Sr. Nida Fe Chavez, CSJ
1) Where are you from and what series of events led you to live in Toronto?
My name is Nida Fe Chavez. I was born in Manila, Philippines. I am the eldest of five children. I have one sister and three brothers. Both my parents came from Cuenca, Batangas, which is in Luzon.
I came from a poor family but was blessed to attend a Catholic high school, funded by my aunt, Lucia. While in high school, I felt a call to religious life but dismissed it because I wanted to help send my siblings to school. After working for several years, I realised that we were still living a hand-to-mouth existence. I knew then that I would have to leave the country to help my family. I had many challenges in my journey from the Philippines to Canada. I almost gave up. But finally, with help from a family friend, I was accepted by the Canadian Embassy. On March 27, 1988, I arrived in Toronto as a landed immigrant and started working two weeks later.
2) Tell us about your call to religious life.
Several years after migrating to Toronto, I sponsored my parents and siblings. My parents were happy here with their children and grandchildren.
My life was good and money was no longer a problem. I was content until 1997. I felt a restlessness that I could not explain. It was as if I was looking for something but I did not know what. I thought I needed to change my job. My restlessness brought me to a church one evening. At that time St. Martin de Porres was my parish. That's where I met Sr. Mary Rose Marrin, CSJ. I told her that I would like to become a sister, but it might be too late. I was 37 years old. Sr. Mary Rose told me "no, it's not too late." She introduced me to the vocation director, Sr. Pat Boucher, CSJ. I experienced joy and peace whenever I joined the Sisters of St. Joseph for prayer, supper and fellowship. I met with the vocations director regularly to discern my call. I attended weekend retreats and met with a spiritual director. I met other Sisters of St. Joseph in their homes and places of ministry.
In April 1998, I moved in with the Sisters at the Walmer Road community to explore living in community. Unfortunately, my mother died suddenly in May that year. This event broke my heart and I could not continue my discernment. I moved out. Two years later, I continued my discernment with the Sisters of St. Joseph. I entered the novitiate in 2002, made my first vows in 2004 and final vows in 2009.
3) There are so many religious orders. Why did you choose the Sisters of St. Joseph? What do you find attractive about their charism?
During my discernment, I attended the Called by Name Program, where I met sisters from different orders but I still felt the call to join the Sisters of St. Joseph.
I was attracted to their charism of unity and reconciliation or unifying love. Our charism is to unite people with one another and with God through the unifying love of Jesus.
When I was in the novitiate, I learned that I was attracted to the charism of the Sisters of St. Joseph because that charism was already a part of me. I received that charism from my parents, who lived to be reconcilers and unifiers in our family. It was a moment of gratitude that my desire to serve through the charism of the Sisters of St. Joseph was a gift from God through my parents.
4) What is the main mission of the Sisters of St. Joseph and what sorts of ministries do they have in the Archdiocese of Toronto?
Our Identity and Mission Statement is as follows:
"The love of Christ gathers us together to live in communion with all. As a community of women we are sent to serve those in need in simplicity and compassion."
We live our mission of unifying love through our commitment to ministry. Our Shared Ministerial Commitment is as follows:
"We seek to nurture community with our neighbour especially with the homeless, the alienated, the economically poor and our wounded earth."
Our commitment to these statements has led our community to establish many social and pastoral ministries. These services reach out to those in need in our time in our society.
Social Outreach Ministries – Fontbonne Ministries
Fontbonne Ministries, established in 2000, is the response of our community to address the current social needs in Toronto. It is named after our foundress, Mother Delphine Fontbonne, who came to Toronto with three other sisters of St. Joseph in 1851. Fontbonne Ministries include: Faith Connections, Fontbonne Place, In Good Company, Mustard Seed, Studio on the Hill and Village Mosaic.
We also have Ministry for Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation. As a community, we have chosen to focus on three areas of concern and these include: human trafficking, peace and climate change.
Pastoral/Spiritual Ministries include:
Art Ministry, Parish Ministry (several of our sisters contribute to the life of many parishes and they serve in different capacities), Maturing Adults' Ministry, Vocation Ministry (retreats, visiting high schools, spiritual direction) and Spiritual Direction.
5) What sort of work do you do as pastoral associate at St. Paul's Basilica? What other roles do you have in your order?
I started at St. Paul's in September 2013. As pastoral associate, I visited the children at St. Paul's school and assisted with the breakfast club. I also visited the sick and homebound. I met, journeyed with and catechised people seeking to become Catholic and those being confirmed as adults. I met with people wanting to share their struggles.
In May 2014, I was elected to the leadership of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto. This new role has reduced the time I can spend in parish ministry, however, I still come on weekends to welcome people at the door before Masses, be present to children during Liturgy of the Word for Children, coordinate the Taize group and ensure there are volunteers for coffee Sunday. I also come for special feast days such as Christmas, Ash Wednesday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday.
Sr. Nida welcomes parishioners at St. Paul's Basilica
6) What is your favourite thing about being a religious sister? What do you find hard?
My favourite thing is gathering with the sisters for communal celebration days such as St. Joseph's Day, the feast of our foundresses, Mother St. Jean and Mother Delphine Fontbonne and other congregation days. We pray together and celebrate with gratitude.
I find it challenging when the commitments of family, friends and community conflict because my priority is my commitment to the sisters and my ministries.
7) 2015 has been declared the Year of Consecrated Life in the Church. What is your hope for this year of celebration?
It is my hope that women and men who are being called by God to religious life will be able to respond with freedom, openness and a discerning heart.
In terms of what is happening in the world, it is my hope that we continue to pray for peace and conversion of hearts for those who are led astray. May we receive the grace to forgive and engage in dialogue and the process of reconciliation. It is my hope that this year, religious women and men will continue to trust in the love and mercy of our loving and gracious God.
8) What would you say to a young woman considering a call to religious life?
Come and see! Open your hearts to Jesus, who called us to be in communion with him. Do not be afraid, God is with you and God's plan for you is for peace.
Your dream is God's dream for you. God is waiting….. patiently and longing for your "yes" to say "here I am Lord."