Truly, “it takes a village to raise a child.” This African dictum holds true in the life of a seminarian. Many good people come our way to help us, to support us and to guide us on our way to the holy altar of the ministry of the Lord. Some of these God-sent angels are the members of St. Mary of Vernon seminarian ministry, a local parish not far from the seminary. Deacon John Bosco Lutaaya, one of the beneficiaries of this ministry interviewed Mrs. Susan Gray, one of the key figures of the seminarian’s ministry.
There are many things you do for us through St Mary’s seminarian ministry; how did it come about?
The ministry was started in 2010 by the former associate pastor, Father Eduardo Martinez, and a group of parishioners, with the blessing of the formation staff at the seminary. Father Martinez came to Mundelein through Casa Jesus and remembered the challenges these students face in a new culture far away from their families. So from the beginning, the intention was to reach out to these international students, specifically the men studying for Chicago from the international countries. The plan was to provide an opportunity for the men to meet families from our parish. The ministry then evolved to include other seminarians who come from foreign countries to study and who then will return to their home diocese after graduation (like you). Because SMV is so close to the seminary, we have been blessed with many seminarian interns and field education students. These men were also included because, as we like to say: “Once you come to SMV, you are ours forever.” Who is involved in the ministry? Seminarian ministry currently consists of a great team of 15 parishioners who work together to organize the events. Our pastor, Father Joe Curtis, supports our efforts and allows the ministry to hold a special collection to fund the ministry. This is another way for the parishioners to show their support for vocations. What are the some of the projects you do for the seminarians? The ministry is constantly evolving as we meet more and more men and hear their stories. For example, we learned that the international men usually arrive with only their clothes and very little resources; so we help fill the gap by providing baskets of “necessities” for them to show that we appreciate and understand their courage to leave their countries to come here to study. We host two parties a year for the entire student body. The back to school party is held at the parish and parishioners are invited to attend and socialize with the seminarians. Our end of term party has been held at the seminary to accommodate the students’ busy schedules. At all of our parties, we have food and prizes! We have given away televisions, computers, mini-refrigerators, coffee pots, new pillows, gift certificates to the seminary book store, dozens of home-made cookies and plenty more. We send congratulatory notes to the men for each milestone the seminarians reach on their way to ordination: acolyte, reader, deacon and priest. We also make prayer cards with the individual name of each seminarian and distribute them on seminary appeal weekend so the entire parish has the opportunity to pray for a specific seminarian. We also invite seminarians to our parish social and liturgical events. What suggestions can you give to other parishes to help support the seminarians? First, pray for the seminarians and for more vocations. Write them short notes of appreciation; anybody can do that! If your parish is blessed to have a vocation, let that student know you support his decision to become a priest. Contact the archdiocesan vocations office for more ideas. Do you have any messages to the seminarians? I hope the men know that people are praying for them and that we appreciate that they are following their vocation to become our future priests. The more men we meet, the more we are amazed by how smart they are, the depth of their faith and their conviction to follow God’s call to serve him and us. They are the future of our Church. Seminarian ministry is just our way of thanking them for embracing their vocation. Personally, being part of seminarian ministry has increased my faith and the faith of the parishioners. Thank you for giving us this witness. Like Psalm 16 says: “Show me the path of life.” You have done this for us. That is why we are here for you.