ESL alumna helps lead international Dehonian Family efforts

Ida Coelho leads a small group discussion at the International Dehonian Family Conference in Rome last May.
Ida Coelho leads a small group discussion at the International Dehonian Family Conference in Rome last May.


Ida Coelho
Ida Coelho

In May, 2014, approximately 35 members of the Dehonian Family –– SCJ and lay from around the world –– came together to discuss ways in which the Dehonian charism and can be lived and shared beyond professed members of the Priests of the Sacred Heart.

Among those who took part in the meeting was Ida Coelho, a Lay Dehonian from Brazil. And by the end of the gathering she found herself serving on an organizing committee charged with moving forward the proposals that came out of the conference.

The committee held its first in-person meeting January 10-15 in Rome. [Click here to read about it on the general website.]

“Being asked by the others to serve on the committee was a surprise!” said Ida. “It is certainly something that I did not expect.” She added that while it was an honor to have her name put forward, it is also “a responsibility as a lay person that is important to assume. A mission has been entrusted to us; we are called to share the Dehonian charism. It is a way in which we give personal witness to our baptismal vocation.”

In the footsteps of her parents

It is easy to trace the roots of Ida’s passion for her faith. “My mother was devoted to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception and St. Anthony,” said Ida. “She would invite friends and neighbors to our house to attend novenas in honor of the saints.”

Ida’s father was a man who frequently put his faith in action. Besides parish ministry, he often sought ways to help the poor, especially in education. He established a school for illiterate fisherman where he provided not only basic school supplies “but even eyeglasses if they needed them,” said Ida.

“As a kid I used to accompany him when he went out to help poor families,” said Ida. “My job was to teach the children in these families. It was children teaching children.”

Growing up in the footsteps of her father, Ida is a public school teacher (English studies) in Rio de Janeiro. Her family moved to the city from northern Brazil when she was 13. She and her husband of 31 years, Jose Carlos, raised their two children there.

Following in her father’s footsteps, she is also active in her parish where she teaches the sacraments.

Ida jokes around during a Dehonian Family gathering
Ida jokes around during a Dehonian Family gathering

Living the charism

It was through her parish, Sacred Heart of Jesus in Meier (a municipality west of Rio de Janeiro), that she learned about the Dehonian charism. She says that she lived it unknowingly for many years before a fellow parishioner told her what it was.

“Another parishioner, one of the first lay Dehonians in our parish, said that she had been observing me for some time and saw how I lived,” said Ida. “She told me that I was living the charism of Fr. Dehon and invited me to participate in a lay Dehonian training program…

“People would come to me for help, and I helped them. My husband and I did Eucharistic Adoration before Mass. It was just what we did.”

She and her husband talked about the invitation and agreed to join eight others from their parish in an initial discernment program. The group met monthly, led primarily by lay Dehonians in collaboration with local SCJs. They learned about the life of Fr. Dehon and his charism, and studied the history of the congregation.

“The lay Dehonians in the São Paulo Province (Central Brazil, where Rio de Janiero is located), are well established and well organized,” said Ida.

After a year of formation, all 10 members of the group decided to make an initial commitment to the Dehonian charism.  Following the traditions set by the São Paulo Lay Dehonian group, they did so on August 12, the anniversary of the founder’s death. That commitment was renewed yearly for six years. In the seventh year, a perpetual commitment is made.

From that initial 10, the group of Lay Dehonians at Ida’s parish has grown to 50. They meet monthly for Adoration, Mass, and a reflective or educational component. As with all groups, there is also time for “business,” organizing and reporting on projects and activities.

Outside of these gatherings, Lay Dehonians also commit to 15 minutes of daily personal Adoration, an Act of Oblation, Eucharistic Adoration and frequent participation in Mass. “Of course, we also commit to living the charism in solidarity.”

The Lay Dehonian movement in Brazil is very strong. Ida served as a regional coordinator (“sector animator”), uniting the two Lay Dehonian groups of Rio de Janeiro; and later as general coordinator of the Lay Dehonian groups found in the three provinces of Brazil.

As general coordinator she traveled throughout the country, doing pastoral visits to all of the groups. “I learned about who they are and what they are doing, but too, I stressed to them the need for on-going training and participation in gatherings of the larger Dehonian family.

Ida also visited the congregation’s missions in Ecuador, “to see where the SCJs first ventured into South American lands,” said Ida. In 2010 she took part in “Missio Cordis,” the SCJs’ Latin American Seminar in Brusque, Brazil, in which the congregation looked at “how the people of Latin America can contribute to the legacy of Fr. Dehon.”

From Brazilian Portuguese to American English

Ida talks during a Dehonian Family meeting
Ida talks during a Dehonian Family meeting

It was at Missio Cordis that Ida learned about Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology’s ESL (English as a Second Language) program. Ida is one of the program’s few Lay Dehonian alumni.

“My experience was unforgettable,” she said. “I was welcomed and treated as a very dear friend of the SCJ family. Moreover, the interaction with the seminary community –– including SCJs from other countries –– was wonderful. I was also able to visit several of the ministries in the US Province. This was an exceptional period of time that enriched not only my personal life, but my vocation.”

When asked what it is that attracts Ida to the Dehonian charism, she said that it is the founder’s example, “Fr. Dehon’s courage to face society and speak up for the poor. This is what inspires me.”

ENDNOTE: One of the goals of the international Dehonian Family organizing committee is to enhance communication between and about the Dehonian Family around the world. One of the first steps toward that is the International Dehonian Family Facebook page. Click on the link to view it, and if you are a member of Facebook, be sure to “like” it and share it with friends!