Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 13, 2005
A 'living saint' hands in her her keys
Sr. Annata Brockman is leaving St. Joseph's Basilica to work with the sick and the dying
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
Hundreds of people have been baptized or deepened their faith because of Sister Annata Brockman who served the last 25 years as pastoral assistant at St. Joseph's Basilica. She humbly claims to have had little importance, saying she is only the Lord's instrument.
But as the driving force behind establishing the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults at the basilica 23 years ago - and later the Journey Through Life program - Brockman has touched thousands of people.
It is difficult to think of the basilica and not picture her greeting everyone with her spirited smile. But we will have to - very soon. The petite woman Father Michael McCaffery calls "a living saint" will retire from full activity June 30. A celebration in her honour will be held at the basilica June 26 following the 12:15 p.m. Mass.
Hand in her keys
"Yes, I am handing in my keys," said Brockman, 77. "I think it is time to start the last part of my life. There are so many people who are sick and dying I should see. I will stay in service trying to visit them so they die peacefully and are not afraid; or less afraid," she said.
The basilica will remain her home parish. Brockman will continue to attend daily Mass. But she will no longer be the one greeting everyone as they enter. That change will take some getting used to.
"Maybe next year when I'm more adjusted to the last part of my life, I might volunteer to be on one of the committees at the basilica. But for now, I'll see what I can do for the sick."
During his six years as rector of the basilica, McCaffery worked closely with Brockman. McCaffery was amazed by how she treats people. "She is probably the only living saint I know. She lives the Gospel. She is open to everybody. Sister Annata has a real gift to accept people where they are at and the ability and skill to move them forward in their spiritual journeys. And she moves them gently and calmly," he said.
The belief that when Jesus left the earth, he left us to carry on his work motivates Brockman every morning.
"When I get out of bed, I never know whose life God is going to touch that day, through each of us. Whoever it is, I just try not to get in the Lord's way. Every human being is here to carry on his work," she said.
When Brockman went to the basilica in 1980, the RCIA program was just beginning in the archdiocese. Brockman and the pastoral team studied what was happening and developed a program suited for the basilica.
"I don't think I ever had a year when we had less than 20 people all looking into becoming Catholic," she said.
Bringing a person into the Catholic faith is the Lord's work and not hers, she said. She says she was only God's instrument.
"I am indeed happy for them because no matter how they are, the closer their relationship is with God where they are not afraid and God is a friend, they will be infinitely happier."
Brockman estimates some 500 people have taken the RCIA program at the basilica. But she does not use numbers to measure the program's success. Rather, she watches people as they are immersed into Catholic life, bringing their loved ones with them.
She worked one on one with some whose schedules did not accommodate the regular RCIA process. Brockman adjusted her own time to fit, from pilots to ministers of other faiths. She took them in personally, bringing them up to date with what they had missed.
As a truck driver interested in becoming Catholic, Father Arlan Parenteau, now associate pastor at St. Thomas More Parish, was often unavailable for regular RCIA gatherings. When he spoke to Brockman, she told him if the program did not fit his work, then the program must adapt.
"If the Lord sends someone who wants to be baptized, somebody has to help them," she said. "You can't say no because they don't fit into a certain type of box. I would never refuse to at least try and take in those who don't fit. And they never forget it. They are often so grateful and they participate so well in Church life. I always tell them to go out and get more because the program is only touching the surface," she said.
"And look at Arlan. Now he is a priest and a pastor."
"Sister Annata helped me because I was always out of town," Parenteau said.
"She put together a program specifically for me. She took three or four hours out of her day to guide me. She sacrificed her own time just for me, giving me special attention. She has a very special love for Jesus and her kindness is almost
super-natural. I have the highest respect for her."
Born in Middle Lake, Sask., Brockman was the eighth in a close family of 12 children. She was a happy child, doing what her parents asked of her.
Brockman had no plans to enter religious life. Like most young women around her, she looked forward to marriage and having children. But whenever she was alone, she had thoughts of religious life. She dismissed them, thinking that was not for her.
One day during Mass, the thought came so strongly that she could no longer say "no."
Brockman said her parents told her to follow God's call. She had two aunts who belonged to a religious order. They suggested Brockman join them. But Brockman knew her heart was with the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul (Halifax) because the community was comprised of teachers and nurses.
She was 18.
"As in a marriage, not just any man or any woman will do. It has to be the right one. In a religious community, if you really believe this is where God is calling you, not any community will do. It has to be the one where the Lord will work through you to reach out to his people," she said.
"My mother and father taught us that we should try to find out what is God's call for us and whatever it is, nothing stands in the way."
When the family moved to Kelowna in an attempt to improve her father's failing health, Brockman was introduced to the Sisters of Charity.
"The sisters were the only community in Kelowna and I was there only one year." Brockman described the sequence of events as "providential."
"To me, a call is not a person's choice only. The Lord said, 'You did not choose me. I chose you.' "
Brockman took a week-long train ride from Kelowna to Nova Scotia after she was convinced she had a vocation for religious life.
She went on to become a teacher, spending some 32 years travelling from Nova Scotia to British Columbia. She taught in Edmonton Catholic schools, with 14 years as principal of St. Mark, St. Dominic and St. Andrew schools.
Before joining the basilica, Brockman served St. Andrew's Parish in numerous ways, from chairing the senior citizens committee to serving on parish council.
So many ways to serve
At the basilica, Brockman was responsible for educational and sacramental programs for school children. She recently instituted the Journey Through Life program because more and more Catholics today are adults getting married where one or both partners have never been confirmed.
Brockman said they do not fit into the RCIA program because they are Catholic. She thought there needed to be a program for those people that would renew and deepen their faith.
The six-week session was originally set up to finish just before Christmas but it became so popular, Brockman had to include another one during Lent.
"It has given them a new desire to practise their faith and to raise their families in that faith," she said. "We develop a bond and we trust each other."
Brockman trusts everyone. It is one of her greatest strengths. Opening her soul unconditionally is her way of experiencing the joy of others. She said she always tries to keep her word.
"The highlight of my life is working with people," Brockman said. "The Lord left the world in our hands and we are to do what we can to bring it to fulfillment. And that's not just creation. It's people. It doesn't matter who we are with or whether we are in an airport or in an office. Whoever is in our presence is important."
She values peace highly. In fact, her car's front licence plate holder reads 'Peace be with you.'
Brockman said most people who read it wave to her.
"I wish to be available to help people appreciate and experience a little more peace in this busy world," she said. "They say we are the word of God to people and we are the only Bible some people will ever read.
"Just by the way we care about people should be enough and we should speak with words, if and only when necessary."
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