The Importance of “Being There” | Seminarian Internship in the Archdiocese of Dubuque

Posted on December 5, 2019

By Jacob Dunne | 3T, Archdiocese of Dubuque

First Impressions
In the northeast corner of the Archdiocese of Dubuque, and covering parts of Iowa, southwest Minnesota and southeast Wisconsin, is a region known as the Driftless area. This region’s landscape was untouched by the movements of glaciers. Throughout the rest of the Midwest, glaciers scraped and flattened the earth, but the Driftless region is marked by tall, steep hills separated by picturesque valleys. The Mississippi River runs through the heart of this area and on any given day one can see bald eagles soaring.

In this land where ancient forces of nature refused to visit, I arrived on a chilly February day. My internship, which lasted from February to the middle of May, would be in the heart of this Driftless region in a town called Waukon at St. Patrick’s Parish. In addition to this church, my pastor and I served two smaller parishes, both called St. Mary’s, in the towns of Hanover and Dorchester.

St. Mary – Hanover

After encountering the landscape of Allamakee County for the first time, my first few weeks at the parish were dominated by preparation, discussions and the execution of a men’s and women’s CEW retreat, a weekend retreat similar to CHRP or TEC for high schoolers. The CEW weekend, similar to the landscape, wasn’t flattened by outside forces and remained a raw, kerygmatic experience focused on encounter and renewal in the Spirit.

The retreat allowed me to meet many people and learn about the men and women of northeast Iowa in an atmosphere of faith. Weeks and months after the retreat, I continued to experience the CEW community as spiritually aware people concerned about the good of others. They have varied talents and gifts, transitioning from serving those down on their luck to performing a Passion play on Palm Sunday.

Rector Challenge

Before our respective internships, Father John Kartje, rector/president of Mundelein Seminary, issued our second theology class a challenge: explain the difference that Christianity makes. He said to answer the question: What are the benefits to prayer or baptism or any of it?

During my internship in Allamakee County, I encountered people whose faith made a positive difference for them. Older people, faithful their whole lives, could articulate how their faith had sustained them through their most difficult moments.

In my own ministry alongside my pastor, Father Mark Osterhaus, we entered into the lives of those who were dealing with loss, extended suffering, suicide, mental illness and addiction. In those who had faith, those who put their trust in Jesus, I sensed a possibility for true human development and growth. For those who carry a heavy cross, faith in Jesus and His presence is practical in an ultimate and existential sense.

Personally, this question drove deeper and asked: What difference does priestly ministry make? As a Catholic, I knew the answer. As a future priest in ministry with real people, I was less sure.

Soon after arriving, I witnessed my pastor make cold calls to people who hadn’t been to Mass in a while and draw them back into parish life. Many parishioners articulated the importance of priests who had been there in times of trouble.

I wrestled with the persistent comment parishioners made about priests who had “been there.” What does that mean? Isn’t there something more than just showing up?

My internship revealed “being there” means a priest is showing up and allowing Jesus to dictate his ministry. A priest’s presence is sacramental and it looks like prayer and blessing.

My internship revealed “being there” means a priest is showing up and allowing Jesus to dictate his ministry. A priest’s presence is sacramental and it looks like prayer and blessing.

- Jacob Dunne | 3T, Archdiocese of Dubuque -

A Chance to Teach

During Lent, our parish offered small groups with different themes — some studied Scripture while others provided a space to share their faith, like the young mothers’ group Momnipotent. I chose to lead a group that focused on the Mass because I remembered how much I learned in Father Ron Kunkel’s Principles of Sacred Liturgy course.

How cool would it be if more people were able to get more out of the Mass! Inspired by the Liturgy Guys podcast produced by the Liturgical Institute at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake, I used Dr. Chris Carsten’s recent book A Devotional Journey Into the Mass, which served as a great tool to start conversations and learn the principle of sacramentality and its relationship to prayer.

I wanted the group to focus on the what and how of the Mass, but even more I wanted people to understand how to pray the Mass. How can we engage the Mass interiorly and in an authentically spiritual way? I found that those who participated in the group were interested and engaged with the material, which was edifying for me.

Prayer on Internship
Another faculty member’s challenge served as my mantra throughout the internship. Father Dennis Spies said, “We are sending you to do God’s work, please do not do it without Him.”

Days at St. Patrick’s often went in unexpected directions with unexpected tasks, and I often finished late in the evening and a little bit tired. Throughout my last four years of seminary, I developed a habit of Evening Prayer, so each night of internship, even in my tiredness, I felt an itch which said, “Go pray!

So, I would cross 25 yards of frozen tundra, flip a few lights on and relax into the first pew of the beautiful St. Patrick’s church with its colorful windows and classic marble altars. Ahh … this is the beat- ing heart of ministry: my relationship with Jesus and His Spirit’s work in me.

Some of the habits of prayer and spiritual direction were kneaded gently over the years of seminary and some were forged with a heavy hammer, but they made my internship holy and fruitful for my journey towards priesthood. I hope it was also fruitful for the people of Allamakee County.

This article originally ran in the Fall 2019 issue of the seminarian-produced BRIDGE magazine. The full magazine can be viewed here.