New priests with Cardinal Collins

The 30th Annual Ordinandi Dinner once again continued the tradition of honouring our Ordinandi in the Archdiocese of Toronto.

On Tuesday, March 3, 2020, under the prayerful watch of St. Junipero Serra and inspired by the prayer, “Jesus, I trust in you” selected by the Ordinandi Class of 2020 as their theme, 1,839 supporters from the Archdiocese of Toronto gathered at the Pearson Center in Brampton to celebrate the vocation journey of our thirteen extraordinary men from St. Augustine’s Seminary and Redemptoris Mater Seminary.

The 2020 Ordinandi Dinner continued the wonderful tradition of support for vocations to priestly and religious life founded in 1991. The Archdiocese of Toronto Pastoral Plan, under the leadership of Cardinal Thomas Collins urges us all to adopt, support and encourage a “culture of vocations”. The Ordinandi Dinner has become an important component of instilling and encouraging that culture of vocations in our Archdiocese. In addition, this event permits the faithful to show in a demonstrative way their support and affection for the men embarking on a life of service to God’s church and His people. The Class of 2020 included thirteen men from different backgrounds all dedicating themselves to a life of service in Christ. Their vocation stories are the highlight of the evening both informing and inspiring the assembled faithful.

The event is held under the auspices of the Serra Foundation of Canada and the Toronto Central Serra Club with the support of the other Serra Clubs in the Archdiocese of Toronto (including the Vocations Office and Office of Catholic Youth) and more recently, and very significantly, although under disappointing circumstances this year, our Catholic educators.

The Ordinandi Dinner is internationally recognized as an incredible show of support and encouragement from a grateful Catholic community for those about to embark on a life of consecrated service to our Lord and to their fellow human beings. On two previous occasions (1994 and 2012) the Ordinandi Dinner has been recognized by Serra International with the Junipero Serra Award for the amazing effort in promulgating vocations awareness and support.

Unfortunately, labour strife between our Catholic teachers, chaplains and educators and the Provincial Government required cancellation of the Ordinandi Youth Event a few short weeks before the event. This would have been the 8th annual Ordinandi Youth Event that was expected to bring together approximately 800 selected high school students from the six Catholic school boards in the Archdiocese of Toronto together with several independent Catholic schools for an inspirational music and activity filled morning centered on vocations to priestly and religious life. The Ordinandi Youth Event is highlighted by a vocation speech from one of the Ordinandi and a religious order nun. His Eminence, Cardinal Thomas Collins concludes the morning with the students with an inspirational speech and prayer. Serra is committed to continuing this tradition and is, notwithstanding this year’s missed event, planning for the 8th annual Ordinandi Youth Event to happen next March 2, 2021.

Notwithstanding the unavoidable cancellation of this year’s Ordinandi Youth Event, we continue to be encouraged by the support from our Catholic educators including the Directors of Education from our

Archdiocesan Catholic School Boards. We are blessed by this continuing support and the determination to continue the youth event in 2021.

The Dinner program was attended by 1,839 individuals who included approximately 250 university-age young adults as a result of our Vocations Awareness program including those associated with Serra House and with Fr. Chris Lemieux, the Archdiocesan Director of Vocations. Also noteworthy is the attendance by university Chaplains who attended with young and potential vocation supporters as well as the Office of Catholic Youth, the Newman Centre and the Squires of the Knights of Columbus.

There are many to thank for this outstanding show of vocations support. In addition to the unceasing support from the Serrans, it would have been impossible to host this event without the help and encouragement from both the Knights of Columbus and the Catholic Women’s League. The organizing team is very grateful to them. Many of our diocesan parishes participated and many brought altar servers and potential vocation prospects.

Lastly, the support of our two main sponsors was much appreciated. Novalis, the largest Catholic publishing house in Canada and Catholic Cemeteries & Funeral Services – Archdiocese of Toronto who both provided much appreciated support for the evening event.

The Ordinandi Dinner continues to receive the support and encouragement of Serra International and for the past several years, we have been honoured to host the Presidents of Serra International who have travelled from far away places globally to witness first hand this well-known vocations phenomena in Serra and to offer congratulations to both the Ordinandi and their parents. This year, the President Elect of Serra International, Michael Bragg from Toledo Ohio, attended and spoke to the gathering about the importance of prayer for vocations. Serra International past president Dan Grady from Grand Rapids, Michigan, also honoured us with his presence.

