Seminarian Michael Bollinger watched Tom (a pseudonym) cut grass around the boy’s ramshackle
home with a donated lawn mower. Abandoned by his parents, the fifth grader lived with his blind grandmother. “It hit me, really, really hard how incredibly sad it is that Tom grows up without things that he totally deserves,” Bollinger said.
Bollinger, who attends St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, was volunteering with the Father Beiting Appalachian Mission Center in Louisa, Kentucky. Taking to heart the Christian’s duty to suffer with the poor and to improve their lives, the seminarian values person-to-person encounters with people for whom he has installed windows, built ramps and repaired roofs on numerous school breaks. “Being a good priest, a great Christian and reaching out to the poor is one of the corporal works of mercy,” Bollinger said. “It’s at the heart of the Gospel message.”
Serving the Poor
St. Charles Borromeo’s rector, Bishop Timothy Senior, said mission trips help seminarians develop empathy, interpersonal skills and the ability to work with a team, critical aspects of priestly formation. Working closely with the poor also assists their human and spiritual formation. When they return, they invariably encourage their brothers to volunteer, too.
“Seminarians who have had such a positive experience can be a leaven in the seminary community to promote greater awareness of the needs of the poor,” Bishop Senior said, “and also of the core dimension of the vocation of the priest: to be a servant leader after the heart of Jesus Christ.”
Jimmy Morgan and 17 other seminarians and priests from St. John Paul II Seminary in the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., will spend spring break in Jamaica with Mustard Seed Communities, an organization providing homes for disabled children. “It gives me an opportunity to see firsthand what can be done for the marginalized in society,” Morgan said. “Pope Francis is constantly urging us to show mercy to others. This is an opportunity to respond to that call.”
A seminarian for the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, John Paul Heisler attends St. John Paul II Seminary and looks forward to volunteering in Jamaica.
In the Dominican Republic during his 2016 spring break, Heisler cleared brush, installed cement floors in the houses of the poor and visited the homebound.
These experiences deepened his love for the priesthood. “It is inspiring to think that one day I may bring God himself to the poor and the suffering,” Heisler said.
Early in their priestly formation, Mundelein seminarians from the Archdiocese of Chicago serve in Peru or Arizona during spring break.
Last year in Piura, Peru, Patrick Gorman’s contributions included distributing food and clothing, setting up an above-ground swimming pool for an orphanage and taking Communion to the sick. He hopes to share the mission experience with future parishioners, to show them how strong faith can be amid poverty.
In Arizona, Mark McGeary and 11 other Mundelein seminarians visited the Tohono O’odham nation. A seminarian of the Diocese of Des Moines, Iowa, McGeary helped prepare “fry bread” in homes of reservation residents and assisted with a Communion service at the local jail.
“Being able to share the Body, Blood, soul and divinity of Christ with these men was a beautiful moment,” McGeary said.
Evangelizing on Campus
Seminarians from St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach, Florida, and Maryland’s Mount St. Mary’s Seminary partner with campus ministries to evangelize among university students. Before the spring-break trip, they receive evangelization training, pray with their assigned partners and make a novena.
Msgr. Anthony Frontiero, Mount St. Mary’s director of human formation, said evangelization trips stretch seminarians’ comfort zones, connect them to people of all walks of life and teach them to prepare others for an encounter with Christ.
“The Church exists for this purpose: to evangelize, to win souls for Christ,” Msgr. Frontiero said.
John Sollee, a former Fellowship of Catholic University Students (Focus) missionary, will be ordained a deacon for the Diocese of St. Augustine this year. He has organized spring-break evangelization trips for St. Vincent de Paul seminarians, including their upcoming visit to the University of South Florida in Tampa. “It’s a vehicle to channel our zeal that has been fostered within us at seminary,” Sollee said. “Pope Francis is calling all of us to witness to Christ.”
On campus, two-person teams take turns praying Holy Hours before the Blessed Sacrament in the chapel or in a tent; Catholic students join them. Elsewhere, teams in clerical attire strike up conversations, discussing students’ relationships with God and their beliefs.
With 29 other Mount St. Mary’s seminarians, Taylor Caputo will evangelize at Towson University this spring. Previous trips, including one to his home Diocese of Peoria, Illinois, have shown Caputo how well he knows his faith and taught him to interact with others and to listen to the Holy Spirit.
Deacon Eric Burgener will be ordained a priest of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, in June. During 11 campus-bound trips he made during Mount St. Mary’s fall and spring breaks, Burgener played his violin as an icebreaker.
“I have had professors send whole classes out to challenge us [and] crazy confrontations with frat houses,” he said. He has encountered combative fundamentalist preachers and sometimes prayed with them, too. “It’s just a simple conversation to try to lead them a little closer to Christ.”
Seminarians offer information about Focus and other campus ministry activities so that students can follow up when they leave.
Patrick May, who heads Mount St. Mary’s New Evangelization Club, will be ordained a deacon of the Diocese of Savannah, Georgia, this spring. He said the fruit of their evangelization is a blessing. “We’ve had two guys join the seminary in their own diocese after having been impacted by these evangelization trips,” May reported.
Sollee, too, learned about students who returned to Mass or joined Bible study. Two students entered RCIA and became Catholics after long conversations with St. Vincent de Paul seminarians.
As May said: “If we can help a person trust the Church just a little bit more, we’ve done a good thing for that person and for the Church.”
Jerri Donohue writes from