From New York to the Far North
Not many churches have an addition named “John Paul II Center for the New Evangelization.” Up north in Terrace, British Columbia, Sacred Heart Parish does — thanks to the vision of Father Terence Brock.
When he arrived to become pastor, he found a church that had to be partitioned with a paper-thin movable wall to create meeting rooms.
“It would leave the church as a kind of very unholy place,” Father Brock noticed. The talking and laughing in meetings distracted people praying. But he found the solution.
“The primary goal of the John Paul II Center is evangelization,” explains Father Brock. That’s his mission as pastor of this parish of 1,000, situated approximately 700 miles north of Seattle. “The idea of the center is for teaching the faith and helping people to grow in the faith.”
Now the center’s rooms are named after the evangelists and used not only by those going through RCIA but also by those studying the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Father Brock is himself a tireless evangelist. Just ask parishioner Linda Pettipas. Away from the Church 14 years, she’d still sometimes come to Mass during Advent and Christmas. Then she heard Father Brock invite all lapsed Catholics to talk to him.
“He wants every Catholic who is not in full communion with the Church to see him about correcting their situation,” Pettipas explains. “He mentions this at key times during the year such as Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter when lapsed Catholics tend to drift back to Mass.”
“If there hadn’t been that outreach, I don’t know if I’d be talking to you today,” she adds, pointing out that Father Brock even phoned to invite her to talk about her return to church after she e-mailed questions.
Now Pettipas is an active parishioner. She helps with inquiry and RCIA classes and has volunteered for Birthright, joined a Bible study and occasionally writes for the diocesan paper. All this, she says, springs from Father Brock’s evangelization.
Father Brock is beginning his fourth year as pastor of this, the only Catholic church in Terrace. The nearest other priest is 40 miles to the south.
“When you’re up in the north on your own, you deal with everything,” he says, from visiting regional hospitals to handling annulment cases. “That’s what makes the parish a bit more challenging. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
In fact, as a native of the Bronx who also lived in the New York suburbs, he finds going back east to visit his mother a cultural shock.
Back in 1977, Father Brock answered an ad for British Columbia’s Prince George Diocese placed by the late Bishop Fergus O’Grady, who was looking to form a “frontier apostolate” of lay volunteers to staff new Catholic schools. During his second year volunteering, Father Brock felt called to the priesthood. When he was ordained in 1988 at age 33, he became only the second priest not from a religious order in this diocese — which is geographically as large as the state of Oregon.
Bill and Cathy Vandenberg, and their seven children ages 1 month to 12 years, are glad he landed at Sacred Heart.
“I think Father Terry is just like Bishop O’Grady,” says Cathy. “He’s a man of vision.”
The Vandenbergs say the similarity is evident not only in his leadership style — he tends to launch bold, broad initiatives and leaves the details for later (the John Paul II Center is an example) — but also in the way he presents the Gospel.
Even when Father Brock was pastor of a parish 45 minutes away, the Vandenbergs say they recognized how he embraced the culture of life with courage and enthusiasm. He had asked Bill and Cathy to teach natural family planning to couples preparing for marriage.
“I was impressed by his love for the Church and its teachings and for Humanae Vitae and these couples,” says Cathy. “He wanted them to have the best marriage they could have, and he knew this was the way to do it.”
They now teach NFP at Sacred Heart parish, where Bill is ready to list many reasons he’s glad to have Father Brock as pastor.
“He loves the Holy Father and the magisterium, and he teaches what they teach,” says Bill. “He could see when he came to our parish a need for people to be re-evangelized, for people to be brought back, and for people to receive clear instruction.”
It’s what Father Fred Weisbeck in Fort St. John, B.C., sees as a gift in his friend both in his parish work and during Engaged Encounters.
“Some priests have to work hard at developing the skills to be a parish priest and some have it as a natural gift from God,” he says. “Father Brock belongs to the latter group.”
The Adoration Effect
The youngsters in the parish school and youth at Bible camps in summer at the diocese’s Camp Morice get the benefit of Father Brock’s priestly attention, too.
“When he’s working with our children in youth camps he interacts in a way that they embrace him as one of their own,” notices Father Weisbeck. “Young children are comfortable in his presence.”
Nor does this quality go unnoticed by parishioners. “I have seen kids purposely sitting where they could shake hands or maybe even ‘high-five’ Father Terry on his way out during the recessional,” Pettipas observes. “Or they will approach him before or after Mass to tell him things.”
And what does he, in turn, tell parishioners? “I promote a lot of the lay apostolates,” he says. Most tellingly, Father Brock encourages the need for laborers in the vineyard. On every first Thursday, for example, there’s an hour of Eucharistic adoration for vocations.
“In my book,” says Pettipas, “the adoration is evidence of a very John Paul II approach to the new evangelization.”
Don’t be surprised if the Diocese of Prince George, B.C., sees a spike in priestly vocations in the coming years.
Joseph Pronechen writes from