Paul's associate director John Connelly urged the graduates to look to Jesus for guidance and to follow him every step of the way.
"The most important thing in life is to know where we are going and how we are going to get there," he said. "Jesus is the one who will get you there. Listen to Jesus everyday of your lives and become one with him."