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  • Jul
  • 31

Seminarians’ summer provides glimpse of life as priest

Posted By July 31, 2014 | 1:31 pm | Lead Story #1
Tom WillisWEB

By Tanya Connor

A Brazilian has seen a different kind of poverty here.
A Venezuelan has surprised parishioners with his local connections.
And a Worcester man has brought his experience with his father’s death to his hospital ministry.
These are among stories the Diocese’s seminarians tell about their summer assignments.

Brazilian native Mateus Souza said he uses English, Portuguese and Spanish at Masses. He’s assigned to Holy Family of Nazareth Parish, which serves the Hispanic community at Holy Trinity Chapel, both in Leominster. He and Father José A. Rodríguez, the pastor, live with Father Frederick D. Fraini III at St. Anna Parish, where Father Fraini is pastor and Mr. Souza helps with the Brazilian community.
He also helps Holy Family serve meals to about 100 homeless people living at Days Inn, he said.
Alfredo SemWEB  “It’s really touching because … we see all these kids,” he said. “They don’t have anywhere to go,” so they play in the parking lot and their parents hang around, unable to leave them to go job hunting. “It’s a different kind of poverty.”
In Brazil, one sees misery – people living in the streets because the government would never offer them a hotel, he said. Here, though they have rooms, they are probably cramped for large families. The children may think this is a vacation, and say they don’t like the food served, but the parents know they don’t have a choice, he said.
Mr. Souza, who enters Theology IV at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore this fall, said he helped deliver food to the homeless in Baltimore last winter, but they were single adults with addictions, not families.
As most seminary time is inside, summer assignments give seminarians a chance to practice what they’ve learned, he said.
His ministry this summer has included teaching children at vacation Bible school and parents preparing for their baby’s baptism, and taking Communion to the sick, as a representative of the Church, he said.
“Every day that I work with them I feel that certainty that God wants me for this vocation of being a priest,” Mr. Souza said of what his ministry to people has shown him.

St. Gabriel the Archangel Parish in Upton has shown Thomas Willis parishioners trying to grow in faith and make the parish “a home for Jesus” and “a city set on a hill.” A visitor could see “people here really cared a lot about what they believed and tried to make it part of their lives,” he said.
Even in the summer the parish is active, he marveled. He’s helped with religious education mateus photo semWEBclasses,  which are available in the summer as well as the school year, and is to help with vacation Bible school. He’s attended the Bible study and classes for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults taught by Father Laurence V. Brault, the pastor, and meetings about St. Gabriel’s sister parish in Haiti. He’s served at Masses; there’s even one Saturday mornings.
He said he’s spent time with Father Brault, Father Thomas E. Mahoney (retired but present, full of fun and wisdom) and Father Charles P. O. Omolo, who stayed there briefly after his ordination in June.
Mr. Willis is to finish his assignment in late August, before entering Pre-Theology II at St. John’s Seminary in Brighton. Though he grew up in Arizona, his parents are from New England, he has relatives here, and he attended the College of the Holy Cross, he said.

Alfredo Porras, of Venezuela, said he considers Worcester his home. (His parish is St. Joan of Arc.)
This summer he was sent to work with Father Edward D. Niccolls, who was pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Auburn the first half of his 10-week assignment, and then was transferred to St. George Parish in Worcester. The seminarian moved with him.
“It’s a good experience because it’s part of what priests have to do,” Mr. Porras said. “It’s not something I’d do every summer.”
At St. Joseph’s “I had to say ‘hello’ and ‘good-bye’ at the same time,” he said.  He tried to make the most of the time he had with people there by serving Masses, which was about the only chance he had to see them, he said.
He learned the importance of not collecting too many things he’d have to move, he said. (He left some at his parents’ house in Worcester, where he’s lived for more than 10 years.)
Given his Hispanic name and the Diocese’s number of seminarians who recently came from Colombia, Mr. Porras said, St. George’s parishioners are surprised to learn he graduated from Holy Name Central Catholic Junior/Senior High School and WPI. As they start making connections with people or things they know, it makes seminarians more real to them; they see future priests don’t just fall from trees – or airplanes.
Parishioners have welcomed him and seem excited to have Father Niccolls back, he said. Father Niccolls was associate pastor there years ago.
“It’s been interesting to me because he’s been able to give me a little background of the parish,” Mr. Porras said. “He’s been excellent. He takes me everywhere he goes and he explains everything.”
One place they go is for walks around the neighborhood, he said. People they know invite them in.
He said Father Niccolls has also asked families to host gatherings in their homes and invite neighbors for them to meet. Many are parishioners, some haven’t attended any church for awhile, and some non-Catholics come with Catholic spouses, he said.
These activities show people the availability of the priest and host families get to evangelize, Mr. Porras said. He said the response seems positive and Father Niccolls learns about issues needing attention.
Another blessing at St. George’s is the perpetual adoration chapel, which Mr. Porras likes seeing people use. It gives him a place to continue the daily prayer hour encouraged by his seminary,  Mount St. Mary’s in Emmitsburg, Md.
Joseph Rice, of St. Bernard Parish in Worcester, finished Theology II at Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary in Weston this spring, only to return to the classroom. His summer assignment was the Clinical Pastoral Education program at St. Vincent Hospital.
Program participants were in class at the hospital three hours a day; then five hours a day they visited patients individually, he said.
The day he had to present a paper about death and dying was the first anniversary of his father’s death, which was emotional, he said.
But the paper, and ministry to dying patients and their families, showed him how others grieve, he said. Those who questioned, or didn’t believe in, eternal life were sadder. His experience of losing his father to a stroke brought on by complications from cancer enabled him to help patients, especially those with cancer, he said. It also helped him understand where patients’ families are coming from.
For inspiration, he visited a hospitalized priest daily, he said. He learned about advocating for patients from Sister Mary Ann Bartell, a Carmelite Sister of the Eucharist who ministers to retired priests here. Msgr. Peter Beaulieu, the hospital’s director of mission integration, and Jesuit Father Terrence Curry, a chaplain, showed him how concerned priests can be about their patients.
Caring for people in the hospital is similar to caring for them in a parish, Mr. Rice said.
“In a parish you’d be dealing with birth and death; this is just more concentrated,” he said.
The biggest advantage of this assignment was sharing with others in the program, he said, noting that they included a seminarian from another diocese, a Unitarian, and people from the United Church of Christ. They talked about differences in their faiths and gave each other feedback about their approaches to patients, he said.