Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
September 7, 2009
Pastoral Priest welcomes the laity
Ministering his flock for 49 years, this warm, retired priest still fills in for parishes, even in Australia
One can learn a lot of theology from books, courses and programs, he said. "But the best theology is learned through the lives of the people we serve."
Before the Vatican II reforms, only the priest could touch the host. But Stein relishes laying the Body of Christ in the aging hands of a grandmother or the rough hands of a bricklayer.
"They're coming to receive Jesus in their brokenness through the broken bread of Christ."
Then there is the sharing of ministry with lay people through sacramental preparation.
He recalls working with 12 couples three times a year at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Sherwood Park to prepare young couples for marriage.
He speaks with awe of the couples who led the preparation returning one very cold winter night to evaluate the session, pray and have a potluck supper. They had great concern for the young couples and were open to any suggestions on how to improve the program.
"What a beautiful sign of hope for the Church!"
Other lay people helped to prepare people to enter the Church through the RCIA at Easter. "It is so very meaningful, the Easter Vigil. You see new life coming into the Church."
Parents also lead baptismal preparation, he noted. "At one time, we just baptized whoever came - no questions asked. Now people are being challenged to reflect on what Baptism is all about."
For the priest, the change in the type of ministry required has been dramatic: "It's really important today that the priest has to be pastoral and be with the people helping them grow into Christ."
Stein's reflection on the roots of priestly vocations is direct: "It starts at home - the respect for the Church and respect for priests."
That's certainly the way his own vocation began. Raised in north Edmonton's Calder neighbourhood, young Don's grandparents read stories to him at a young age about missionaries from Catholic magazines.
But when he was six, his father went overseas in the Second World War. His mother was ill and Don was placed in the Atonement Home run by the Franciscan Sisters for five years.
"The sisters were there to encourage you." Sister Clare Marie took the young boys to beg for food, read them stories from the Bible and taught them to be "young gentlemen."
At nearby St. Alphonsus Church, he was a dedicated altar boy, sometimes serving three Masses at once.
So perhaps it wasn't surprising when after graduating from high school, Stein joined the Redemptorists and was sent to their minor seminary in Brockville, Ont.
By the first Christmas, he was homesick and tired of the strict life. He decided to leave.
But the formation director, Father Bedard, had noticed all the mail Stein was receiving. He told his protégé, "A lot of people are writing you. They are supporting you in your priesthood. Maybe they see something in you that you don't see in yourself."
"That was a turning point for me," Stein said.
He spent another two years with the Redemptorists before realizing his call was to be a diocesan priest.
"Archbishop MacDonald said, 'You'd better come home where you belong."
First, he studied at St. Joseph Seminary, at that time on 110th Street in downtown Edmonton, and later went to the Grand Seminaire in St. Boniface so he could study in French.
There he studied under the fatherly presence of the future Cardinal Edouard Gagnon and served in grand High Masses celebrated by Archbishop Maurice Baudoux.
Today, many decades later, the retired Father Stein is still not quite retired. He spent the first two months of his retirement helping out in parishes in Western Australia and now spells off priests who need a break.
A TIME OF PEACE
But he relishes an end to the constant meetings a pastor must attend and enjoys his corner apartment in Villa Vianney with its million-dollar view of downtown Edmonton.
"Dear Lord, thank you for spoiling me," he says of his modest, but modern apartment.
Always optimistic, Stein sees good things for the future in the larger number of seminarians today. "These young guys who are coming in, we are so proud of them."
He hopes that one day soon, priests will again be seen as heroes.
"It's God's Church. We've been through some crises. But now it's hopeful. We're marching on."
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