The Ordinandi Dinner is an event intended to raise awareness and not necessarily to raise funds. A modest surplus of approximately $38,500 was achieved and this was distributed to our two seminaries, Serra House and the Office of Vocations for the Archdiocese of Toronto.

The Ordinandi Dinner and Youth Event are both hallmarks of the vocation awareness effort within the Archdiocese of Toronto. The first Tuesday in March of each year is recognized as a significant event in the calendar of the Catholic faithful of the Archdiocese and provides a wonderful opportunity to acknowledge and thank our Ordinandi as well as exposing our Catholic youth to the true meaning of a religious vocation.

We are grateful for the support and encouragement received from Cardinal Collins, our Auxiliary Bishops Boissonneau, Nguyen and Kasun as well as everyone within the Archdiocese. We extend our appreciation to St. Augustine’s Seminary, Redemptoris Mater Seminary, Serra House, the Office of Catholic Youth and the Newman Centre and to the many faithful, some young and some not so young, who, every year, show their support and encouragement for vocations to religious life by attending.

We look forward to March 2, 2021 when we will be hosting the 31st Annual Ordinandi Dinner and the 8th Annual Ordinandi Youth Event under the continuing guidance and protection of our patron saint, St. Junipero Serra.

Imelda Santos: Spiritual Bouquet Organizer Extraordinaire!

Who comes to mind when thinking of someone who can muster some two million offerings of Masses, rosaries and prayers every year for the Ordinandi of St Augustine’s Seminary and Redemptoris Mater Seminary, presented at Toronto’s annual Ordinandi Dinner?  One person only: Imelda Santos!  I have often marvelled at the numbers of offerings in these bouquets and wondered how she does it.  I am aware that sometimes people do not pay much attention to spiritual bouquets, and sometimes they do not even know what they are.  Yet every seminarian understands how special it is to receive such a tribute from people who mostly do not know them personally, but are willing to offer prayers for them, sometimes from across the world, in honour of their special vocation to the priesthood and religious life.

From left to right: Vince Primucci, Past President of Serra Canada Council, Imelda Santos, Cardinal Collins, and Shirley Christo, who was the President of the Toronto Archdiocesan Council of the Catholic Women’s League at the time.

So, what is a spiritual bouquet?  As you may imagine, it’s an offering composed of spiritual practices, Masses, rosaries, Holy Hours, novenas, prayers, visits to the Blessed Sacrament, and so on. One decides that one will offer the intentions of, say, fifty Masses,  fifty rosaries, twenty Angelus prayers, thirty Holy Hours or whatever else one’s spiritual practices entails, then write down the numbers of practices to be offered and the numbers are collected and given to the person designated. For example, a class full of students may give their teacher a beautiful (and large) spiritual bouquet made of their personal offerings, instead of buying a gift. Most people are extremely touched to receive such a bouquet, since others’ prayers mean a lot to them.

What is the story behind this native of the Philippines, Imelda, a music graduate who played a concerto at her graduation?  She grew up in a devout Catholic family, attending Mass with her mother every day.  She also used to accompany her mother in volunteer service at the seminary near her home which, in a nice coincidence, was also called St Augustine’s Seminary! Her ongoing work in organizing the spiritual bouquet program for the annual Ordinandi Dinner reminds her of those days with her mother and in many ways are a continuation of them, and she is adamant that she will want to continue to do so until she is no longer able.

These bouquets were part of her family practices, and Imelda has been involved in composing them since her childhood. The family gave them to each other for birthdays and special occasions, and also gave them to friends.  For children especially, who do not tend to have much money, this was a real alternative and Imelda says her mother was very happy to encourage the practice. Not only does it help gift-givers and receivers to be less materialistic in outlook, but it demands a little thought and some discipline in remembering to keep one’s promises, both of which are useful characteristics for life! The practice was normal for Imelda, but when she came to Canada, she soon noticed that the idea of presenting spiritual bouquets was not much prevalent.

Imelda came to Canada after living for a time in the US. She has seven children, one of whom, sadly, died several years ago.  While in the US, she worked in a bank where she learned accounting, and she continued to work in that field after becoming a single parent, since it was difficult to support a large family through her musical talents.

