From the Florida Catholic (St. Petersburg)
By Janet Shelton
College students home for summer break typically hang with friends or work jobs. Diocesan seminarians often spend their summer breaks serving without pay and hanging out in churches.
Summer continues a seminarian’s preparation for the priesthood. It’s a time when they learn firsthand what is involved in the service of a priest.
“I think it’s a great thing because it helps you learn what priests do, even though it’s during the summer and so a little more laid back,” said Brian Fabiszewski, a theology student at St. John Vianney College Seminary who is serving at St. Paul Parish in Tampa. “I’ve gotten a little snapshot of what their life is like.”
Because they live in the parish rectory, seminarians get a realistic view of life as a priest. They see how priests work to fit personal prayer and public service into an always-changing schedule filled with administrative and ministerial duties. They get to ask questions about real situations that simply have no parallel in the classroom.
“You’re kind of putting them out there on the front lines,” said diocesan Director of Vocations Father Len Plazewski.
Father Plazewski said the pastor hosting the seminarian has to be a good guide and the parish has to have a rectory with room for the seminarian. The parish also has to be active during the summer. Diocesan seminarians cannot spend summers in service until they have completed at least a year of theology. How they serve depends on their progression toward the priesthood. Seminarians never go to their home parish and often are sent to places that have no seminarians. That way, more people can learn about the process of a priest’s formation.
Having a seminarian around can be a boost to vocations. Young people considering the priesthood or religious life can feel more comfortable approaching seminarians than a priest.
“Parishioners come up and ask me what my first year was like, about classes, our daily activities, different things we’ve done. … There’s a lot of interest in the people here,” said Fabiszewski. “(A couple of altar servers) ask a lot of questions about the classes and the different experiences we have.”
Kyle Smith, a diocesan seminarian on his first summer assignment at Light of Christ Parish, Clearwater, said his biggest surprise of the summer is that priests really do serve 24 hours a day. Seminarians are told that, he said, but seeing it firsthand was a surprise.
“Just the constantness of the parish (surprised me),” he said. “I knew that, but it never encapsulated in my mind for some reason.”
A seminarian is exposed to many different experiences through his working summers. In his last summer assignment before ordination, transitional Deacon Carl “Buster” Melchior has served in a hospital, in parishes that are mostly elderly and in parishes with schools and a younger demographic. Because he is now ordained a deacon, his duties are closer to what he will do as a priest. Now serving at St. John Vianney Parish, St. Petersburg Beach, he performs baptisms and graveside services and wears a clergy collar.
Deacon Melchior said his summer assignments and in-parish service have been a great preparation for the priesthood. He has comforted those whose loved ones have died, prayed to find words of hope for those whose health is failing and encouraged young people to grow in the service of God in a world designed to pull them away.
But he added that all summer lessons do not relate to active ministry. These are times when the seminarian practices what he preaches on a practical and personal level. The men learn what it means to behave as priests.
“We’re public people and that’s something they kind of beat into our heads,” he said. “If we’re in a restaurant, we have to temper our conversation. … That’s not something you wake up one morning and say, ‘OK, I’ll temper my conversation.’”
Since coming to Light of Christ Parish in Clearwater in late May, Smith’s service has given him a broad look at ministry.
“I’ve done a wake, which was interesting,” he said. “I worked the vacation Bible school – taught third- and fourth-graders; they kept me busy. I’ve been working with youth ministry and young adult ministry and as a eucharistic minister.”
One of Smith’s most enlightening tasks has been bringing the Eucharist to elderly residents of a nearby nursing home. He said it has helped him better appreciate the ministry needs of people in the last stages of their lives.
Fabiszewski helps answer the phones in the parish office, serves at Mass and assists with funerals and weddings. He and other seminarians organized a diocesan candlelight vigil on the night Florida resumed its executions. He said St. Paul’s has shown him the needs of a large, active parish. His home parish, St. Catherine of Siena, is much smaller.
“I guess my favorite part is meeting the diverse number of people here,” he said. “The parish is just a great parish: very vibrant, active, just a lot of different cultures. It’s just been great meeting the people and interacting.”
One of the biggest lessons summer assignments bring seminarians may be perspective. Smith and Fabiszewski both realized that church ministries run through people who have many different ideas on how things should run, so it’s good to remember why everyone is there in the first place.
“I just learned even though there are a lot of differences, everybody is pretty much looking for the same thing when they come to church – which is getting to closer God,” Fabiszewski said. “I’ve been able to see that, up close. Everyone has different views and has their different devotions and everything, but pretty much everyone is looking for the same thing: to get closer to God and to find order in their life.”
Smith said: “It takes all types of people to run a parish and you need to be flexible and understand there are all sorts of personalities. … Everybody has different opinions on what the church needs to do. The purpose of the church is to (bring Christ to) every ministry – that’s basically the bottom line.”
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