For Father Jim Stenberg, a new position as chaplain at St. Joseph’s College on the University of Alberta campus is very much a homecoming.
It’s where he earned his undergraduate degree in mathematics and it’s where he first met priests from the Congregation of St. Basil, the religious order that he would eventually join.
“This is very much my home parish,” said Stenberg, who began his new ministry to students and staff at the Catholic college this fall. “You feel you’ve made a connection, made a difference. No matter what the future holds, this will be good.”
Born in Red Deer, Stenberg received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Alberta in 1992. He met the Basilian priests when he first came to university, shortly after he become a Catholic on January 31, 1988, at the age of 17.
Stenberg said he was impressed by the Basilians’ “familial” attitudes – “They joked with each other.” That prompted him to join them at various events and retreats, “and one thing led to another.”
After obtaining a master’s degree in philosophy at the University of Alberta and a master of divinity degree at Toronto School of Theology, Stenberg served as residence director at St. Joseph’s College from 2000 to 2003. During this time he was ordained at St. Anthony’s Parish in 2001 by Cardinal Thomas Collins, who was archbishop of Edmonton at the time.
He then taught algebra at St. Pius X School in Albuquerque, New Mexico, spent his novitiate year in San Lorenzo, Mexico, and taught philosophy at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, New York. Back in Canada, Stenberg served at Holy Rosary Parish in Toronto and, most recently, Assumption Parish in Windsor
As St. Joseph’s College chaplain, Stenberg provides pastoral care to anyone who needs assistance, not just students. But he did get some good advice from his predecessor, Father Glenn McDonald, who is now district chaplain of Edmonton Catholic Schools.
McDonald told Stenberg, “When there’s a (school) break, make sure you’re available for the last quarter of it,” as students will have had time to think and will want to talk about issues in their lives.
There are also challenges facing Stenberg.
He said he’s concerned there are more adults than students attending Sunday Mass at St. Joseph’s College, a symptom of the Church that’s aging, with fewer young people attending Mass or sharing their faith with the next generation.
“We’re in danger of dropping. It’s alarming for the future of the Church.”
Stenberg noted there are fewer vocations to the priesthood, and those in ministry currently aren’t as visible in the community as they have been in generations past.
Other factors include the state taking over responsibility for education from the Church and ethnic communities that are not as closely knit around cultural lines, Stenberg said.
The solution is to have a larger focus on individual spirituality, he said, noting that hunger can be satisfied in the joys of the celebration of the Eucharist, powerful preaching or good liturgical music.
“People are spiritually hungry,” Stenberg said, adding he’s optimistic about the future of the Church. “We’re always in God’s hands, and He’s in charge. Whatever happens, things go on. When things are bad, we can make it a better place.”
-Theresa Seraphim is a freelance writer based in Edmonton