Friday, July 14, 2006

Future Priests of the Third Millenium

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What do you suppose a seminarian does on summer vacation? Twelve of the seminarians of the St Paul Seminary (stay tuned for really great vocation news in August) have been blogging a bit since the Spring.

Aaron: I am fortunate enough to be able to spend my summer in a parish in my home diocese, the Diocese of New Ulm, Minnesota's most rural diocese. I am living with the pastor in the rectory of the Church of Our Lady in Manannah, Minnesota. Now, I grew up on a farm north of a very small town called Seaforth. This is a town of fewer than eighty residents. Imagine my surprise when I drove into Manannah for the first time and found that this town is actually smaller than Seaforth! It's population is below forty! In fact, it is not even an incorporated city. Manannah has no mayor or other city governing body. Rather, it is a small collection of residences, a church, and a tavern called the Hilltop that is located in Manannah township. The parish itself is quite large for being located in such a small town with about 600 members.

So far in Manannah I have taken communion to parishioners in nursing homes in the area, helped build a parish float for the Manannah Daze parade, ridden on the parish float for the Manannah Daze parade, helped dig a hole in the cemetery (not for a grave, but for the concrete base of a new altar being constructed), watched trees be taken down and a large whole be dug for the gathering space now under construction, among other things. Now I am preparing to spend five days in the Boundary Waters with eight parishioners in less than two weeks. [snip]

Tyler: These last two weeks, I have had the opportunity to experience the ministry of religious siters in a new way. It happened quite accidentally. I was asked to visit a nearby parish (pictured below) to help the pastor pack and move. He has lived in the parish for twenty-five years, and he has a lot of possessions that have accumulated over that period. He also has two elderly Benedictine nuns who have lived in the parish and helped in its daily operation, as well as caring for Father who suffers from a neurological disorder that prevents him from moving about easily. These sisters have also been in the parish for decades.
It was so amazing to see them, in their habits, scurrying around the parish, “convincing” people to volunteer for various activities, and taking care of Father. They love the work they are doing, and though they are nearly bend double with old age, they don’t seem to recognize that they should be resting, enjoying their golden years. As I walked out of the rectory, I encountered one of them carrying a ladder. She, at almost ninety years old, was going to climb to the top of it to clean a closet. They will be moving back to their motherhouse soon, and an era will have ended. For more than a century, religious women have lived in that parish doing the same work that these sisters have continued in the more recent years. As I watched them going about their business, I couldn’t help but think, “This must have been what a parish was like in 1950 when there were more sisters to help carry out the work of the Church.”

A couple of days later, I had the opportunity to serve as sacristan for our annual vocation camp for girls. Dominicans staffed the camp this year. There were three characteristics about them that immediately struck me: 1) They were young. 2) They were happy. 3) They wore their habits. This was striking inasmuch as one seldom encounters a young sister in the Diocese of Rapid City these days. Indeed, these sisters had come from the Archdiocese of Chicago. The more profound realization that occurred as I listened to the sisters speak, however, was their dedication to the Church, their love for the people of God, their deep devotion to the charism of their order, and their abiding relationship with Christ. This is not to say that other religious women do not exhibit these same qualities. Rather, because sisters are mostly absent from the daily life of the parishes and schools in this diocese, I seldom have reason to be involved with them. To have the opportunity, therefore, to spend a week in their presence was a profound reminder of the role of religious women in the life of the Church, and of the essential role they play in supporting the ministry of priests. Never have I heard a more moving testimony of the absolute necessity of praying for one’s pastor, nor have I ever seen a priest reach a young female audience so effectively as the sisters did in their own testimonies. Seldom has a priest inspired me toward holiness quite so deeply as did these small women in white habits and black veils. I’ve heard it said that the diocesan vocation crisis will find at least partial resolution when women religious have remedied their own vocation crises and are more visible in the life of the Church. After all, how many sisters, through their work in parishes and schools, inspired young men to pursue the priesthood? I believe that this sentiment must be true. Resulting from the testimony of these women’s lives and actions, I find myself freshly invigorated to pursue my own vocation with renewed enthusiasm and sincerity.

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