Throughout their years of formation at Mundelein, seminarians from across the country and around the world are building relationships with local Catholics from parishes in nearby dioceses through the seminary’s Teaching Parish Program. The bonds that are formed through these pastoral experiences run deep, as seminarians get to know parishioners on a personal level as they invest their time and ministerial talents into the life of the parish.
When the seminarian is ready to be ordained, parishioners feel a true sense of involvement in his formation and often want to attend his ordination—even if that means driving many miles to the future priest’s home diocese for the ceremony.
Teaching Parish parishioners frequently attend the ordination of new priests who trained at their parish for local dioceses like Chicago, Rockford and Joliet, but some have traveled as far as Yakima, Washington to participate in the culmination of a seminarian’s formation.
For a few parishioners from Saint Hubert Catholic Church in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, the chance to attend the ordination of Father Tom Heathershaw in the Diocese of Dubuque, Iowa was worth the nearly three-hour drive.
As members of the Teaching Parish Committee at their church, these parishioners had grown especially close to Father Tom as they watched him mature in his vocation throughout his time at the parish.
“It was the first ordination ceremony we attended of someone we knew, and we wanted to be there to witness,” said Jim Elder, a Teaching Parish Committee member who attended the ordination with his wife Lisa. “We loved the ceremony and it showed the passion that these disciples have for their profession.”
Deacon Steve Baldasti said the Teaching Parish Program is effective because it is mutually beneficial to the parishioners and the seminarians.
“Parishioners see young men willingly doing something for others, listening to the inner voice and exploring what that means—to stop what they are doing and follow the tug of God in their hearts,” he said. “The seminarians get to be exposed to what life will be like after their ordination. The secluded world of academia and the seminary are stripped away, and they get to roll up their sleeves and experience the real work of parish life.”
For Catholic families like the Elders, the seminarians’ presence in their parish is a visible sign of hope for the future of the Church. Witnessing Father Tom’s ordination made them excited to continue to work with the other seminarians assigned to Saint Hubert—Ryan Brady of the Archdiocese of Chicago and David Jameson of the Diocese of Grand Rapids, Michigan.
“Being able to train the future leaders enriches us and our parish even though they leave us when they are done,” Elder said. “Now we can visit Dubuque to see our priest friend, and in a few years, we will go to visit our future Grand Rapids priest friend.”