On the vigil of Good Shepherd Sunday, we experienced a spectacle of grace at our Family Faith Festival at Santa Teresita in Duarte, California. I can only think of St. John’s words in the readings for the Mass: “the Lamb will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving waters” (Rev.7:17).

The day was a visual portrait of many hearts united across our Carmels, apostolic centers, across miles, and time zones.

And the result? An AVALANCHE of grace!

Madonna Hall housed the Year of Faith Art Gallery which featured numerous art pieces made by our students and residents across our apostolic centers. Each of them reflected the theme of faith through a variety of media and techniques: paints, foil, cellophane, sand paper, pastels, sequences, yarn, rhinestones, etc. We even had a 3-dimensional church with hand-made stained glass windows prepared by the 2nd grade teacher and students of our very own St. Joseph School. The Art Gallery was breathtaking!

In addition, we had nearly 50 tri-fold displays created by our students, featuring the contribution of the Catholic faith to human and world culture across the centuries. These included the portraits, life, and works of great Catholic Composers such as Antonio Vivaldi, Josef Haydn, Franz Liszt and many others. Advances in science as well as medicine’s contribution to human life through Catholic physicians like Saint Giuseppe Moscatti, Saint Gianna Mola and servant of God Jerome Le Jeunne were also featured. The displays meaningfully portrayed the contribution of literary masters such as J.R.R. Tolkien, G.K. Chesterton and others. Philanthropic efforts like those of Dorothy Day, Catherine Drexel, and Mother Teresa of Calcutta were highlighted. Artists from numerous parts of the world, as well as professional athletes were meaningfully presented in the context of their Catholic faith.

Our schools and apostolic centers also prepared displays featuring the year of faith in pictures as lived out at their respective apostolic centers. These were set-up with brochures and information from the apostolic centers. Each of these gave a visual representation of our charism in the heart of the Church. People spent prolonged times at the displays inside Madonna Hall, as if trying to take it all in.

Early Saturday morning, we began full-speed ahead blowing up colorful helium balloons, decorating the entrances with colorful and festive flags, signs, and balloons, setting up activity booths, tables, carnival games, backdrop for the festival of praise performances, etc… The opening prayer and kick-up celebration was scheduled to begin at 11am. We finished setting up at 10:59am.

There were about 300 people present for the outdoor opening prayer and kick-off celebration. Just after Father Patrick said “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” the backdrop which we had set-up for the festival of praise performances fell apart. Everyone took it in stride and waited in good spirits, while our sisters and some of our dads helped to take it down. So our backdrop became the clear blue sky over the vibrant green grass which was decked with glorious springtime blossoms. It could not have been more beautiful!

After the opening prayer the children from each of our schools and our elders from Avila Gardens, Santa Teresita Manor and the Good Shepherd Cottage lead us in a Festival of praise. Chick-fil-A was our meal sponsor, and Menchie’s Yogurt provided soft serve frozen yogurt and toppings. The owners had asked me how many people we were anticipating. I told them that we were estimating about 500 people. They said they would plan for 500 people and would be prepared to deliver more food if need be. 

Apparently, our Lord’s invitation list was much bigger than ours. He gathered a larger flock than our puny expectations, and it was clear that he was feeding his flock in a way far better than we could have imagined. I didn’t hear a single complaint from any of the families, nor did our guests ask “when will the lunch get here?” Spirits remained joyful and peaceful. Many played games, visited the art gallery and displays, made rosaries and bookmarks, decorated cookies, and enjoyed cotton candy, popcorn and snow cones while they waited for their meal. We were able to keep everyone hydrated on this bright and warm spring day, thanks to the help of Sister Mary James who secured a donation of nearly 1000 drinks for the event.

The day was marked by a spirit of joy as well as a sense of awe and wonder over the treasures of our Catholic faith.

We were projected the various multi-media presentations which several of our schools prepared. These were beautiful, inspiring, and delightful. The Holy Innocents School 8th Grade teacher worked with her students on a musical power point presentation which captured the faces and names of Catholics throughout history whose faith inspired their achievements in art, music, science, literature, music, medicine, philanthropy, etc. Archbishop Coleman Carroll High School sent us a power point presentation featuring a montage for Year of Faith activities and significant moments at the high school. They also prepared a music video presentation. Our sisters and candidates also prepared media presentations on the Year of Faith.

We had three priests hearing Confessions throughout the day under the beautiful oak tree outside of St. Joseph Chapel. The line for Confessions was steady. There were individuals who returned to the Sacraments after many years, and experienced the joy of being reconciled to the heart of the Good Shepherd.

Some time around 2pm the crowd seemed to have diminished. It surprised me, but I didn’t think on it any further until I walked into Madonna Hall and saw about 150 people sitting and standing throughout Madonna Hall, watching the Religion Bee Competition. Some people were even standing in between the displays. Families, guests, and residents listened in attentive silence as the religion finalists from St. Philomena, St. Joseph, Holy Innocents, and Loretto Schools fielded questions on the Catechism. The questions were asked by Mr. Richard Veras. Sister Benedicta Marie and Sister Marie-Aimee were the judges.

Sister Benedicta Marie and Sister Teresa Margaret had prepared bout 700 challenging questions on the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The students were VERY well prepared, and competed exceedingly well – a real testimony to the beautiful work that is being done by all of our Sisters and lay teachers. Parents cheered as the students responded to some very challenging questions. The winners were ceremoniously awarded medals. Afterwards, several guests requested information on our schools and asked about the possibility of enrolling their children. Great job, Sisters!

At 3pm we gathered in the chapel for a time of praise and worship before the 3:30pm closing Mass, celebrated by our dear Norbertine friend – Father Gregory Dick. Having been a long and warm day, we had expected that some people would leave before the closing Mass. However, when Mass began, St. Joseph Chapel was filled, even along the side aisles, into the sisters’ choir, the choir loft and the chapel vestibule. They wanted to stay!

The Gospel for the Mass of the Good Shepherd read: “My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me…No one can take them out of my hand… and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand…” This celebration gave the families a vibrant opportunity to know, love, and celebrate their faith unabashedly.

They didn’t want to leave.

Many of them said they want to do this again next year.