Ciao, Roma! Hello T.O.

Thank you for all of your prayers! I am happy to report that Leanna and I are safe and sound back in Toronto- and back at work! My what a change of pace this adjustment has been for us. Monday morning, I woke up at 5:30am totally ready to start the day. By 9:00am, I brought my youthful exuberance into the office, began feverishly replying to emails and voicemails, and yet by our 2:00pm staff meeting, I was pretty tired. However, now our jet lag has improved and we’re back on EST for the most part. Although unlike Leanna who lives like a normal 20 something, I still appreciate an early bedtime.

I think I write for both of us when I report that our medieval monastery in Sansepolcro, a small town in Tuscany, though charmingly rustic, made us yearn for our own beds and showers. It was very cold at night and there were too many spiders everywhere.

Our very last night in Sansepolcro was quite the adventure. We wandered the streets, said goodbye to a statue of Italian mathematician Luca Pacioli, appreciated the beauty of Piero della Francesca’s frescoes, and treated ourselves to not one, not two, but three scoops of delicious pistachio gelato. As you can tell, we. went. wild.

After a 6:00am wake-up call and a 4 hour bus ride back to Rome, we arrived at the Roma Marriott as we began the countdown to our flight home. We really did our best to soak up the price of the hotel (hello long showers, free wifi in the lobby, and poolside tanning). However, sadly, the hotel won out in the end as Leanna and I had a serious case of ‘hangriness.’ We had no choice but to opt for one of three choices on an absurdly expensive bar menu (the only restaurant open in the hotel). Hilariously, the menu’s three options were the best of what they considered to be “North American fare.” Ah, just what we wanted to enjoy as we savored our last night in Italy…said no one ever. Choosing an 18 Eur. burger over a club sandwich or a veggie wrap, we waited every so patiently for our food to arrive 40 minutes later. We ate remarkably quickly then went back to our room to watch some world news before falling asleep at 9:00pm- which was pretty much our standard bedtime anyways.

The next morning, we felt in our hearts that our great adventure was drawing to a close. After a 5 Eur. shuttle ride to the Fiumicino Airport, we had a very pleasant flight, leaving on time and with incredibly friendly staff. In fact, we even got to celebrate Gene and Larry’s 37 years of service to Air Canada as they performed their last meal service and set off on retirement. Congrats again Gene and Larry!

Now as we’re back at work and processing the experience, we look forward to sharing our findings with the rest of the parish. Stay tuned for an announcement at Mass this coming Sunday and an official “report” giving you all the pertinent details of the seminar.

With love,









Spending time with St. Catherine of Siena

It has been a wonderfully hectic, blissfully relaxing, and delicious past 48 hours! Early Monday morning, Stefano, our trusted taxi driver, whisked us away to the bus stop (lesson learned after significantly over-paying for a 15-minute cab ride…who would have ever taken advantage of two unsuspecting North American, female tourists?). Stefano drove us through the winding, rural side roads of Assisi to the bus stop. Conveniently, it was just steps away from Capella Santa Maria degli Angeli. I could have spent days in the ‘Chapel of Holy Mary of the Angels.’ This ornate basilica houses a ‘Chapel of the Stigmata’ and ‘Chapel of Relics’ in which one very excited Emily could see where St. Francis experienced an ecstatic vision and a piece of cloth stained with the blood of his stigmata.

A short bus ride later, we were dropped off right in the downtown core of picturesque Siena- a striking medieval city with plenty of rustic charm. We checked into our hotel and rested. Early the next day, energized by our continental breakfast (hello more bread, Nutella, and super strong coffee!), we set off on the third phase of our pilgrimage.

The highlight for me in Siena has been a visit to the Church of St. Dominic (Chiesa San Domenico). This would have been the parish church for St. Catherine growing up and the site of her first ecstatic vision by the stone altar. We managed to get there about half an hour before the waves of tourists arrived, which was great for us, because we had some quiet reflection time.

Upon entering, our first mission was to find a portrait: a piece described by Lucinda Vardey as a work painted by Andrea Vanni – a beloved childhood friend of Catherine’s. In other words – this is the truest face of the saint, because it was crafted by a friend who knew her well. Instantly, Leanna’s eyes darted toward the painting in the back of the church along the west wall. It was the same image she has in her office! She had always wondered where the image came from, and who the artist was. She pretty much ran to the image and it made me so happy to see her get so excited (since basically I’ve been doing this at every turn pointing out 1000000 things to her with their corresponding historical and theological explanations…she’s a great friend for putting up with me with such grace). This piece was so special for her because a reproduction of it had found its way into her office at work, and now she was able to find its origins. A great start to the day with this discovery!

Oh yes, and upon seeing St Catherine’s head, Leanna said it was “pretty damn cool.” She lit a candle for everyone that sent their prayer intentions to her, and spent some time praying there. She mentioned that she is ever-inspired by St. Catherine’s heart and head imagery- her quest for knowledge and her intimacy with Christ.

Down a meandering cobblestone path, our next stop was the Santuario Casa di Santa Caterina (the House and Sanctuary of St. Catherine). Usually Leanna has to tear me away from shops in which I’m tempted to by too many books and icons necessary for one person, but this time around she had to wait ever so patiently as I basked in the great beauty of an iron gate. This gate marked a barrier between the courtyard and doors to the Church of the Crucifix and was a sculpture of St. Catherine and Christ with Jesus’ heart outstretched. When the gate is closed, the heart appears to be placed in her hand. Given St. Catherine’s special devotion to the sacred heart of Jesus, I was totally in my element and moved by this very practical yet incredibly prayerful piece of art.

It rained (again) today, but Leanna and I are happy to report that it was the sunniest, warmest day in our travels so far – a record of 20 degrees celsius! We sat under the sun and had a satisfying lunch overlooking the Piazza del Compo before spending a full afternoon touring the “gem of Siena”- the great Il Duomo.

