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Men for all seasons: Seminarians learn year-round

September 07, 2017

For many people summer is the time for vacations, but for the 15 seminarians from the diocese who are studying for the priesthood, the past three months were a time for experiences which enriched their ongoing formation.


Some of these future priests spent time assisting at parishes, while others traveled to Bolivia to learn Spanish in order to meet the ministerial needs of the growing Hispanic population in the diocese.


Andrew Prickel’s love for sharing his faith inspired him to go beyond his expected responsibilities by nurturing prayer and evangelization at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, Bernardsville. Prickel, who is entering his second year at Immaculate Conception Seminary, South Orange, served 10 weeks under the guidance of Msgr. John Fell, pastor. Msgr Fell, who was ordained to the priesthood 29 years ago, said the summer experience is an essential element of priestly formation.


“Their vocation starts in their home parish, but just as each family is wonderful and different, so is each parish,” he said. “It’s good for the men to see that while all parishes may focus on bringing people closer to the Lord, they will do this in different ways. This also allows each seminarian to bring in his own individual ideas, talents and preferences.”


Immediately upon arriving at the parish, Prickel helped with liturgical activities, baptisms, daily Mass and marriage preparation. He also helped with the youth group and tutored religious education students.


Seeking even deeper involvement, he initiated two unplanned series: a weekly prayer group with parishioners, and evangelization-focused meetings with parish staff.


Of the latter, he explained, “A lot of their time is devoted to catechesis, and they wanted to expand their evangelization efforts.” His past experience was put to good use, since before entering the seminary, he had served as director of evangelization at his home parish, St. Magdalen de Pazzi, Flemington.


Prickel led meetings with the pastor, office and school staff, during which “we shared our own personal stories of faith.” He added, “Each parish is so different. We talked about what evangelization looks like at this parish, what we’re dealing with here, and what next steps to take.


“Sharing the faith is contagious!” he added, but, such open sharing may occur too infrequently. “We don’t do this enough — we are fairly silent about how God is moving in our lives. We have the sacraments, but the personal aspects of faith can be missing.”


The prayer group he formed was prompted by a few parishioners who stayed after Mass with him one evening. Inspired by a prayer retreat he had recently attended, “I felt compelled to do something, and wanted to see where the Holy Spirit might lead us.”


Word quickly spread, and the group grew to 20 or more regulars who would engage weekly in silent adoration followed by praise and worship, then intercessory prayer. “This was not part of


my assignment, but it turned out to be a wonderful part of my ministry there,” he said. One parishioner gratefully told Prickel he had been “yearning for this ever since I became a Catholic, just to get together and pray like this.” Prickel lived in the parish rectory and immersed himself fully in its life. He played baseball with the students, walked the streets of Bernardsville greeting locals, and often had dinner in parishioners’ homes. “I love the people of this parish! They were so good to me and had their arms open wide,” he said. Prickel also expressed his gratitude


to Msgr. Fell for giving him freedom to follow his interests in serving the parish. “I can’t say enough about him. He was supportive of what I wanted to do.


Reflecting on the importance of the summer experience to their formation, Msgr. Fell noted, “It provides seminarians with a better sense of what parish life is like, how much the people appreciate and need the clergy.


Cultural Immersion


A hemisphere away, seminarians Joseph Illes, Matthew Marinelli and Michael Tabernero, who are beginning their third year of theology studies, participated in an immersion experience to study Spanish at the Maryknoll Mission, Cochabamba, Bolivia.


The center has offered a globallyrenowned language program for more than 50 years, teaching Spanish, Quechua and Aymara to students from around the world, recognizing that learning a second language is a big part of the Church’s cross-cultural mission. In addition to learning Spanish, the seminarians participated in praise and worship; worked with youth and went mountain climbing during their sevenweek trip.


“I got a taste of how trying it is to be on the other side of a language barrier, unable to express myself and what I am thinking and how refreshing it was to speak English with the guys,” said Tabernaro, who is in formation at Saint Vincent Seminary. “If I can get my Spanish good enough so that I can give some people in the parish the same refreshing experience to communicate and be understood in the language they are most comfortable with, that would be a pretty good thing.” “I had a great summer studying Spanish in Cochabamba,” said Marinelli, who also attends Saint Vincent Seminary. “Each day, we had four hours of class, one-on-one with our professor, learning via conversational style. It was a great process of learning Spanish, in which I saw great progress within myself. “Additionally, exploring the culture of Bolivia was a great life experience that greatly complemented my language studies.” In Cochabamba, Illes said he visited Cristo de la Concordia, a large outdoor statue of Jesus that overlooks the city.


“I had only been in the city a week when I went on a tour of the city with a young British couple spending the weekend with my host family,” he said “Visible from almost everywhere in the city, it serves as a sort of guide in the city: you’re never lost if you can find Christ. For me, the statue [visible from his room], was a constant reminder of why, and for whom, I was in the city and learning Spanish.”


The seminarians also attended a Bolivian Independence Day celebration, Aug. 6 (1825), near the end of their stay.“Bolivia celebrates its many indigenous groups, each of which has its own culture and style of dance,” said


Illes, who is studying at St. Mary Seminary. “Each of the costumed men and women shared the dance proper to their indigenous or colonial group, some from the tropics and some from the mountains. Since dance is such an important part of Latino culture, it was great to see the variety of dances, and the dedication to their culture.”


In retrospect, Illes said, “It was an incredible experience to be immersed in the culture, to learn a language one on one with native speakers, and to be so welcomed in a place very foreign to my experiences up to that point. I will forever remember my experience, and am grateful for all who made it happen.”


Prayerful Parting


Last month, before the seminarians returned to their respective seminaries, they gathered for fellowship and to strengthen their bonds of friendship. Bishop James F. Checchio joined the seminarians Aug. 16 for a Mass at his residence chapel.


Bishop Checchio encouraged each man to remain steadfast in prayer and witness to Christ in their priestly formation in the coming year.


After Mass, all gathered for food, storytelling and shared laughs at a barbeque hosted at the family home of seminarian Greg Zannetti in Hillsborough.


“Bishop Checchio, the seminarians and I are especially grateful to the Zannetti family for their gracious hospitality,” said Father Jason Pavich, director, diocesan Office of Vocations.


“Please remember to keep our seminarians and their families in your prayers, and to especially pray that more men will join them next year.”


If you or someone you know is considering a vocation to the priesthood or religious life in the diocese visit http:// or call (732) 562-2457. Erin Friedlander and Chris Donahue contributed to this story




By Cathy Stevens, Correspondent at The Catholic Spirit

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