Seminarians learn ‘nuts and bolts’ of diocese during practicum

Five seminarians from the Diocese of St. Cloud recently participated in a practicum immersing them in parish and diocesan life.

The men, currently studying at St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity in St. Paul, were assigned to shadow priests from the diocese over “J-term,” the interim period between semesters typically occurring in January.

Four first-year theology students — Brady Keller of St. Gall Parish, Tintah; Tom Skaja of Annunciation Parish, Mayhew Lake; David Trout of St. Michael Parish, St. Cloud; and Patrick Hoeft of St. Louis Parish, Paynesville — were joined by pre-theology student Alex Liebsch of St. Mary of Mount Carmel, Long Prairie.

Keller and Liebsch were stationed at St. Mary’s Cathedral with Father Scott Pogatchnik, rector; Father Robert Rolfes, diocesan vicar general; and Father Doug Liebsch, parochial vicar.

Skaja shared quarters with the men of Marmion House, a discernment residence for men near

Seminarians Alex Liebsch and Brady Keller visited classrooms at St. Katharine Drexel School in St. Cloud Jan. 20, sharing their musical talents with the students. (Photo by Dianne Towalski/The Visitor)

St. Augustine Church in St. Cloud led by Father Ben Kociemba, who also serves as chaplain of Cathedral High School.

Benedictine Father Roger Klassen, pastor of Holy Trinity Parish in Royalton and Holy Cross Parish in North Prairie, hosted Hoeft and Trout.

While each experience was unique, there were some activities all five men participated in together, including a visit with Bishop Emeritus John Kinney and tours and informational sessions with the Chancery and Pastoral Center offices.

In parishes, seminarians were introduced to a gamut of administrative and pastoral activities from serving and lectoring at daily Mass to interacting with religious education programs, youth ministry, confirmation retreats, funerals, meetings of finance and pastoral councils and even sewing receiving blankets and bibs to be donated to Birthline.

“Whatever things were going on they would easily become a part of,” Father Klassen said about Trout and Hoeft. “They are both fine young men, and will make good priests. They have a deep spiritual prayer life, concern for people and were always eager to meet them, even if it meant learning a new skill like running a sewing machine.”

Over the course of two weeks, Father Klassen and the two seminarians in his charge reflected on their experiences over meals, often delivered by members of the parish.

“It was nice to have someone else in the house. They were very easy, open and very social. They also asked a lot of questions, and we shared a lot over meals,” Father Klassen said. “I think this program is extremely helpful as they continue their journey, and it was very beneficial to our community as well. Parishioners were eager to meet them.”

During the first week, Hoeft and Trout attended religious education programs in the morning and evening, asking the students to write down questions for them, which they answered the following week.

Seminarians Patrick Hoeft and David Trout visited with religious education students Jan. 18 at Holy Trinity Church in Royalton. (Photo by Dianne Towalski/The Visitor)

Father Klassen said some asked simple questions like, “How high are you?” from a grade school student who wondered how tall the 6-foot-5-inch Hoeft is.

“It was especially impressive as they got to the senior high classes who asked about their faith. One student asked if you could lose your faith.

It was good to hear them ask those kinds of questions and to see that the kids were comfortable asking them,” Father Klassen said.
They also spent time daily in church in adoration or another form of prayer.

“It was good for people to see their visible prayer life, too,” Father Klassen added.

The program

This diocesan practicum is brand new to the seminary’s academic curriculum and is led by Father Allen Kuss, a priest of the Diocese of Bismarck, North Dakota, who serves as director of pastoral formation and the teaching parish program.

“The purpose of this course is for the men in formation to familiarize themselves in a more organized manner with their diocese that they will be serving,” Father Kuss said.

He asked seminarians to interview priests from different generations and to learn about diocesan programs. He also encouraged them to ask what the diocese is planning to do in the future, especially as dioceses are grappling with questions of personnel and population changes.

And, he asked them to identify some of the struggles of the diocese.

“It’s very easy for a seminarian to think everything is fine in their diocese or to be afraid and think, ‘What am I getting myself into?’” Father Kuss said. “I hope that this program can help them develop realistic expectations of what they are facing by becoming a priest in the 21st century.”

He also hopes the seminarians get to know their diocese’s history and the key players who have gone before them.

As part of the curriculum, the men will write a reflection on their experiences and will have time for discussion with Father Kuss. A spring course, “Pastoral Ministry,” will build on their experiences.

Challenges and rewards

During the January practicum, Keller said he learned a lot about the history of the diocese through research and interviews with people.

“We met with priests from various generations, from newly ordained to seasoned pastors to retired priests. We also learned the ‘nuts and bolts’ of how the diocese runs at the Chancery and Pastoral Center,” he said. “We were able to spend time at parishes, schools and hospitals with priests to experience what daily life as a priest is like.”

The most challenging part of the practicum, he said, was encountering those experiencing homelessness and learning their stories.

“Some [people experiencing homelessness] in the area would come to the [St. Mary’s Cathedral] rectory and we would help them as best as we could with food, warm clothing, a listening ear. It was difficult to hear about how they live without the basic necessities of life that we too often take for granted,” he said.

While one of the highlights for Keller was honing his card game skills, so was the time he and Liebsch spent assisting Liebsch’s brother, Father Doug Liebsch, coach fifth- and sixth-grade basketball at St. Katharine Drexel School in St. Cloud.

But the most rewarding part, he said, was encountering the lives that priests live, especially in the sacraments.

“The course was helpful because it made us see that priests have a lot of support and help from the diocese,” Keller said. “They are not alone in their ministry.  Having these people at the Chancery, Pastoral Center and elsewhere is a great relief as possible future priests who will need help in their ministry with the shortage of priests to bring about the kingdom of God for the salvation of souls.”

Author: Kristi Anderson

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