Claire Vouk admits that preparing an exhibit on American saints was life-changing.
The exhibit was on display, and Ms. Vouk was one of three speakers for “An American Dream…Come True!’’ with Cardinal Dolan and Father Matt Malone, S.J., president and editor in chief of America Media, at the New York Encounter at the Metropolitan Pavilion in Manhattan on Jan. 14.
“My friends are talking with me (at school), and they are worried they’re going to miss the great opportunity for happiness and greatness,” Ms. Vouk told CNY.
“What I learned from the saints is they would find their calling. It’s not so much figuring out for myself, but in just living and paying attention to where I’m being called.”
New York Encounter, sponsored by Communion and Liberation, was Jan. 13-15, and featured speakers, exhibits and a Sunday Mass celebrated by Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston and Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States. The event, with the theme "Reality Has Never Betrayed Me," drew participants from across the country.
“I’ve been looking forward to this since I left here last year,” said Alex Lohn of Pequannock, N.J. “I’m a young Catholic trying to integrate faith into my actual life and realizing it’s difficult long term in post-college life. New York Encounter really has a finger on what contemporary people are experiencing. I think it’s the energy of having lots of like-minded people as well as the quality of the talks.”
Ms. Vouk, a 22-year-old senior at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., presented an exhibit with her schoolmates on the journey of five North American saints—Isaac Jogues, S.J.; Jean de Brebeuf, S.J.; Junipero Serra, O.F.M.; Damien de Veuster, SS.CC., and Katharine Drexel, S.B.S.
She traveled to Italy to present the exhibit in Rimini and to Rome, where she met Pope Francis.
At New York Encounter, she spoke about St. Katharine Drexel, an American heiress in the 19th and 20th centuries who founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and African Americans. She founded schools in 13 states for African Americans and established 50 missions for Indians in 16 states.
“At the beginning, it was really stressful because I was speaking with Cardinal Dolan, which was kind of overwhelming,’’ Ms. Vouk said. “As I started writing it, I realized all I could do is be honest…because something really happened to me when I was putting together the exhibit on St. Katharine. I spoke from the heart and went for it.
“I never really had an attachment to any saint before this,” she said. “It’s opened up my eyes to the saints, and I want to learn more about many of them.”
Father Malone discussed the lives of three Jesuit priests who became American saints—de Brebeuf, Jogues and Charles Garnier. The three 17th-century saints, all born in France, were among the eight canonized Canadian saints known as the North American Martyrs. The three came to North America to bring the faith, and each was killed.
“These martyrs suffered and died to bring a gift to the new land. That is an important thing to remember,” Father Malone said. “That is important for our time because it invites us to remember that we are called as Pope Francis says not to confront but to encounter. What is credible is not power of our ideas, but the joy that is in our heart. What we have received is a gift and what we are invited to share is a gift.”
Father Malone said these stories should remind people “the goal of Christian discipleship is not to win an argument, it is to attain heaven.”
Cardinal Dolan recalled the life of St. Damien, a 19th-century missionary to the lepers of Molokai, Hawaii. He cared for the lepers and built schools, churches, hospitals and coffins. St. Damian eventually contracted and died from the disease.
Cardinal Dolan closed his discussion by remembering the life of NYPD Detective Steven McDonald, who was scheduled to speak on stories of reconciliation with life at the New York Encounter on Jan. 14. Cardinal Dolan offered a Funeral Mass the previous day at St. Patrick’s Cathedral for McDonald, who died Jan. 10.
McDonald was shot three times by 15-year-old Shavod Jones in Central Park in 1986, leaving McDonald paralyzed. When he was able to speak, McDonald forgave Jones.
“He was a proud and committed Catholic. His faith only got deeper the longer he survived,” Cardinal Dolan said.
“I tell the story not only because this entire community is celebrating his life and legacy, but because it teaches us saints are for now. Saints are not relics of the past or museum pieces. Father Damien taught the world that the century before last, and Steven McDonald taught us that now.”