Imelda Is a member of Holy Martyrs of Japan Church in Bradford, and a long-term member of their CWL.  She was became an Honorary Member of the Toronto Central Serra Club many years ago for the years of service that she gave in helping to organize the Altar Servers’ Awards for the Northern Region of the Archdiocese, and it was there that she had the idea of initiating the spiritual bouquet program for the Ordinandi Dinner.  Imelda suggested this idea to Mario Biscardi, Founder and Finance Chair of the Ordinandi Dinner Committee, who saw its potential, and she has been organizing this annual project ever since. Even after hip surgery several years ago, Imelda continued this work, travelling to meetings at the Seminary and other places by public transport, often with the assistance of Mario Biscardi and others. 

Some people perceive the offering of prayers and other spiritual practices more as a task to fulfill, rather than as an honour.  Its purpose, of course, is to give glory to God, and then, secondly, to support the recipients through the intentions made in their name. It is somewhat ironic and all too human that we offer our prayers to God for his glory, and then we attach millions of requests and petitions for ourselves and others! God, however, surely understands our motives, even if they are mixed! He always delights in the fact that we pray; He delights in our priorities in giving Him the glory; He delights in the fact that, in making our intentions known to Him, we are most often thinking of other people, and not about ourselves.  In honouring our commitments to our part of the bouquet we are also fulfilling to a certain extent the great commandment of loving God and loving neighbour.

Imelda explains that sometimes people will say ‘No’ to her request, because, for example, they are already offering Mass for another intention. She tells them that is not a problem: they can offer Mass, rosaries, novenas or prayers for multiple intentions, not just one.  In other words, fifty rosaries may be offered for the Ordinandi, and, at the same time, other intentions may be made. God is clearly capable of working out multiple intentions!  In this way people can see it is actually quite easy to promise a certain number of prayers without experiencing that promise as a burden. The method obviously works, since Imelda’s list for the past several Ordinandi Dinners registered well over 2 million prayers! That’s quite a lot by anyone’s standards. 

It is not just about the numbers, impressive as they may be. It’s the fact that so many people are thereby involved in praying for the success of those going forward to be ordained, who also develop an awareness of their participation in the promotion of vocations in the process. They pray for the good of the Ordinandi and the success of their mission in life.

How does Imelda obtain the prayers and other practices? Over the years, Imelda has persuaded most of the Councils of the Toronto Archdiocesan CWL to help collect them in the schools. The CWL volunteers explain the meaning of spiritual bouquets to the students and talk to them about the priesthood and religious life. They encourage the students to be more aware that those being ordained will soon be the priests in their parishes in the future, they will visit their schools and administer the Sacraments to them. The CWL members show them how they can be involved in helping the Ordinandi prepare for ordination by praying for their intentions. They talk about vocations, they talk about the Serra Club, its mission of promoting vocations, and its efforts to organise the dinner when the Ordinandi will be honoured. 

They talk about the need to encourage and support priests, both the new and more established, throughout their lifetime. The CWL members themselves become more aware of the need to pray for vocations in assisting Imelda in this task and in fact are doing the work of Serra! There are many ‘spinoffs’ from compiling these bouquets and a lot more to these spiritual tributes than one imagines!

Imelda also enlists the help of students in India. She asked some priests she knows to enlist the help of students to offer the prayers they would be saying every day anyway towards the intentions of the Ordinandi and for vocations. Imelda also receives prayers and contribution toward the spiritual bouquet from friends and families and suggests ways in which the Serra Clubs, CWL, Knights of Columbus, Catholic School Boards and our Parishes especially in the Archdiocese of Toronto, could consider joining the effort, too!

Just let Imelda know what you want to offer, and she will add your numbers to the list. Who knows how many thousands or millions of prayers and other holy practices could be added to make the bouquet even more impressive?  Again, though, Imelda is clear that the numbers are not the main point. The point is about keeping the need for vocations in the spotlight. By talking about vocations, we hope to encourage vocations.  Knowing we have promised to pray may spur us into praying more often, once our ‘obligations’ towards our contribution to a spiritual bouquet are completed. That can only be a good thing!

Imelda Santos had an idea about how she could help to promote vocations, and she turned that idea into reality. In the process, she has involved thousands of people who offer to pray for our future priests and religious every year, and, in doing so, she continues to foster a culture of vocations. This is what Serra is all about, and the Serra movement is honoured to have Imelda as an Honorary Member, a committed member who exemplifies the words of St Junipero Serra: “Always to go forward, and never back”!

Dr. Moira McQueen
Master of Ceremonies, Ordinandi Dinner 2018-2020

2020 Ordinandi Dinner