This great Cathedral is home to a crypt, stunning Greco-Roman and Christian-inspired frescoes, and artwork by Donatello, Michelangelo, and Bernini. We also saw the Piccolomini Library and Baptistery. Although full of anachronistic paintings, I could still appreciate it as a breathtaking sacred space that certainly inspires meditation and a love for the history pouring out of its walls.

Now, it is time to feed me again as it’s 9:35pm here. Apparently that’s close to the Italian dinnertime and Leanna and I are trying our best to fit right in.

More updates to follow from our next exotic, Italian locale: Arezzo- Tuscany at its finest.
















































Leading with the Heart

“Toward an Intrinsic Feminine Theology: Heart” has officially begun! After months of planning, strategizing, and reviewing the fine details, Leanna and I both feel that the day has been surreal.

After celebrating Mass with Fr. Michael Kolarcik, S.J. and enjoying lunch together, Lucinda beautifully welcomed guests to the first of three international seminars to take place in Rome at Centro Internazionale di Animazione Missionaria in Urbaniana University. She stated that our gathering represented twelve countries and five continents- a welcome combination of nearly thirty incredibly intelligent, strong, and passionate women and men of diverse academic backgrounds, cultures, ages, and spiritualities- with so much to offer the Church! Lucinda highlighted the origin story of the seminar and asserted that, born in prayer, this gathering sought to birth new life to the Church.

As I was listening intently to Lucinda’s opening remarks, I couldn’t help but feel slightly distracted by the awe-inspiring view from our seminar room. One simply has to turn their neck slightly to the left or the right and you have this glorious panoramic view of St. Peter’s Basilica and the entire piazza. It is an absolutely stunning venue and so very appropriate for our important work.

Lucetta Scaraffia gave the first presentation of the day. She discussed connections to the “heart” throughout the history of feminine holiness, looking particularly at three female saints whose mysticism was connected to a devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Over time, female devotion through the mystical tradition was transformed into an alternative mode of devotion in which a woman’s devotion was lived out “actively” in the world at large. Sr. Judette Gallares, R.C. then presented on expressions of the female heart using three case studies of Biblical women- from the Old Testament, Gospel, and Acts of the Apostles. She began by citing Deuteronomy 6:5 and insisting that the heart represents who we are before God as an intense place of prayer. She hoped that these expressions of the heart in scripture as revealed in the narratives of women would allow us to reassess our misconceptions of the “heart” in Scripture, make these narratives our own, and better understand what that means for our relationship with God in the process.

In conclusion, Sister was convinced that any authentic conversion of heart or renewal in the Church would come about through a woman’s own liberation from all the conscious and unconscious limitations placed on the self. In other words, how does a woman awaken the heart in order to actualize her spiritual giftedness? I believe that this concept will be a recurring theme over the next two days along with more nuanced interpretations of our multifacted understandings of the word “heart.” For many seminar participants, heart did not only refer to a physical organ in the body, but the “seat of emotion” and the center of our being accessible wholly and perfectly by God. Let’s see what the second day of our gathering has to offer! Oh yes, that’s right…Leanna and I are presenting. Prayers are most welcome.








Ready, set…Rome!

We now have only eleven more sleeps until our adventure begins! And there’s still so much to do before we leave! Leanna and I are putting the finishing touches on our presentation. A lot of prayer, love, and laughter have been poured into every word and we cannot wait to share our experiences in forming our own Magdala conciliary with the women and men gathered at the international seminar beginning on April 28.

As I type this, Leanna is helping me pare down my overflowing suitcase and offering words of encouragement for the almost nine-hour flight- since she knows that I easily grow restless and that without food and plenty of sleep I get fussy. What are friends for? And, as per our classic Mary and Martha ways, I just know that Leanna will start packing with only two sleeps to go. If something is forgotten, I am convinced that my over-packing will come in handy.

Toiletries? Check. Seven perfectly combinable outfits? Almost check. Laptop and scratchpad so that I can take copious amounts of detailed notes? Check. Euros? Check, check. Travel book? Check. Complete, unbridled enthusiasm for the seminar and for touring a historic, culturally and religiously rich city like Rome? CHECK.

You should all know that for the past week I’ve been practicing some Italian. I have all the basics down, but I can say “cosa mi consiglia” and “era squisito” with plenty of gusto! Luckily for Leanna, this travel companion is organized and loves to eat, so something tells me we’ll never, ever…ever go hungry.

After some research and daydreaming since my youth, I have determined that there are seven places along our travels that I must see: St. Peter’s Bascilica (Vatican Museums yes please!), Bascilica di San Giovanni in Laterano (the first Christian basilica to be built in Rome, consecrated in 324AD!), Basilica di Santa Maria Sopra Minerva (Gothic church built on pagan temples), Chiesa del Gesu (beautiful Jesuit church with plenty of stunning baroque art), of course the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain (because it’s just so romantic), and last but certainly not least, Chiesa di San Damiano (to bask in the frescos of St. Clare, my personal patron saint).

But asides from checking these sites off my bucket list, I’m getting very excited for the seminar itself. I’m looking forward to Lucetta Scaraffia’s presentation “Links with the Heart in the History of Feminine Holiness” and Catherine Aubin’s presentation “The Listening Heart: Receptivity, Silence, Solitude, and the Call of God” since I imagine there being many connections to the findings of our Magdala conciliary. However, I also eagerly await vespers and a visit to St. Catherine of Siena’s tomb as a prayerful conclusion to the second day of the conference (and in celebration of St. Catherine’s feast day which was no coincidence!).

Can’t wait to update you all again once we arrive and the great adventure really begins.

Rimanete sintonizzati!