Catalyst for Change: A Focus on Evangelization

Father James serving First Communion at St. Agnes in Thunder Bay, Canada

A group from St. Agnes Parish in Thunder Bay is currently helping run an Alpha… in another parish. What started as a small group attending DR 2016 in Halifax has grown into a full blown parish renewal that is now spilling over into neighbouring parishes in their city. “We are being the catalyst to bring that into the city… the real dream would be to see our whole diocese on fire.” (Kim Coursolle)

Jacqueline Marie | Mar.8 2023

A cradle Catholic, Kim has spent her entire life in St. Agnes Parish in Thunder Bay.

While originally from India, Father James Panikulam, (read his story here), has similarly spent his entire priesthood in the Diocese of Thunder Bay including the last 19 years as the Pastor of St. Agnes. Father James recalls, St. Agnes was always “very community oriented, very much like a fellowship.” For most of his time there he was happily in maintenance mode – “I was pretty content with the way things were going, it was maintaining pretty good.”

But 6 years ago, their long-held constancy changed trajectory, and catalyzed a new direction for the parish.

In 2016, Father James was on sabbatical and Kim was leading the youth ministry. A thriving ministry the youth were sent on trips to different conferences across North America each year. Kim looked through a list of conferences to go to. They chose a new conference in Halifax, Canada – DR 2016. “We had no idea what we were walking into…we came back fired up and wanting to start an Alpha.” The worried interim priest felt unsure and phoned Father James, who replied, “You can trust them. Let them do it.”

An Alpha group at St. Agnes

By the time Father James returned a flourishing cycle of Alpha was underway. Kim recalls: “it just kept moving and moving and moving so when Father got back, I felt kind of bad because it was a bit of a tornado that he came into. We were all on fire…we wanted to do all these exciting things and he’s kind of like, ‘Whoa, I just got back.’ But one of his biggest gifts is that he allows people to lead.” (To which Father replies, “These are people I trust them with my life” so “it’s not a risk.”)

Lives were being transformed, but it wasn’t until Father James personally attended the DR 2018 conference (after some well humoured encouragement from Kim who even rescheduled the men’s annual fishing trip to clear his schedule) that he caught the vision for evangelization. When he returned, they started a Senior Leadership Team (which Kim served on), and the parish began moving from maintenance to mission in earnest. They have now been in coaching with DR for over 5 years.

Kim, third from left, with a group from St. Agnes

The focus on mission is now personal for both Kim and Father James. Kim says, “I think I experienced quite a conversion during this whole period of Alpha and Divine Renovation…I grew up in the church, just very much cradle Catholic and going through the motions, without any real relationship with Jesus… once he revealed himself to me, I had this very profound encounter of him.” 

She shares, “Everything was different. All of my priorities, everything… he has that love for every single person and wants their life to have purpose and meaning and beauty and that’s why I’m so on fire for evangelization because I know how much the Lord has chosen every person.”

"That's why I'm so on fire for evangelization because I know how much the Lord has chosen every person.”

The primacy of evangelization has not just brought in new people but created a culture on fire for Jesus within the parish. Father James says, “There is a huge transformation in the core of the parish. We were good in terms of fellowship, but we never focused on personal transformation or transformation as a parish.” He furthers, “I can see myself having personal transformation too…Now we are more rooted and what the church is supposed to be. We are focusing more on the personal relationship with Christ and the Holy Spirit.” Father James mentions all the fruit from transformed lives, dedicated prayer groups, small groups, and healing services to an even greater sense of hospitality. Father James says, “people are just bringing it (evangelization) into the community naturally. It’s like rippling out into the wild.”

For Father James the primacy of evangelization is based on two things: “first is a responsibility to witness to the to the faith I already experienced. But the second thing is the depth of the transformation for people to experience… to have a enriched life in every way, no matter who we are, what stage of life we are, and you see the transformation for the people who are coming in, just like Kim was saying, people who are sitting in the pew… it changes the core, the faith, the personal relationship, it changes every aspect of life… your relationship with your family, your relationship with the community, your personal life, how you understand life in general, your perspective of life changes. That’s why I think evangelization is important. “

An Alpha meal at St.Agnes