The important components for the Companions of the Cross

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Congregation of the Cross
Congregation of the Cross photo

Bishop Scott McCaig stood across from first-year seminarian Matthew Conner. They were not meeting in an office or a classroom but were facing off on a sand volleyball court. The ball came to Connor, he leapt up and spiked it right at the feet of Bishop McCaig.

As a good pastor, Bishop McCaig gave the newest Companions of the Cross seminarian a high five and a “Good job!” during the annual sand volleyball tournament at the Companions’ yearly community days retreat.

“At our community days, almost all the bishops, priests and seminarians from our community gather together for several days of prayer and community formation,” Conner said. “While playing volleyball, I just kept thinking that I’m in my first year in this community, and this bishop is treating me like his brother; we’re hanging out playing volleyball, and that is so beautiful.”

Community is a central tenet of the life of the Companions of the Cross, a religious community founded in 1985 by Father Bob Bedard. The community is a group of priests and seminarians that minister in parishes and schools across Canada and the United States with their charism of evangelization and charismatic worship.

Emphasis on community

This emphasis on evangelization and using charismatic gifts has been central to the Companions’ ministry over the years, said Father Alex Colautti, the community’s vocations director. He shared that Father Bob was inspired by Pope Paul VI’s apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, which explored the Church’s role in the modern world.

“Father Bob saw that there was a need for these movements of the Holy Spirit, especially in the areas of catechesis, evangelization and the parishes,” Father Colautti said. “The center for the renewal of the Church, he saw, was the reformation of these movements, and he just had this vision for the Church to come explosively alive through the gifts of the Holy Spirit.”

This emphasis on community and evangelization led Conner to apply to be a seminarian. During his junior year of college, he began discerning a call to the priesthood. While attending an Encounter worship conference, he met some members of the Companions and knew that this was the community with which he wanted to discern.

Matthew Connor

“What really drew me to the Companions was the deep sense of community and emphasis on evangelization, specifically in parishes and at schools,” Conner said. “As a community, the core of our spirituality is being Eucharistic, Marian and charismatic, which aligns really well with the personal spirituality I developed in college.”

For Father Colautti, the community’s emphasis on evangelization excites him every day. In his six years as a priest, Father Colautti has found immense joy in his day-to-day ministry and the people he encounters.

“What gets me up in the morning is seeing people’s lives transformed by Jesus,” Father Colautti said. “Seeing people and walking with people as they come into a relationship with Jesus is like seeing people who’ve been asleep for a long time experience a beautiful day; it is an incredible experience.”

But in his six years as a priest, Father Colautti has learned an important lesson: He cannot do this ministry alone; he needs his brother priests. The community is structured in such a way that the priests and seminarians always live with other Companions, and regular community events are part of their ongoing formation.

“I am so grateful to do this ministry with my brothers,” Father Colautti said. “I don’t think I would have made it on my own; the Lord knows that I need brothers who support me, who challenge me, who call me to holiness, and who inspire me. To have brothers that work alongside me in the trenches in the churches is so life-giving.”

Immersed in ministry

Even though Conner is only two years into his formation, he has already experienced the life-giving effects of this ministry. From the beginning of a seminarian’s formation, the Companions immerse the young men in various ministry settings, from leading parish missions to participating in the Encounter school of ministry, which trains Catholics on the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

“Even as seminarians, we had the opportunity to do a lot of ministry work. I helped to lead a Lenten parish mission over spring break, which was a beautiful opportunity,” Conner said. “We depend on the Holy Spirit a lot in ministry, and so a part of our formation is partaking in the Encounter school of ministry that teaches us to really incorporate the gifts of the Holy Spirit in our ministry.”

Before he entered the seminary, however, Conner experienced a lot of fear concerning his vocation. Father Colautti shared that he often counsels young men who experience fear about the prospect of being called to the priesthood.

“Many young men that I talk to have this fear about celibacy, about giving their lives up to God, that they don’t know where it’s going to lead or what it’s going to cost,” Father Colautti said. “But the reality is, you have to surrender that to Jesus because he says that those who lose their lives will find it.”

But the remedy is simple: trust in Jesus. And every day, Father Colautti sees the transformational impact that surrender can have on a young man’s life.

“Whenever a person surrenders everything to Jesus, their desires are transformed; everything changes,” Father Colautti said. “God never calls us to do anything that he hasn’t already written on our hearts. It is beautiful helping men get in touch with the deepest desires of their hearts and see that what many of them desire is to give themselves to something greater to lay it all down in sacrifice to the greatest purpose, which is following Jesus, wherever that may lead.”

Jack Figge

Jack Figge has written for multiple diocesan papers, including covering World Youth Day 2023 for the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas. In addition to his local coverage, he has written for the National Catholic Register, FOCUS and Catholic Vote.