Anything but Traditional: Notes from Seminarians in Quarantine

Before most realized the scope and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and before quarantine orders were issued, four men in the Internal Seminary of the Vincentians of the Eastern Province hit the road to minister. Each of the men was beginning an “apostolic experience” at different Vincentian ministries as part of their first year of seminary, called Internal Seminary by the Vincentians.

One man went to Alabama, one to New York, and two went to separate ministries in North Carolina.

Then the pandemic hit and quarantine orders were issued. The traditional apostolic experience for Internal Seminary became anything but traditional.

These four men went to their assignments to work alongside experienced Vincentian Priests and Brothers, but in a time of quarantine, those same Priests and Brothers became students themselves, learning how to minister in an entirely different way.

The seminarians—who are all now safely home together at the Internal Seminary in Philadelphia—shared some thoughts on what they experienced during quarantine. Below are excerpts of longer reflections by the men.

Internal Seminarian Milton shared some thoughts on his apostolic experience in Opelika, Alabama:

Fr. Vincent is very caring with the people. He is an advocate of the poor and a man with his ‘heart on fire,’ seeking to evangelize the poor. He goes out to their homes, not only bringing them the Word of God, but also food for their families. For Fr. Vincent, the pandemic is not an obstacle, but an opportunity to evangelize and help people in need. He sends out reflections on the readings of the day. At first that was difficult for him, since he was not experienced with social media; however, he accomplished a lot.

I also learned many things from Fr. Bruce. He is very willing and committed to taking care of the church. He continues evangelizing the community digitally and manages the parish finances. He works very hard to learn about social media in order to have contact with the faithful and celebrate Masses online during this pandemic. I think that drive to serve the people is a Vincentian characteristic. 

Because of the pandemic, all that we had previously planned had to be changed, and we became creative. It all was a challenge because it was something new to the priests and to me. Nevertheless, it was an opportunity for me to learn to face new challenges. I learned that as a good missioner I must be open to change, adapt to new circumstances, and be creative enough to face them with a good mind and a good heart for the love of the people of God, imitating Jesus Christ whose motive was to serve God His father as St. Vincent said in one of his conferences to the Daughters of Charity (Vol. IX p. 18).

Internal Seminarian Jose wrote about his experience in Greensboro, NC:

The opportunity to be at St. Mary’s church gave me a broad perspective about living in community, for which I am thankful to the Lord. During the first two weeks of the apostolate, I started experiencing the complexity and beauty of working in a remarkably diverse parish: “Complex” in regard to working to maintain unity among different communities, and “beauty” in the sense of working with people from different countries and seeing their fervent example of faith and the sharing of their talents in the service of Jesus.

Then, even though all the activities at St. Mary’s church were suspended because of the current situation, I had the opportunity to share and learn from Frs. Joseph, Orlando, and William. I have to admit that the different personalities, backgrounds, and the tension of the quarantine were not easy to navigate at the beginning, but little by little we learned to cope with it. Nonetheless, with all honesty I can say that from each one of them I learned a lot about humility, hospitality, kindness, and how to treat other people with respect and fairness.

Internal Seminarian Wilber shared his thoughts on his apostolic experience on the East End of Long Island:

My encounter with the communities at East Hampton and the other communities I visited, allowed me to reflect on the way in which people express their beliefs, and it also led me to wonder what the foundations of those beliefs are.

When I met the laity at East Hampton and other communities, I had the opportunity to ask myself: How does theology help them to have a better understanding of Jesus? How does theology help them to understand the social role the Church, following the precepts of Jesus? How do those theological convictions help people to grow as responsible citizens? 

Regarding my experience with the confreres [Vincentians], I would say it was a positive experience. I learned how they are really committed to bring the Good News to people who, especially in this moment of uncertainty, need to be encouraged to trust in the saving presence of God. I really enjoyed my apostolic experience. 

Internal Seminarian Noé shared reflections on his pastoral experience in Charlotte, NC:

Our Lady of Guadalupe is one of the busiest parishes in Mecklenburg County. When I arrived there, I had mixed feelings because I did not know the community at all, but it was not difficult to adjust to the parishioners and to the confreres, Frs. Leo, Gregorio, and Hugo. During the first two weeks, I accompanied different groups from the parish, giving talks to them, and visiting the sick at the Atrium Health Hospital. I had a very organized program that was going to enrich my pastoral experience, and then everything was shut down because of COVID-19. When we realized that all the activities had to be canceled, it was hard to believe that Our Lady of Guadalupe was to be in silent mode for a while. 

For those who have been to the parish, you know that things are always happening there. On weekdays, First Communion and Confirmation students attend their respective classes, and on weekends more than five thousand people attend Mass. So, it was sad to see Our Lady of Guadalupe go from being very noisy to a very quiet place.

The confreres did not know what to do at the beginning of the shutdown, but through their openness to the Holy Spirit, they were inspired to be creative. They found amazing ways to serve the people and made sure that I was involved with them in every activity, from taking the Blessed Sacrament to various neighborhoods (including mobile home parks) to “drive-thru Communion.” Though the church was quiet, the priests were working harder than ever. They were an example of how to give one’s whole self to the mission. They showed me that a true Vincentian never stops, even when there is a pandemic.

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